PLA Conference 2021

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The PLA Conference 2021 took place online, with two days of interactive presentations and insightful conversations. With over 20 speakers and 180 participants, we heard about prison education from many expert perspectives.


Tune in to the recordings of sessions below, or on the PLA Soundcloud.


We opened the Conference with a review of the year at PLA, with a summary of the submissions we’ve made to Parliamentary inquiries, an outline by Safe Ground of the themes highlighted during their prison tutor workshops, and a presentation on prison education today by tutor Paul Dance.


Watch the Prison Tutor Film

About the Speakers

Charlie Weinberg

Charlie has been Executive Director of Safe Ground since September 2010 when she took over from the founder, Antonia Rubinstein. She has led the team at Safe Ground to expand the organisation’s work in both prison and community settings, creating new arts-based relationships programmes and developing discreet arts projects and opportunities for people in and out of prison to participate in meaningful policy and practice events. She is committed to challenging power dynamics and working with groups and individuals to develop alternatives to punishment through agency, accountability and reflective practice.


Lindsay Murphy

Lindsay has been Programmes Manager at Safe Ground since September 2017. She is responsible for the set-up, management, and facilitation of Safe Ground programmes in both prison and community settings. Throughout her career, she has worked with, and on behalf of, marginalised communities and values Safe Ground’s ability to support groups to express themselves in new environments and in new ways.


Paul Dance

After many years as a salesman, chef, horseman and manager, I went to university at 47 and then began teaching in prison. I have been there for ten and a half years, initially young offenders and latterly adults. The subjects I’ve covered include Literacy, Maths, Employability and various PSD courses. I now mainly teach Creative Writing. It’s a rewarding job with fewer frustrations and challenges than many people expect; the learners are frank and straightforward with their appreciation and criticism. They have achieved a large number of awards from Koestler every year and I look forward to that being repeated later this year despite the recent hiccups. I received a PLA award about three years ago and during the pandemic became more involved with them in promoting the case for prison education. It’s something I feel very strongly needs a serious overhaul.

We heard next from  Michael Ryan, Inspector at HMI Probation, about the recent Joint Review of evidence on neurodiversity in the criminal justice system.


Read the Report on Neurodiversity

About the Speaker

Michael Ryan

In the first quarter of 2021 I led on gathering the probation service perspective for the neurodiversity review.

I have worked as an inspector for the past six years, leading or supporting a range of adult and youth inspections. Prior to this job, my working life was spent in the probation service, since starting training as a probation officer in 1983. In my career I have worked in a range of settings, including courts, prisons and the community. In the first decade of the 21st century I was involved in the national roll out of ‘What Works’ initiatives before taking a job as a senior manager in North Yorkshire.

In 2016 I gained a Master of Studies degree in Penology and Criminology from Cambridge University.

Alice Jones, Additional Learning Needs Coordinator at HMP Parc, shared her experience and expertise on innovative approaches to education for neurodivergent learners.



About the Speaker

Alice Jones

Multi award winner Alice Jones began at HMP/YOI Parc teaching music. As someone who is dyslexic, she can personally empathise with the challenges and strengths an Additional Learning Need may present in education.

Three years ago, she became the first ALN teacher and now ALN Coordinator at Parc. Her own experience has fostered a passion for creating opportunities for people with Autism, Neurodiversity, and Learning Disabilities.

Alice is part of a team that implemented a new Assisted Living Pathway called “Cynnwys” which means inclusion in Welsh. Her work has gained Parc an Accredited status from the National Autistic Society.

Recently completing a Masters in ALN, her role and research has organically grown to lead and advise staff in the Criminal Justice System on how to develop best practise when working with residents and staff who have an ALN.

Her individual work has gained her a Inspire Tutor Award! and a Butler Trust Award; both prestigious awards that celebrate outstanding dedication, skill, and creativity by those working in correctional settings across the UK.

Teresa Carroll, National Head for Inclusion at the Education and Training Foundation, and Melanie Jameson, founder of Dyslexia Consultancy Malvern, shared resources for prison teachers.


A message from Teresa:

Our SEND site has lots of resources by theme to support you so it is worth checking out.  You might be particularly in the area on specific ‘needs’ (we’re looking to change that wording) as there are specific resources on working with neurodiverse learners in the dropdown areas.  Our Centres for Excellence in SEND have lots of activities coming up and you are more than welcome to join and get in touch to ask for specific sessions.

Finally, here is a link to the offender learning area of the Education and Training Foundation website.  The specific resources we developed with the prison workforce are available here.


About the Speakers

Teresa Carroll

Teresa leads on the Education and Training Foundation’s offer to the sector on offender learning, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and mental health. She has worked for over 20 years across the housing, health and education sectors developing community led services, providing advocacy and in social policy roles to ensure that services meet the needs of those they are for.

A beneficiary and champion of the Further Education sector and its life changing impact, Teresa works with others to remove the barriers that prevent people from maximising their potential.


