Criminal Justice and Courts Bill

Written evidence submitted by Association of School and Coll ege Leaders (CJC 35)


1 The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) represents more than 18,000 heads, principals, deputies, vice-principals, assistant heads, business managers and other senior staff of maintained and independent schools and colleges throughout the UK. ASCL has members in more than 90 per cent of secondary schools and colleges of all types, responsible for the education of more than four million young people. This places the association in a unique position to consider this issue from the viewpoint of the leaders of secondary schools and of colleges.

2 ASCL welcomes the attention being paid to the learning of young offenders. For many only improving their knowledge, skills, qualifications and employability will significantly reduce their chance of reoffending.

3 Therefore the thrust of the green paper, Transforming Youth Custody: Putting education at the heart of detention is also very welcome, and the concept of secure colleges well worth considering. But the idea needs to be fully examined, and its implementation planned and handled with great care, if it is to be a successful initiative.

4 It is important to learn from other recent initiatives in offender learning such as the introduction of OLASS (Offender Learning and Skills Service) 4 for older prisoners. This has enabled a much greater focus to be given to the skills agenda and to ensure that prisoners are equipped with the latest skills and expertise to enable progression to secure work when their sentence is completed. As such it has been a welcome move, but there were problems in its introduction, and it remains less than optimal. In particular, see the point at paragraph 8 below.

5 The idea of secure colleges is also welcome provided that it does mean that for young offenders education will become a much higher priority than it has been. The qualifications on offer must be those that can lead to sustainable employment or progression to higher levels of study.

6 It is imperative that there is recognition that many offenders, a far larger proportion than in the population as a whole, will have learning disabilities, special educational needs, mental health needs, or will fall into more than one of these groups.

7 Therefore for prisoners to succeed the funding that follows them must be sufficient, and used, to ensure that they have appropriate additional support tailored to their individual circumstance and needs.

8 Currently, under OLASS 4 methodologies, the levels of additional learning support available for older prisoners are significantly below that required. This mistake should not be repeated as the secure college concept is implemented. 

9 As the concept paper from government suggests, secure colleges must achieve the very best educational provision combined with effective security. If these two objectives can be simultaneously achieved then there is a good chance that these new colleges could become a valuable route back into legitimate, productive and satisfying life for young people.

10 For that to happen the new institutions will need to draw on existing expertise in both security and education. The whole idea will be put at risk if either of these two elements is allowed to dominate.

11 ASCL is not in a position to advise on sources of security expertise, but in education it is colleges of further education (FE colleges) that are best placed to provide. Clearly all FE colleges have great expertise in the education and training of young people, and those that have engaged with offender learning under OLASS also have insight into the particular difficulties of offender education.

12 For that reason ASCL would recommend that all secure colleges should be established only if they are led by a high-quality FE college (with full participation of an appropriate security provider), or at the very least include such a college as a main partner.

13 Clearly issues of cost need to be very carefully considered. This should not be seen as a short-term cost-saving exercise or the very great long-term benefits of reducing recidivism and helping young people back into productive lives will be lost. But with costs and reoffending rates both currently so high there is scope for real improvement. It would be reasonable to aim at a reduction in recurrent costs over a period of time, once the implications of running a secure college are better understood, and once the colleges have established themselves and have been operating effectively for a number of years. If reoffending rates fall and hence the number of prisoners reduces, this will reduce the total cost. And consideration can be given, once the concept is proved, to how to operate most efficiently and perhaps reduce the cost per head.

14 If, however, secure colleges are formed by letting contracts to the lowest bidders the likelihood is that the initiative will fail to deliver the anticipated benefits. The record of the public sector in letting contracts that effectively state what is needed and bind bidders to deliver it is not good. The first secure colleges will need to be very closely monitored to ensure that they are providing high-quality education and training appropriate to the needs of their inmates.

15 I hope that this is of value to your consultation, ASCL is willing to be further consulted and to assist in any way that it can.

March 2014

Prepared 28th March 2014