Wednesday Webinar: Good Practice in Prison Education in Scotland and Northern Ireland

Home > Wednesday Webinar: Good Practice in Prison Education in Scotland and Northern Ireland

30 November 2020

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We were delighted to recently host a webinar with Jim King, Head of Education at the Scottish Prison Service, and David Seffen, Head of Prison Programmes at Belfast Metropolitan College.

Jim and David talked about their work and answered questions from Chair Francesca Cooney, Head of Policy at Prisoners’ Education Trust, and members of the audience.

Listen to the full recording on Sound Cloud

When David started as Head of Prison Programmes at Belfast Metropolitan College almost seven years ago, he joined a small team of two, with the ambition of reshaping education and implementing a number of the recommendations from the Anne Owers report. Hydebank Wood Prison’s education programme was to become Hydebank Wood secure college.

David talked through the planning, work and collaboration involved in the project. His team – now 13 people – began completing a review of students’ needs, looking at essential and functional skills requirements, students’ ambitions, and the types of programmes students wanted to see more of.

As well as practical and scheduling changes, a cultural shift needed to take place. Soon, staff began to move from talking about ‘prisoners’ to ‘students’.

Hydebank Wood College

Working with prison staff was also an essential part of the transition. It was officers and other staff who would be supporting students on an individual basis, encouraging them to attend class when they wanted a day off and championing the benefits of education.

They now work alongside the prison service training college to be part of the new recruits training regime. They did presentations to new recruits, highlighting the benefits of education and securing them in ambassadorial roles.

Since then, Hydebank Wood College has developed strong links with community organisations. They are now looking at expanding and enhancing the curriculum, and have started to introduce in-cell technology including tablets to support remote learning and education through Zoom.

Jim’s work in the Scottish Prison Service developing a new learning and skills strategy also built on a holistic, forward-thinking understanding of prison education.

Jim recognised that one of the key challenges of developing the new strategy would be meeting the diverse educational needs of the prison population, taking into account different educational backgrounds and ambitions.

Vision of Scottish Prison Service’s five-year strategy: That everyone in our care has the opportunity to engage in creative and flexible learning that unlocks potential, inspires change and builds’ individual strength

Another key aspect of the strategy would be accepting and allowing education to take on different roles for different people. Whilst for some, gaining the education and skills to enter employment upon release would be a priority, for many at the start of long sentences, or for people with mental health issues to address first, this would come further down the line.

To achieve all this, the new strategy had to see arts as a core part of the curriculum.

Partnerships with community organisations have all contributed to this; HMP Shotts have hosted an Opera and published a creative writing book filled with poems, essays and short stories; HMYOI Polmont now has its own National Arts facility; and HMP Glenochil has published two books as part of the Life Beyond project with the University of Edinburgh, looking at the idea of space exploration.

Both Jim and David spoke about using education to help people in prison connect with their families, such as through reading with children, and homework clubs in visitors’ centres.

To listen to the full webinar and hear more examples of innovative good practice in prison education, and to listen to previous Wednesday Webinars, visit our SoundCloud page.

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