Melanie Jameson

Melanie Jameson has worked in the field of dyslexia and related ‘specific’ ND conditions for many years, with a special interest in the criminal justice system (CJS). She has sat on a number of government committees, prepared briefings for debates in the Lords and written articles, guides and training materials in a number of publications, most recently the current edition of Probation Quarterly.

Melanie has undertaken project and training work within probation, prison and Courts & Tribunals services, in order to spread awareness of the challenges faced by those with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, Dyscalculia and Asperger Syndrome across the CJS. She works to raise awareness of disability entitlements and accommodations and always promotes the abilities associated with SpLDs.

Her materials are freely available from Scroll down to ‘Prisons’ for Eight Booklets for on all aspects of ND prisoner support.

In the evening we hosted a panel event on the impact of trauma on learning. We were joined by Tanvir Hynes, Head of Education at HMP Bronzefield, Marc Conway, Prisoner Engagement Coordinator at the Prison Reform Trust, Fionnuala Gordon, Head of Trauma Informed Communities at One Small Thing, and Matthew Morgan, Sector Lead for Further Education at Ace Aware Wales.



About the Speakers

Tanvir Hynes

Tanvir is Head of Education at HMP Bronzefield.


Marc Conway

Marc is the Prisoner Engagement Coordinator at the Prison Reform Trust.


Fionnuala Gordon

Fionnuala is an experienced criminal justice professional who has worked extensively in prison-related roles for over twenty-five years. Prior to joining One Small Thing Fionnuala was employed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons as an inspector and has also taught criminology within the higher education sector. Before this, Fionnuala was the director of services for The Prison Advice and Care Trust (Pact), a national charity who provide support to prisoners, people with convictions and their families.


Matthew Morgan

Over the last 16 years, my professional career has been geared towards supporting young people in a variety of ways. I have worked alongside them to assist in their personal and social development, often at times when they have been in difficult situations and have had negative life experiences that have impacted on their wellbeing. I have taken great pride and joy in seeing them overcome and succeed throughout these times and it is something I have found very rewarding on a personal level. Managing a team of Mentors at Coleg Sir Gar has allowed me to design and develop key working practices for Looked After Children and Young and Adult Carers within the institution.

I am now truly excited and appreciative of the opportunity to drive the ACE informed practice forward within Further Education. I am very fortunate to be part of such a passionate, informed and experienced team at the ACE Support Hub. I look forward to the day where everyone is playing a part to support people in an ACE informed way.

Day 2 of the Conference began with a presentation from Jack O’Sullivan, who is directing the Ministry of Justice Accelerator Prisons Project, and a discussion with two post holders at HMP Bristol about their work offering specialist support on curriculum and progression, and neurodiversity. This session was not recorded.


About the Speaker

Jack O’Sullivan

Jack has led on the HMPPS Accelerator Prisons Project, as part of the HMPPS Reducing Reoffending Directorate since its launch in January of this year. The project seeks to work with sixteen prisons to reduce reoffending and improve outcomes for prisoners and prison leavers across four key reducing reoffending pathways: education; health; employment; and accommodation.

Prior to joining the Reducing Reoffending Directorate, Jack worked on the Probation Reform Programme as a Transition Manager for the Midlands, and the Ministry of Housing as a policy and strategy officer for Homelessness, with a specific lead on the prison leaver accommodation pathway. Before joining the Civil Service, Jack worked in academia, as a social researcher and associate Criminology lecturer.

We then started the workshop sessions. In the first session, attendees selected between:

Developing In-Cell Materials with Claire Collins, an expert on further education materials, to learn about designing and drafting engaging resources for learners in prison.

The Scope of Scanning with ReaderPen Secure with Julia Clouter, Global Head of Education, and Neil Ryland, Business Development Manager at Scanning Pens, for a discussion on how Scanning Pens have been working with Prison Services to achieve in cell access to reading.


The second workshop session offered attendees a choice between:

The Life Beyond Project with Charles Cockell, professor of astrobiology and founder of Life Beyond, the project engaging the prison population to imagine human communities beyond Earth.

About the Life Beyond Project


Philosophy in Prison with Mary Margaret McCabe, Professor of Ancient Philosophy Emerita, and Jim Chamberlain, Research Associate at Philosophy in Prison.

Philosophy in Prison



About the Speakers

Claire Collins

Claire started her career teaching English in Poland and Greece before the lure of ESOL practice drew her back to the UK in the late 1990s. She honed her craft teaching adult ESOL and literacy, then supporting learners’ and other teachers’ English development in all its various forms, including Key, then Functional Skills, GCSEs, and English embedded in vocational and technical areas. Claire has worked with prison educators since 2006, and has conducted research into prison educational assessments and prison ‘ecologies of practices’. Claire now heads up national professional development and action research programmes across the FE sector, with prison, FE, ACL and work-based learning teams. She also leads projects in the creative and media industries, alongside initiatives focusing on adult literacy and digital literacy learning. Claire is the production editor for the RaPAL network, which focuses on adult literacies as social practices.


