Memorandum submitted by the Prisoners'
Prisoners' Education Trust aims to enrich and
extend education available to prisoners. Its main activity is
to pay for course fees so that prisoners can study both academic
and vocational subjects mainly through distance learning. Since
it started work in 1990, the Trust has offered more than 12,000
prisoners the opportunity to gain new skills and qualifications.
Currently, the Trust is funded through charitable donations and
fundraising activities; (approximately 51%) and holds two government
contracts: one from the Learning & Skills Council and one
from the Social Inclusion & Offender Unit.
Any sentenced prisoner who has a good chance
of completing their chosen course before release may apply to
the Trust. For this reason our comments relate only to those serving
a custodial sentence.
Although the Trust does not provide direct services
to prisoners, it is in frequent contact with prison education
departments across the country, receives correspondence from prisoners,
and through a variety of monitoring gathers considerable information
about the current state of education and training in prisons.
The thrust of the Government's Green
Paper, Reducing Re-offending through Skills & Employment,
promises strong leadership across the three partner departments,
emphasising the importance of gaining education and skills to
successful rehabilitation. We are, however, concerned that it
does not fully fulfil the spirit of the Offender Learning Journey.
spirit put the needs of the individual at the centre of the education
process. We believe that the Green Paper does not sufficiently
recognise the needs of those for whom vocational skills are not
appropriate; those who are unlikely to be able to work through
illness or the nature of their offence; and those who are serving
very long sentences.
The need for robust and in depth
research remains to be addressed.
It is as yet too soon to know whether
or not the transfer of the responsibility for prison education
to the Learning & Skills Council will bring the positive benefits
planned though we have concerns about the increase in bureaucracy
Progress on allowing prisoners to
use modern technology seems very slow and particularly hinders
the studies of higher learners.
We remain concerned that the motivation
of prisoners is undermined by continuing lack of pay parity between
work and education and the "churn" which is now worse
than at the time the Select Committee produced its report.
The barriers to education within
the regime and highlighted in the Select Committee's Report have
not significantly improved.
1. The Government Green Paper, Reducing
Re-Offending Through Skills & Employment, promises strong
leadership across three government departments and a commitment
to rehabilitation which is very welcome. The Green Paper does
much to address some of the concerns expressed in the Select Committee
Report (paragraph 245) to improve vocational skills and to improve
links with employers. However, the Trust expressed a number of
reservations, particularly with regard diversity and individual
needs. The following is an extract from the Trust's response to
the Green Paper Consultation:
The Trust welcomes the recognition in the Green
Paper that prisoners are a varied group. In addition to the diversity
outlined, it is important to remember that prisoners are also
educationally diverse. As noted in the Green Paper, inspection
evidence states that the learning and skills on offer is often
unresponsive to individual needs. [Green Paper, Chapter 3]
The focus on raising skill levels to secure better
employment outcomes is vital, but it must not be at the expense
of the recognition outlined in paragraph 12 which states that:
"Providing opportunities for purposeful activity, for self
improvement and connection to the world beyond the prison walls,
is a vital factor in running a humane and decent regime."
[Green Paper, paragraph 12]
The increasing expenditure on undergraduate opportunities
is very welcome. However, it is important to note that the opportunities
mentioned relate entirely to courses run by the Open University.
Further and higher education is much wider than this and should
not be seen solely in relation to university education. For example,
management, bookkeeping, horticulture, computing, and counselling
skills can all be studied at above Level 3 and often through distance
learning. Currently, such studying depends largely on prisoners
providing their own funds or on charitable funding. [Green Paper,
2. The need for robust and in depth research
pointed out in the Select Committee Report remains to be addressed.
For example, we are not aware of any research in to the true levels
of literacy. Figures are still quoted from the Basic Skills Assessments
which tests only the ability to respond to a formal questionnaire,
often in less than ideal conditions. Whilst it is clear many of
those in prison do have basic skills needs, their functional level
of literacy and numeracy are often unrecognised. We would argue
that if the budgets allocated to education and rehabilitation
are to be used to maximum value, it is essential and urgent that
the select committee's recommendation be implemented as a matter
3. Transfer of responsibility of offender
education to the Learning & Skills Councils:
3.1 It is really too early to tell how far
this will improve education for those in custody. From the Trust's
point of view, we were pleased that in our contract to provide
300 distance learning courses in prisons during the current financial
year, the Learning & Skills Council recognised that some prisoner-students
need to follow courses that will enhance their self-development
3.2 There are concerns, however, that the
Learning & Skills Councils' procedures are bureaucratic. Conversations
with education staff around the country indicate that they are
spending far more time completing forms than getting on with the
work itself. We know of at least three education managers who
have resigned because of the amount of paper work.
3.3 Many education staff report that the
curriculum is narrowing and being ever more focussed on basic
skills. This hearsay evidence is borne out by an increase in applications
to the Trust for art materials to be used in class; and a small,
but significant, increase in the number of courses such as anger
management which should be the responsibility of the prison.
