Initial thoughts on the new education contracts

Home > Initial thoughts on the new education contracts

08 June 2022

On 26th May, PLA members, and some eminent speakers gathered in London for our first face-to-face meeting in over two years. We met to discuss our hopes and aspirations for the new prison education contracts. Two months previously, the Ministry of Justice had announced the intention to recommission the contracts, in line with the vision set out for the Prisoner Education Service in the government’s White Paper.

The Ministry of Justice are currently conducting market engagement before they begin to design the tender. The aim of our meeting was to find out what PLA members would like to see in the contracts, and to inform a future briefing.

Professor Tom Schuller chaired the event and during the afternoon, we heard from a range of speakers, Marc Conway, (Prison Reform Trust), Angela Nartey, (University and College Union) and  Chris Stacey (Clinks) who offered perspectives on what prisoner learners, teachers and the voluntary sector want from prison education. We were also delighted that Abigail Farley, Prisoner Education Service Programme Director at HMPPS was able to join us.


Marc explained that the way prison works can disincentivise people from getting involved in education. Sometimes the pay for attending education is lower than for work. In addition, many people in prison become frustrated because they are asked to repeat the assessments or repeat classes at levels that have already studied, which is demotivating. Marc said that education is not just about getting a job – it should be fun, engaging, and about people doing something positive with their time.

Education is about more than getting a job


Angela described her work supporting prison educators and advocating for a stable and effectively resourced prison education system.  She mentioned Hidden Voices: The experience of teachers working in prisons from UCU and the PLA, which found that seven in ten prison teachers surveyed planned to leave in the next five years. There is a workforce crisis due to problems with recruitment, retention, and progression. This impacts teachers but also has a significant impact on prisoner learners, as the working conditions of our teachers are the learning conditions of our students. UCU would like to see a national contract for prison educators with terms and conditions that are aligned with further education tutors in the community and believes that greater opportunities for the development of specialist teaching skills and pastoral leadership opportunities would improve the attractiveness of the career. UCU would like HMPPS to explore how these priorities could be incentivised and embedded in the new contracts.

Working conditions are learning conditions


Chris is hoping that the new contracts will deliver wide ranging education that is not just linked to government policies on employment. Prison education should be accessible to everyone, from those learning to read to those in higher education. It has a key role to play in developing life skills and confidence, which means supporting unaccredited courses too, and recognizing the importance of the arts and creativity. He explained that the Ministry of Justice is moving towards using grants as part of probation, and that in other areas, e.g., family work, smaller, more localised services are being commissioned. There is a lot to learn from the recent probation commissioning process, the Dynamic Framework that is used for probation commissioning and the Dynamic Purchasing System used for prison education because the voluntary sector, and in particular smaller charities, have struggled to engage in these processes.

We mustn’t lose sight of education for educations’ sake


Abigail encouraged attendees to participate in the market engagement process, regardless of whether they are a potential supplier, and shared details on how to register for these online sessions. Abigail emphasized that there is currently no invitation to tender, and that at this point they are looking for as many people as possible to give their perspectives. The information that is being gathered is helping with the service design. They are hopeful that new providers, and a wide range of providers will be interested in being involved and they are already having good engagement in the online sessions. They are aware that a lot of good practice and high-quality innovation exists, and so they are keen to capture that success and find out what has enabled it. Abigail encouraged people to complete the online questionnaires and explained that can also register interest in one-to-one meetings via the online platform  – deadline 9th June (details below).

We want to establish a golden thread of learning and skills development running through all activities in prison


The PLA is working on a briefing for publication in June, based on the views from this meeting and an online consultation on 10 June. We can also take comments by email – please email by 10 June.



How to respond directly to the Ministry of Justice

You can register interest on Jaggaer (the Ministry of Justice eSourcing Portal) following the instructions on the Prior Information Notice: Market Engagement – HMPPS Adult Prison Education Services in England – Contracts Finder.

This gives you access to all current and future information on the Prisoner Education Service (PES). Through the platform, you can ask questions and find out how to take part in the ongoing Market Engagement activities. We have run a virtual launch event and seven topical webinars, which you can watch back after registering if you missed them. The MoJ also encourage you to respond to the follow-up questionnaires to each webinar.

You can also send any questions related to PES to

You do not need to be a current supplier or intending to bid for future contracts to use these channels – all interested parties are encouraged to take part, to use this opportunity to help shape future education and skills services in adult prisons.

The online questionnaires mentioned above can be accessed on Jaggaer, or directly via the links below:

All of these surveys are open until the 20th June.

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