The PLA Conference 2019: A Round-Up

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25 September 2019

19 PLA Awards 8457 min

On the 3 September 2019, the Prisoner Learning Alliance held our annual conference. We heard lots of interesting speakers and presentations. Below is a summary of the workshop presentations and a link to the slides.

We were delighted that Maria Navarro from Ofsted gave a talk on the new inspection framework, which will be implemented in January next year. The curriculum will be at the heart of the new framework and inspectors will be looking at whether this sets out the aims of the programme of education, how it is implemented and the process for evaluating what knowledge and skills have been gained. Maria outlined the content of the new judgement areas and the changes to the inspection process.

You can read more about this in Maria’s slides here

Christine Franklin talked through her research into using reader pens in prison.  She had spoken to men who had used the pen after completing a one-day health and safety course. This is something they have to do before they are allowed to work in the prison workshops. prisoners who had indicated that they had a learning difficulty used reader pens for the course.  They said that the pen was easy to use, that helped them to stay calm and less stressed, gave people the  chance to be at the same level if they struggled to read and it helped them feel confident once they got used to it.

You can read more about Christine’s research here

Ruth and Dan from the Open University led a session on digital technology.  Each table of participants was tasked with coming up with a couple of specific ideas for making better use of digital in prison education.  Another table then analysed the ideas with a third looking to identify how the PLA could take the ideas forward.  Ideas included,  the use of reader pens for those struggling with literacy; In cell digital access; a skills based IT package perhaps using tablet technology; resolving discrepancies between the level of IT tools in public sector and private prisons; use of applications to support rehabilitation; upskilling of prison staff;  intensive technical and virtual learning; using tablets to download learning material; audio learning access; a licence allowing prisoners supervised internet access when they are nearing release.

Overall, the strong feeling of the workshop was that there was no shortage of good innovative ideas and isolated good practice.  However, participants wanted to see consistency and standardisation (which did not mean the lowest common denominator). This would mean a coherent development of an approach to digital learning that made sense as prisoners progressed through different establishments over their sentence.

Preparing for an Ofsted inspection – this workshop was presented by Sheena Maberly; a former prison education manager and an experienced Ofsted inspector.  Sheena emphasised that inspections would focus on the impact of leadership and management; and an action plan to do without implemented actions would carry limited weight in an inspection judgement. She also explained that the scope of inspections is wide, encompassing prison workshops, work and ROTL, so preparation should not focus entirely on education within the Prison Education Framework.

It is important that prison know what progress they have made on the recommendations of the previous inspection. Other points raised were that calculations of activity places should be honest and transparent, based on full time places and taking account of the full population.

Read Sheena’s slides for the workshop here

Milton Keynes College presented a workshop on their Development Lab. This is a training, ideas, and practice resource for their teachers. They demonstrated a free writing exercise. Participants were given a sheet and asked who they would like sit next to at dinner and what questions they would like to ask them. Teachers are encouraged to start activities as soon as students come into class- even if the rest of the class has not turned up yet. The development hub has lots of activities and ideas to support lessons, course planning, behaviour management and assessment.  This work is supported by advanced teaching practitioners who train their colleagues and offer onsite visits. Activities from the development hub are linked to action plans and supported through appraisals and performance reviews.

Read more about the Development Lab here

Francesca presented on the work the Prisoner Learning Alliance had been doing to monitor Dynamic Purchasing System. This is the system that individual prisons can use to commission education services. Participants shared their experiences and generally felt that education staff had not had sufficient training on the system as well as raising the concern that the helpline that answers queries might not be fully resources.   We discussed whether the problems with the system were teaching problems or more systemic.  Many participants said there were communication difficulties between commissioning prison staff and the supplier –who tells who, what and when. People shared difficult situations when each party knew a contract had been agreed but did not know if they were allowed to or did not feel able to share outcome.  The workshop came up with ideas for improvements.

Read more about the PLA’s work here

There were also presentations on:

Leadership in prison education – read the slides here

Prison university partnerships – read the slides here



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