‘Education in prison should give individuals the skills they need to unlock their potential, gain employment, and become assets to their communities. It is one of the pillars of effective rehabilitation.’ – Dame Sally Coates
Last week was an important one for our members, with announcements made in the Queen’s speech about prison reform (you can read more about this in a blog here) and the publication of the Dame Sally Coates’ review into education in prison.
Clinks submitted a response to the call for evidence for the prison education review, which highlighted the importance of a wide ranging curriculum including the arts, sport and the involvement of families; and the role the voluntary sector can play in the provision of these. The National Alliance for Arts in Criminal Justice (NAACJ) also engaged in the review process and Alison Frater, Chair of the NAACJ has blogged about the review's recognition of the role that the arts can play in prison education here.
We will publish a briefing in the coming weeks to highlight key recommendations and what these could mean for the voluntary sector. In the meantime, this blog aims to give a brief overview of the report’s main themes.
1. A whole-prison approach to education
Clinks outlined the importance of the whole prison as a learning environment in our submission to the review and are pleased to see that Dame Sally supports this, and is proposing a ‘whole-prison approach’ to education. Importantly, she recognises that ‘if you remove the barriers and enable prisoners to learn on their wings, or in their cells, they are much more likely to get involved in education.’
Central to a whole-prisons approach is the use of Information Computer Technology (ICT), and the review outlines that the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has been given the capital to develop digital infrastructure across the prison estate. It is essential that prisoners are able to have appropriate access to ICT to support their learning and ensure they can develop their skills with digital technology. To achieve this, the review recommends that ‘the security arrangements that currently underpin the use of ICT in the prison estate should be reviewed. Governors should be allowed to develop an approach that allows suitably risk-assessed prison learners to have controlled access to the internet to support their studies and enable application for jobs on release.’
Upon reception to prison every prisoner will be subject to ‘rigorous assessment’ which will inform a Personal Learning Plan that should be in a ‘consistent digital format that can follow a prisoner through the system is they move prisons.’ The report stresses the importance of people in prison feeling ownership of their Personal Learning Plan, and that is represents a genuine commitment on behalf of the prison to each prisoner’s development.
The review also highlights the role of peer mentors and encourages prisoners to take on teaching positions. It recommends that individuals given these roles should be supported to undertake teaching and information, advice and guidance training, which the report highlights needs to be paid for from the public purse.
2. Holistic education and the needs of people in prison
The curriculum in prison needs to be wide-ranging to meet the diverse needs and educational interests of the prison population. Dame Sally’s vision is that ‘every prison should develop a personalised approach to the delivery of education that addresses basic skills deficits...[and] the curriculum, and the way in which education is delivered must be informed by the individual needs of prisoners (and those on remand).’
The review stresses that there are likely to be substantial numbers of people in prison with significant learning support needs and the review recommends that every prison adopts a whole-prison approach to identifying, supporting and working with prisoners with Learning Difficulties and Disabilities. The report also recognises the distinct educational needs likely to be experienced by specific groups of prisoners, including: Black, Asian and minority ethnic learners; young adults; women; older prisoners; those serving long sentences; and sex offenders.
3. Importance of the arts
The report recognises the importance of the arts in engaging prisoners, including those who have had negative experiences of traditional classroom subjects or have other needs including a lack of self-esteem and confidence. This review could provide an important opportunity for voluntary sector organisation who deliver arts interventions or other services can that support prisoner learning, but it is not yet clear how the sector will be able to engage with the process and the recommendations as they are implemented.
The report goes on to say that ‘there should be no restriction on the use of education funding to support the creative arts, Personal and Social Development opportunities, and family or relationship courses. These can be used to engage prisoners in education and support them to make progress against their Personal Learning Plan.’
4. Employment outcomes
In terms of facilitating employment outcomes, the report highlights the need for vocational education that links clearly to the needs of a constantly changing labour market. Dame Sally’s vision for vocational training is to ‘include delivery of core employment skills as part of preparation for release. It must include training on how and when to disclose convictions, and be supported by an employer engagement and brokerage function that supports and incentivises employers to engage with prisons and employ offenders on release.’
As demonstrated in Clink’s joint briefing with the Prison Reform Trust, Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) is essential for enabling people in prison to access employment opportunities in the community. Dame Sally reiterates this in her report and also highlights that ROTL can support learning and could enable people in prison to start a course in the community in line with the academic sessions before their release.
5. The role of prison governors
The report places prison governors at the heart of facilitating and supporting education for prisoners and highlights the need for them to take ‘the lead in integrating assessment, resettlement, and education and employment support services.’ Although Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) have responsibility for delivering resettlement services, prison governors are encouraged to engage with the contract managers at NOMS regarding the quality of through the gate provision delivered by CRCs. Furthermore, the report states that this will enable them to raise any concerns about a CRC’s services.
To meet the needs of prison learners, the review recommends that the current mechanism for funding prison education should be revised so that prison governors and/or major providers can design a curriculum that meets the individual needs of each prisoner. This includes lifting all restrictions on funding for the arts, sports and personal and social development courses if the governor deems these appropriate for meeting the needs of prisoners.
The current education contracts, delivered through OLASS, will be extended until July 2017. After this date, the report recommends that ‘Governors of reform prisons [are] given the full budget for their education services and the ability to opt out of all, or part of, their OLASS arrangements and choose their own providers.’ In line with the wider implementation of prison reform, the report states that all governors should have ‘full freedom over the choice of education providers for their prisons.’
Timetable for implementation
In recognition of the wider reforms that are currently taking place to the prison system, the Further Education sector and the devolution agenda, the report suggests that the recommendations are introduced during ‘three phases of reform.’ These are an early wins phase (April- July 2016); transition phase (August 2016- July 2017); and new service delivery phase (from August 2017)
We will publish a more detailed briefing for our members that will outline the key recommendations from the review and what some of the opportunities could be for our members. If you have any comments about the review, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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