PLA Evidence Submission to the Education Select Committee Inquiry on Prison Education

Home > PLA Evidence Submission to the Education Select Committee Inquiry on Prison Education

24 February 2021

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In January this year, the Prisoner Learning Alliance submitted evidence to the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into prison education.


Read our full submission here:


A Summary of PLA Evidence Submitted to the Inquiry

Data gaps and evidence of the impact of education

Although there are some research studies, evidence regarding the effectiveness of prison education and training programmes is too sparse. However, the detailed analytical evidence we do have, which focuses mainly the impact on reoffending rates and on the likelihood of finding employment, is largely positive.

The PLA would like data matching agreements between all relevant departments, as well as a formal link between the National Pupil Database and Ministry of Justice (MoJ). (Read about this in more detail in our evidence on black people, racism and human rights)


Additional learning needs

Research consistently shows that around a third of all prisoners have learning support needs. It is very disappointing that after many years of advocating for a standardised national screening tool for LD/D (learning difficulty and/or disability) this has still not been implemented. Whilst some prisons are doing good work, it is unusual for a prison to have a whole-prison approach to identifying, supporting and working with prisoners with LD/D.

There needs to be more information-sharing agreements with the relevant outside bodies with whom the learner had previously worked. Staff should also be appropriately trained and have the time and resources to meet the needs of all learners.


Prison education can support well-being; build human capital, through creating the motivation to change and social capital, through supporting, belonging and engagement.


Skills and training for employment

Despite many policy initiatives and some pockets of good practice, prison education does not currently deliver the skills our economy and industries need.

One challenge is that whilst education providers deliver education, HMPPS prison industries group oversee workshops and training. This often means that the opportunity to embed functional skills into technical skills training is missed out.



Apprenticeships and ROTL

The MoJ made a step in the right direction by setting out the Prisoner Apprenticeship Pathway in its 2018 Education and Employment Strategy which would enable prisoners to undertake the necessary training whilst in prison before taking up a 12-month apprenticeship on release. However, little progress has been made in implementing the pathway. More funding and guidance for apprenticeships needs to be available.

Release on Temporary Licence (day release) should be adopted more widely so that people could attend placements or jobs in the community to prepare them for employment upon release.

You can read more about our recommendations regarding embedding prison learning in community education here.


The majority of prisoners will take opportunities that mean time out of their cells, especially if they are relevant to their interests, abilities and aspirations. We believe there are a large number of motivated and determined prisoners who would be enthused about education, if the opportunities were more appropriate.


Attendance and incentivising education

Many prisoners are motivated and determined to engage in prison education, particularly if opportunities mean time out of cell, and are relevant to their interests, abilities and aspirations.

However, education is sometimes paid at a lower rate than attending other activities, and we believe to create a positive incentive, education should be paid at least the same to demonstrate the value, status and profile of education in the prison.

Governors should also integrate education in the wider prison, involving senior education staff and education teams in planning, and highlighting the importance of education to wing and residential officers.


Resources and contractual arrangements

Prison education is provided by external providers, making holding either the prison or provider accountable difficult. Current contractual measures which aim to do so are complex and don’t work. Success often depends on good relationships, leadership, communication and adequate prison officer staffing.

Governors’ and education providers’ distinct responsibilities must be clear so that they can be held to account in a more meaningful way. Clearer measures about how a prisoner’s progression can be assessed would be welcomed by the PLA.


Prison education is more effective when it is integrated into the prison, when Governors involve senior education staff in key decision and information sharing meetings and when education teams are involved in any core planning around the regime allocation and activities.



As with public services generally, HMPPS has experienced significant cuts to its budget in recent years. Significant staffing shortages have undermined rehabilitation activities, including access to education.

The current commissioning arrangements favour larger education providers who can often buffer the risks around uncertain class sizes and pricing of contracts. The DPS, the commissioning system for Governors to purchase additional education provision, is criticised for being bureaucratic. The expectation was that the DPS would be used for ‘enrichment’ and smaller, short-term activities when in fact, much of the budget (55%) has been spent on Information, Advice and Guidance provision.



Digital technology

The most significant infrastructure disadvantage in prisons remains lack of access to digital technology. A full roll-out including in-cell technology is PLA member’s’ number one priority.

The lockdown has highlighted the ‘digital divide’ between prisoners and the rest of the community, and HMPPS desperately needs a digital strategy and the ability to provide courses online.


HMPPS desperately needs a digital strategy and the ability to provide courses online. The lockdown has highlighted the ‘digital divide’ between prisoners and the rest of the community.


Sentence length and transfers

Different length sentences present different challenges for prisons. Some women’s prisons have created extended induction courses to support women who are in prison for a number of days, whilst other prisons face the challenge of supporting young adults with sentences spanning decades.

There is currently a dire lack of life-long, continuous or progressive learning across prisons for long-term or higher-level prisoner learners. We believe that in some circumstances, prisoners should be on ‘education hold’ and not eligible for transfer in certain specific circumstances.


The future

Digital technology would transform learning but maximising the opportunities for social education will both support prisoners to manage daily life in prison and facilitate a more successful return to society.

Finally, we would like prison education to be fully aligned with adult education and part of all Department of Education strategies and policies on further education, training and skills, so prisoners can access the same learning opportunities as those in the community.


Download the evidence submission here:

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