The Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA) written response to the Prisons Strategy White Paper is the conclusion of conversations with our members, including prison educators and people with lived experience of prison. We are grateful to each contributor for your ideas, and we will be working hard to try and make them happen.
Prisoners are probably the single largest group failed by the education system, yet prison education funding has been stagnant since 2013.
1. Additional investment and infrastructure that supports prison education delivery.
Prisoners are probably the single largest group failed by the education system, yet prison education funding has been stagnant since 2013. The White Paper is unclear as to how much new resource there is going to be for education, if any.
Funding for prison education must take account of the extra resources required to ensure levels of engagement and the additional support required by learners in a custodial environment.
2. An efficient and effective roll-out of digital technology.
The lack of progress in digital technology deployment is extremely concerning to PLA members. The roll-out does not go far enough, and is not happening fast enough.
While the Government committed to in-cell technology in all closed prisons, the published plans are for 15 prisons only. The Covid lockdown restrictions demonstrated that technology is essential – and that secure intranet and restricted internet can be provided safely in prisons. We call for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to make sure that prisons that have in-cell telephony and could implement in-cell technology quickly and inexpensively do this.
3. A clarified vision and strategy for the Prison Education Service.
The lack of detail, direction and innovation in the vision for the Prison Education Service (PES) is concerning to PLA members.
The plans for the PES are far too limited. There is no commitment to diversifying the curriculum, offering study at a higher level, the rollout of digital technology, or apprenticeships and training.
There are few specific commitments in the White Paper about education. However, where there is mention of education, many of the ‘commitments’ are already in place – or would be, if resources allowed.
If the Prison Education Service is to justify its name, it needs a wider range offer.
4. A considered approach to in-cell learning, with high quality materials.
PLA members are particularly concerned about the increase of in-cell learning and self-study.
PLA members are also concerned that self study does not support learners to develop transferable skills, such as communication and teamwork, which are essential for employability, and preferred by many employers over qualifications. In-cell learning must be progressive, curriculum based, and offer opportunities for interaction and real time support from peers or tutors via phone.
HMIP and Ofsted have identified that ‘Remote learning in prisons was particularly challenging for the high proportion of prisoners with low levels of literacy or SEND, or who speak English as an additional language’. As in-cell learning continues, the Prison Service must assess any potential for disadvantage on grounds of disability and nationality.
There must be more focus on developing high quality, interactive and accessible materials. PLA members believe that collaboration between prisons and providers would be beneficial.
Education options that enrich lives, build engagement, and develop social and cultural capital are more essential than ever.
5. Education that reflects provision in the community.
Educators told the PLA that they would like to move away from three-hour classes to a schedule of shorter lessons, which is more aligned with education in the community.
Changing the core day, so that prisons utilise classrooms and workshops more effectively, rather than these spaces being empty for considerable periods over lunch, would also be welcome.
The current review of regimes is an opportunity for reform that brings in evening and weekend activities as standard practice. A culture of learning and creative opportunities outside of the core day would better replicate the community.
6. A varied education curriculum.
Current contracts are making it difficult for educators to provide the creative, holistic, pastoral, and social elements of education.
Despite the recommendations in the Coates Report, there is still too little variety in course provision, and qualifications at level 3 or above are scarce. There are growing numbers of people who are not realistically expected to be released, higher numbers of elderly prisoners, and people serving longer sentences. Education options that enrich lives, build engagement, and develop social and cultural capital are more essential than ever.
We cannot create safe and purposeful prisons without reducing the amount of people in prison.
7. An audit of available activities.
We cannot create safe and purposeful prisons without reducing the amount of people in prison. Activity spaces in prisons are woefully insufficient. Even before Covid, far too many people were unable to access activities despite their interest in participating in education and training.
The PLA would like the MoJ to conduct and publish an audit of current capacity of education and classroom spaces, training, workshop and workspaces, and teacher, trainer, and instructor hours, to evaluate how much current provision there really is.
Read the full PLA response to the Prisons Strategy White Paper here.
PLA Prisons Strategy White Paper Response
The Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA) very much welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation on the Prisons Strategy White Paper.
This submission has been written after receiving written responses from, and having conversations and focus groups with members, including people with lived experience of prison and prison tutors.