2020 Conference

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In September 2020, we welcomed over 160 people to our virtual, half-day conference, New Directions: The future of prison education. Explore the various sessions, workshops and key ideas below.

Keynote speech

Sarah Fitzgerald, Head of Education Quality at HMPPS, kicked off this year’s Prisoner Learning Alliance conference with an overview of the key changes to prison education which were introduced in 2019 and an update on how HMPPS is supporting education during lockdown.

Crises are often catalysts for that kind of innovation. I think it’s important we now examine where changes to our usual ways of working, but particularly ones driven by technology, can better support service users – Sarah Fitzgerald

Read Sarah’s key points here


Attendees then attended one of five workshops. Click on the headings below to find out more about each of the sessions, watch recordings, and download the slides.

Dawn Buzzard and Nick Jeans, Sero Consulting/Education and Training Foundation

Dawn and Nick introduced the digital platform which they developed to enhance teaching of essential digital skills. This platform is a digital training programme for teachers in order for them to deliver essential digital skills for adults. Dawn and Nick demonstrated the layout of the platform, which was easy to follow; how to register; and explained how you can self-assess to receive the most appropriate training. Teachers can also use some of the course materials for teaching their students, a step welcomed by prison educators.

Although we were not able to trial it at the workshop, some attendees were familiar with the platform, and commented: ‘I tried this self-assessment and it does give useful feedback and links to further videos based on your skills. I definitely recommend investing some time to explore these’ (This was from Ruth McFarlane). However, some attendees were commenting on the lack of access of digital technology and cloud in prisons and some prisons not being open to digital innovation. This can make delivery of the essential digital skills in the prison setting challenging.

Download the slides here Watch the Zoom recording here

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Claire Collins, CCConsulting, Education and Training Foundation

Claire’s workshop introduced participants to some of the different ways that we can understand Special Educational Needs and Learning Difficulties and Disabilities. She acknowledged that with the many different cognitive pathways – communication and interaction; learning and cognition; social, emotional and mental health; and sensory and physical impairments – we can never be experts in all needs and areas.

An alternative approach is to think about how we can be inclusive of all of the different needs at once, and how we can ask people and encourage them to talk about what is best for them. Claire shared information about different resources available for supporting SEND residents. This included a mindfulness toolkit to be used in the classroom, and a range of resources available at the Centre for Excellence, which is funded and supported by the Education and Training Foundation. The Centre provides support for leaders in how to lead a team inclusively and support all team members, how to develop and inclusive curriculum, and more.

Download Claire’s slides and resources here Watch the Zoom recording here

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Angela Sanders and Mark Grasby, Education and Training Foundation

Angela started with an overview of her research into prison education, which was undertaken between May and August 2019, a time of dramatic changes in prison education. The research heard from 52 people with roles in delivering, managing and monitoring education in ten prisons, including voices we often do not have an opportunity to hear from.

Mark Grasby, Former Head of Regimes Regimes, employment and commercial activity for Yorkshire Prisons Group, presented a model adopted across the Yorkshire Prisons Group. Mark outlined the central idea of creating a vision, delivery structures and systems for monitoring.

Participants then broke into subgroups to discuss the question ‘What do leaders need to be doing at this time to support Prison Education?’ Answers including more effective collaboration between senior leaders, prison staff and education providers; support in reintroducing face-to-face education; have a clear vision and be able to change rapidly; and improve IT structures.

Download Angela and Mark’s slides here Watch the Zoom recording here

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Lindsay Murphy, Safe Ground

Letter writing is at the heart of Safe Ground’s work leading therapeutic group programmes as an important outlet for creative expression, self-reflection, and a means for keeping lines of communication open with prisoners’ children and other relations. One of the themes the workshop addressed was how letters fit in the world today and how the act of writing and committing something to paper is different from saying something aloud.

Letters have become a crucial means of communication since lockdown, and Safe Ground has encouraged prisoners to write letters by sending them sample letters with drawings and quotes. They have also produced a booklet which explores different forms and purposes of letter-writing, such as an illustrated letter, a letter of advice, a letter in character or different voices, a letter to yourself, and an open letter. During breakout groups, participants were encouraged to think about the value of letters, what you want to achieve from the letter, how it would feel to be a recipient of that letter, and whether it invites a response.

The session finished with the group sharing best practice, and talking about how people working in criminal justice use letter writing, including through collaging and redacting text from newspapers to produce letters.

Jezz Wright, WayOUt TV

WayOut TV is an in-cell television channel, providing short form content which aims to be entertaining and engaging. Ways 2 Learn, WayOut TV’s sister learning channel, provides short, bite size courses produced specifically for the prison population, with a paper based workbook that allows prisoners to study in their cell.

During lockdown, WayOut TV introduced an in-cell learning channel to deliver a fun way of learning maths and English which didn’t require a formal workbook. It has also enabled prisoners to watch materials recorded by lecturers, speaking directly to them in their cells, to participate in quizzes and competitions, and mindfulness exercises.

To make sure that the content WayOut TV broadcasts in prisons is relevant and interesting, it takes on board feedback and requests from prisoners to deliver content they want to see. The channel has employed several former prisoners from HMP Wayland who now work on creating new programmes.

And in the future? With book groups still postponed, WayOut TV aspires to set up a book review show to engage residents with reading and promote libraries.  It is also considering how charities such as Shannon Trust, and private education providers, could work together to deliver education content.

Watch the Zoom recording here


“People in education in prison shouldn’t be treated any differently from people in education outside prison. Sadly, that’s not what’s happening.” – Marc Conway, Prison Reform Trust

To conclude Prisoner Learning Alliance’s 2020 conference, our panel discussion brought together different voices in prison education to discuss some of the challenges and innovations we might see in the future.

Read our write-up of the panel to find out what our different panelists had to say about prison education during lockdown and in the future.

Read our summary of the panel discussion here

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