23 March 2023
PLA Network Officer Hannah Stevens introduces a new blog series that highlights the variety of careers in prison education, and the variety of career paths leading towards them.
The Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA) is often contacted by people who want to teach in prisons. When they ask, “What do I need to do to become a prison teacher?”, it can be difficult to provide a straightforward answer.
Prison teachers themselves will often say that they “just fell into it”. Perhaps this is because it is an area of work little seen or heard on the other side of the wall. As our most recent report – Professional Development for Prison Educators – shows, the reality is there is no one way:
There is no standard route or standard set of qualifications to be a prison teacher. Candidates will usually need to have a qualification in their subject, show skills and aspirations that are essential to be a prison teacher and may have a teaching qualification. Each prison education provider can set their own recruitment criteria.
Whether this is a good thing is up for debate, and something members of our working group on professional development for prison educators have spoken about at length. What is certain is that it makes answering the question – “How do I get into prison teaching?” – quite difficult.
But it is increasingly important that we support this interest in joining the profession. Our Hidden Voices report – published with the University and College Union (UCU) in August 2021 – tells us that fewer than three in ten prison teachers expect to be in prison teaching for longer than five years. This is despite how strongly they feel about the work they do.
Prison educators are motivated by spending time with learners, and the transformational impact that education can have on people’s lives. Teachers understand the rehabilitative impact of education, and they value the process of supporting people in prison to make changes that will lead to better outcomes on release.
We need to act quickly to recruit new prison teachers, and to support those who are already in post.
The Professional Development for Prison Educators report makes a series of recommendations to the Ministry of Justice, HM Prison and Probation Service, prison education providers, teacher training colleges and Postgraduate Certificate in Education providers. The recommendations include:
But, in the meantime, how are prison teachers joining the profession?
Our new blog series will highlight the variety of careers in prison education, and the variety of career paths leading towards them. We hope that this will be a helpful resource for people who are interested in teaching in prisons.
And if you’re already teaching in prisons, we’d like to hear from you about your route in – whether you are a tutor, a Functional Skills Manager, a learning support practitioner, or something else.
If you’d like to write a 400-800 word blog about what you do, and how you came to do it, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Prisoner Learning Alliance 2024