Wednesday Webinar: Prison Education in Wales

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23 February 2021

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In this webinar we were joined by Jessica Mugaseth, Lead for the Offenders’ Learning Policy at the Welsh Government, and Gemma McDowell, Operational Assurance Lead at HMPPS Wales. The Welsh Government is in close partnership with HMPPS Wales, so our guests regularly work together to support the provision of prison education.

We in Wales hope to change lives by increasing people’s skills, opportunities and aspirations, through delivering an effective education system in prison. – Jessica

Listen to the recording here

Jessica contextualised the devolved nature of prison education in Wales, giving an overview of the funding arrangements and the legal framework that the Welsh Government works within. At the core of the Welsh Government’s objectives is prison education which is inclusive, engaging and inspiring. As Jessica highlighted, this is ‘a key pillar of effective rehabilitation’, and a rehabilitative justice system is the foundation of the Welsh Government’s investment in its citizens – both in prison and in the community.

Education is devolved to the Welsh Government, but Crime and Justice (including the management of prisons) is not. The prison estate in Wales comprises six male prisons and no female prisons, with three variations of education provision. The Welsh prison population averages at 4,700 annually, and in the year 2019-2020, the Welsh Government funded and supported the delivery of over 9000 courses. The Welsh Government provides HMPPS with around £6.6 million per year to deliver education to men in the public sector prisons.

The collaborative approach of the Welsh Government and HMPPS Wales assesses the progress of prison education through the analysis of retention and success rates, however Jessica explained that she sees an indicator of success elsewhere:

The key success in the delivery of learning and skills is the commitment of the teachers and the tutors, as well as the men themselves, to providing and accessing high quality education.

Gemma explained the delivery and management process of education provision in Welsh prisons. The COVID-19 pandemic demanded a new approach to prison education during lockdown, and Gemma described the journey that HMPPS Wales has been on. This included rapidly and massively developing in-cell education. Gemma outlined where the provision is now, with successes and spaces for improvement.

At the start of lockdown, the HMPPS Wales worked with Safer Custody and Psychology teams to offer meaningful distraction packs to help with wellbeing, and targeted learning packs tailored to multiple levels of educational need. Following this, packs were designed specifically for men whose first language is not English. Across the prison, 28 different languages of activity packs are available.

Each prison has its own Head of Learning and Skills responsible for education and throughout lockdown Gemma supported them with the operational delivery of sharing resources. The most popular courses were related to wellbeing.

The value of in-cell technology was acknowledged throughout the webinar, and it is this innovative resource which could revolutionise the quality of education in prison. In partnership with Coracle, in cell Chromebooks have been delivered to four public sector prisons in Wales. This is currently a pilot, however Gemma is certain that this is the way forward. Watch this space!

Useful links:

‘HMPPS in Wales: Learning and Skills strategy for Prisons in Wales’.

‘Reforming Outcomes: A review of Offender Education in Wales’.

The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

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