18 May 2022
The report identifies that education and training in prisons gets people onto the ‘ladder of opportunity’. But it is also clear that prison education must be understood in broader terms than just improving the employability of a prisoner. They highlight that education allows a prisoner to gain self-confidence and provides mental health benefits in isolating conditions, while improving their behaviour in prison. Education has a value in itself, developing the person as a whole. The Ministry of Justice must develop prison education policy accordingly.
The Committee believe that providing adequate prison education and a culture of learning is part of a Governor’s core responsibilities. To support this culture shift, they say Governors must raise the profile of prison education. Interestingly, they recommend that each prison have a Deputy Governor of Learning who is part of the Senior Management team, has a background in education and is directly responsible for outcomes and monitoring learning in their prison.
The Committee also highlights that support for prison learners with additional needs is long overdue. While they welcome the government’s White Paper commitment to provide specialist staff, they ask how this will be resourced. Currently, the four PEF providers work in around 100 prisons and have 25 Sencos between them. The Committee’s recommendation is that there should be a minimum of one Senco per prison, and the government should have a clear time scale for their introduction.
Prison officers, who have day-to-day contact with people in prison, do not always understand the importance of prison education. In our evidence to the Committee, we suggested that more work was needed to highlight the importance of education to wing residential officers so that they could understand the link between educational outcomes and successful resettlement. We are pleased that the Committee picked this up in their recommendations.
The report also references UCU’s and PLA’s research on prison teachers’ experiences. They rightly state that tackling the crisis in staff recruitment and retention must be at the heart of any strategy to provide an effective prison education system. Teachers are leaving because of poor pay, lack of career development, unsafe working environments, and lack of time, meaning recruitment and retention are at crisis point. They point out that there are many prison educator vacancies and money is going to pay agency workers rather than permanent experienced staff.
The report highlights the concerning lack of progress in workforce development since this was last identified in the Coates Report, Unlocking Potential in 2016. The recruitment of high quality teachers still needs to be developed and there is still no overall HMPPS strategy on recruitment and development for teaching staff. This is an area of concern for many of our members and we have set up a working group to look at this in more detail, which will be reporting in the autumn.
You can read the Education Select Committee’s Report here.
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