Julia Clouter

Julia Clouter is the Global Head of Educational Services for the Assistive Technology company Scanning Pens. She delivers research based insights and practical training workshops. This training is designed to help educators to open the door to reading and learning accessibility in schools, workshops and workplaces. The support requests she receives are often very specific, so solutions involve collaboration and exploration of strategies and implementation pathways. Julia has been a long serving SENCo and Designated Safeguarding Lead with twenty-five years of teaching and leadership experience. She regularly writes and speaks about SEN, dyslexia, hidden learning needs, behaviour, vulnerable adults with learning difficulties, the prison pipeline and Edtech solutions. Julia regularly interviews guests for Succeed With Dyslexia and presents #SWD Webinars. SWD and Go Red for Dyslexia is a Global Movement for Celebrating Success and Dyslexia Awareness.


Neil Ryland

Neil is an experienced care consultant. He is skilled in service delivery, coaching, sales, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Customer Retention, Account Management and Business Development. His work at Scanning Pens has involved significant research and focus into reading support requirements within the commercial sector. This includes the Uniformed Service Industries, Prisons, Probation, Custody and Pre Offending services and training providers who manage workplace support. He has been instrumental in helping to develop commercial pathways that will enable prisoner access to ReaderPen technology in cell. Neil is a member of Scanning Pens Prison Research and Support Team alongside Julia Clouter, Christine Franklin and Jack Churchill.


Charles Cockell

Charles Cockell is professor of astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests cover life in extreme environments, the habitability of extraterrestrial environments, and space biology, using laboratory, field, orbital and other space platforms to investigate fundamental and applied questions in microbiology. Prior to his association with the University of Edinburgh, he was a professor of geomicrobiology at The Open University and a research scientist at the British Antarctic Survey. He held a National Research Council (NRC) Associateship at the NASA Ames Research Centre and a visiting scholarship at Stanford University. He received his PhD in molecular biophysics from the University of Oxford, and a BSc from the University of Bristol, UK. He currently leads the Life Beyond project to use astrobiology and space exploration to advance education in Scottish prisons.


MM McCabe

Mary Margaret McCabe (‘MM’) is the Chair of Trustees and a founder of the charity Philosophy in Prison. She is Professor of Ancient Philosophy Emerita at King’s College London. She is a Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of King’s College London, and an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College Cambridge; she has been President of the British Philosophical Association, the Mind Association and (in 2022) the Classical Association. Her work begins with discussion of ancient ideas – Plato, Aristotle and their predecessors and successors – and then asks how ancient perspectives help us to understand modern problems – in ethics, in theories of knowledge, in accounts of reasoning. Her most recent book is Platonic Conversations (OUP 2015); she is a passionate advocate of conversational modes of philosophy, of serious engagement with other points of view and the development of collaborative thought; her current work turns on the moral conditions of that collaboration.


James Chamberlain

James Chamberlain is the Research Associate at Philosophy in Prison. He studied for his PhD in philosophy on a part-time basis at the University of Nottingham. During this time, he initially worked as a trainer in children’s services, first in a London local authority and then in an international NGO, before later teaching philosophy at Nottingham. As well as working for Philosophy in Prison, James now teaches on moral theories and their relation to moral psychology at the University of Sheffield, and he retains a role as an Honorary Post-graduate Fellow at Nottingham. James is a passionate advocate of the importance of widening access to philosophy, in prisons and elsewhere. He has taught philosophy in schools, and he is currently working on broadening the public understanding of moral theories.

We closed the Conference with a presentation and Q&A with HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor.



About the Speakers

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor taught for many years in schools in inner-city London, specialising in supporting pupils with special educational needs. In 2005 he became the head teacher of the Willows Special School for children with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties, during which time the school received two “outstanding” ratings from Ofsted.

In 2011 he became expert adviser on children’s behaviour at the Department for Education (DfE), producing reports into School Attendance and Alternative Provision for excluded pupils and creating the Behaviour Checklist. In 2012 he became the CEO of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, overseeing the recruitment of 30,000 trainee teachers a year and leading on the regulatory process for teachers accused of misconduct. In 2015 he led a review into the youth justice system that made wide-ranging recommendations including the introduction of Secure Schools, a new model for youth custody. In 2017 he became chair of the Youth Justice Board, while working with the DfE as an adviser on the Behaviour Hubs.

Since 2016 he has been a trustee of Dallaglio Rugby Works, an organisation that supports and mentors children who are out of mainstream education. He became HM Chief Inspector of Prisons on 1 November 2020.


Jon Collins

Jon joined Prisoners’ Education Trust as Chief Executive in April 2021, having previously been chief executive of the Magistrates Association. Prior to that, Jon was chief executive of the Restorative Justice Council and he has previously worked at the Police Foundation, the Criminal Justice Alliance, the Fawcett Society and Nacro. Jon is a member of the Victims’ Commissioner Advisory Group and the Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling. He is also a governor of a London primary school.

We would like to thank our brilliant speakers, chair Tom Schuller, and Conference attendees.

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