PLA gives evidence to the Education Select Committee Inquiry – Are prisoners being left behind?

Home > PLA gives evidence to the Education Select Committee Inquiry – Are prisoners being left behind?

11 June 2021 compress image scaled

This week, Francesca Cooney, who coordinates the Secretariat for the Prisoner Learning Alliance, gave evidence to the Education Select Committee in response to their inquiry, ‘Education: Are prisoners being left behind?‘.

Key areas of questioning included: access to digital technology; allocations and attendance; incentivising education; and delivering higher level qualifications.


Watch the Evidence Session


Read the Evidence Submission


Francesca’s responses to committee questions during the session are outlined below.


Access to digital technology

  • The addition of digital technology access would revolutionise prison education. The technology is there to manage security and safety – it is about political will and finding the resources and getting the funding together to do this.
  • Even prior to COVID, there were massive challenges in the delivery of education in prison. Staff shortages prevent many prisoners from being unlocked from their cells to access the education department, and combined with the lack of in-cell technology, meaningful study is extremely difficult.
  • There is an appetite for digital technology, with much governor support. The lockdown has shown that it is absolutely essential. But there is not enough funding or resources – the biggest challenge is money. If the resources could be found, quite a few prisons could implement digital technology and in-cell devices simply and quickly. They already have the infrastructure through in-cell telephony; the cabling is already there. It would be more complicated in other prisons, but there is no reason, apart from money, for digital technology not to be rolled out in quite a few prisons quite quickly.


Access to Education

  • In-cell education offers opportunities for many prison learners through accessible and flexible materials. However, in-cell learning is not a panacea for prison education – particularly among those with additional learning needs. It is paramount that in-cell learning does not outweigh face-to-face classes. Integral to rehabilitation through education is the personal and social development acquired through the transferable skills gained through group work. Employers can teach prisoners technical skills to be successful in a role, but it is the responsibility of the prison to equip prisoners with interpersonal skills. Employers often value the latter significantly more.
  • Prisoners are only going to be able to participate in schemes such as the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill if there is digital technology in the prisons. Everything else is provided by the core PEF provider.
  • The quality of education in both private and state prisons varies substantially. In contracted-out prisons, if the education provider and parent company are the same, it is easier to integrate education into the prison’s culture and regime
  • There are not enough activity spaces – particularly in category B and category C prisons – further hindering opportunities for every prisoner interested to engage.
  • It is currently mandatory in the majority of prisons to attend education if someone does not have functional skill. This is an inappropriate way to attempt to engage people, because it offers the decision between being locked in their cell for the whole day, or attending a class (particularly as many prisoners hold negative associations with school and education). Embeding functional skills, throughout the prison, such as industry, in kitchens would be more beneficial
  • Engaging prisoners requires good information, advice and guidance which assesses, motivates and inspires prisoners to enable them to reach their full potential. Allocation processes which thoroughly assess the skills, aspirations and needs of individuals are essential


Supporting Prison Education

  • Learning plans and sentence plans are infrequently coordinated, as they are organised by different departments on different database systems. It is only if a prisoner’s keyworker and offender manager are particularly proactive that their plans might be integrated.
  • We should not have systems that disincentivise attendance at education. It should be paid as much as work.
  • Prison education funding has been stagnated for years, and the core education provider contracts are inflexible.
  • Prison education provision is predominantly focused on entry level qualifications, offering courses up to level 2, with very few at level 3 and above.
  • Education in prisons should be more aligned with that of the community. GCSEs, A Levels and other level 3 qualifications should be standard provision in prison.
  • Local further education colleges should have much more of an impact and an input into what happens in prisons.
  • If you are an adult in the community and you do not have a level 3 qualification, you can do a wide range of qualifications—A-levels, vocational courses and access courses—for free- these opportunities should be available for people in prison too
  • ROTL (Release On Temporary License) could and should be used more frequently – particularly to facilitate apprenticeships and attending education in the community
  • The government has not published any data on progress or achievements in prison education for three years. We can monitor whether someone is in work six weeks after release; and it would be useful to monitor education outcomes too


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