3.4 The Learning & Skills Councils'
efforts to provide high quality vocational training is hampered
by their remit. Many vocational courses that are likely to lead
to well-paid jobs are outside their funding remit. Examples of
this include: Heavy Goods Vehicle training; public track safety
courses (for work on the railways); and scaffolding.
3.5 The issue of which Government department
is to be responsible for higher education for prisoners appears
to remain unresolved. The Learning & Skills Councils are unable
to fund courses above Level 3. The Social Inclusion & Offenders
Unit gives considerable support to those studying with the Open
University, funding the fees for first level modules and paying
for the Open University tutors to visit prisons to give tutorials.
Higher education in prisons is undertaken mainly by distance learning.
There are two principal issues:
(a) The need to expand the support for higher
learning so that prisoner-students have the opportunity to choose
between universities and other higher education including the
(b) The second issue relates to internal
educational and administrative support for prisoner-students undertaking
higher studies. It would appear that many of the new contracts
do not cover this aspect and we are concerned that much of the
support for higher learners is undertaken by tutors in their own
time. The Social Inclusion & Offender Unit does have a policy
group looking into this area and it is to be hoped that it will
reach its conclusions in time for the new financial year.
Access to courses above Level 3 are important
to allow prisoners to progress; to achieve appropriate qualifications
to improve their employability; and to provide a focus for those
serving long sentences, offering the "humane and decent regime"
referred to in the Green Paper.
4. Access to modern technology remains a
rare opportunity for prisoners and is increasingly hampering learning.
Whilst the Trust recognises that the security issues must be addressed
(and is aware of the policy committee looking into the matter)
progress is slow. We cannot see very much response to the Select
Committee's recommendation 35 which urges that the Government
"set[s] out a clear timetable for implementation of access
across the prison estate." Lack of access to the Internet
means that students are increasingly restricted in their choice
of learning. This is especially so for students with the Open
University. Poetry, law, many sciences courses, and some computer
courses are among those which are unavailable to prisoner-students.
The European experience shows that safe Internet access is possible
as a recent study, Internet Inside, demonstrated. There
is another issue too. If prisoners are to leave prison equipped
for the modern world, then they need to have a good understanding
of modern technology not just for learning but for everyday life
including job searches.
5. Motivation to learn can often be difficult
to maintain. Three of the biggest barriers to maintaining motivation
are: transfersthe "churn"; poor study facilities;
and lack of pay parity.
5.1 The Select Committee's report was uncompromising
in its recommendation that the high level of transfers has to
stop if prison education is to achieve it aims (paragraph 50).
The situation has not improved and if anything has worsened with
the prison population now in excess of 80,000. Prisoners continue
to be transferred with little reference to any education or training
they are undertaking or whether courses being studied are available
at the next prison. Many prisoners have half finished NVQs in
a variety of subjects. This causes frustration both to the teachers
and to the prisoners. The cost of such transfers in terms of uncompleted
studies does not appear to be known. Given the relatively small
number of prisoners undertaking education (it is thought to be
less than 30%) it would seem relatively easy to establish a national
"holding" system for such prisoner-studentsas
indeed does happen in some prisons.
5.2 Regimes across the prison estate are
inconsistent as to what can and can't be used in a prison. In
our experience this inconsistency has applied to use of lap tops;
waiving of volumetric controls for higher learners; use of CDs
and DVDs; and subjects studied.
5.3 Study facilities, particularly for distance
learning, vary hugely from prison to prison. In some, there is
access two or three times a week to a well equipped classroom
where students can use computers to type up their assignments
and gain assistance in study skills. This latter is particularly
useful for those beginning distance learning courses. In other
prisons, prisoner-students may have to choose between a study
period and using the gym and/or having a shower. A quiet place
to study can often be at a premium. More than one prisoner-student
has reported to us that they do the majority of their studying
at five in the morning.
5.4 Although there is some improvement in
pay parity, there are still large numbers of prisoners where a
decision to opt for education is a serious sacrifice, often as
much as £3-£6 a weekconsiderable sums in prison
terms. It is good to see that in some prisons, prisoners have
the opportunity to work in workshops offering the chance to earn
good money and achieve useful qualifications. There are still
many where prisoners spend their days putting screws into plastic
bags and similar repetitive work which offers little in terms
of development but a good reward in terms of prison pay.
5.6 The Offenders Learning Journey offered
the prospect of a learner-centred and flexible approach. This
is vital if prisoners are to be attracted to and retained on education
and training courses. There are many imaginative schemes for doing
this including providing basic skills in workshops rather than
in classrooms (which can be intimidating for those with poor experience
of school) and learning through art, drama and music projects.
It is to be hoped that these will be allowed to flourish along
side the basic and vocational skills training.
15 Offenders Learning Journey was published by the
Offenders Learning & Skills Unit (predecessor to the Social
Inclusion & Offenders Unit as the framework document underpinning
the transfer of offender learning to the Learning & Skills