Learning in prisons is crucial, says new NIACE research

26 July 2013

Two reports produced by NIACE – as part of ongoing work commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – highlight how learning is key to responding positively to the issues and circumstances faced by male and female offenders in prisons. They give clear examples of how prisons, providers and employers are working together, often in difficult circumstances, to support learning for work and reduce re-offending.

Where learning and skills are being successfully delivered, it is because strong partnerships exist between prisons, providers and employers; Functional Skills are embedded within the programmes; there are good progression routes; and support is available from peer mentors. In women’s prisons achievement is greatest where there are women centred approaches to provision and support.

For example, the Peer-to-Peer call centre at HMP Send offers support to women prisoners, a crucial service which aims to address the wide need for information and advice. It also demonstrates the essential role that three partners – the prison, St. Giles Trust and learners –play to ensure that the initiative is successful.

A Peer-to-Peer Advisor, said:

“This has given me a sense of purpose and this is the first thing in my life that has given me that sense of purpose. I did not realise how much I would enjoy helping other people – once I was fixed I could help others.”

The Manchester College delivers an Access to Apprenticeships course at HMP Thorn Cross and has recently been successful at securing full apprenticeships for offenders released on temporary licence. This innovative project has been a result of outstanding partnership working between The Manchester College, HMP Thorn Cross and AmberTrain.

One ex-offender, who benefited, said:

“I owe my brilliant career on the railway to the qualifications the course gave me. I started on a day a week, but worked hard and I am now on five days a week. I couldn’t have asked for any more. It gave me the boost I needed on release from prison.”

Despite the successful vocational training, employability skills and pre-apprenticeships already being delivered, there are still many challenges to overcome, including disruption caused by the prison regime; lack of effective communication between prisons; limitations of closed facilities or available resources; and a lack of appropriate progression routes to further learning or employment. Women in prison face the same challenges, as well as a range of particular and complex needs, which can limit their progress and achievement in learning if unaddressed.

In order to continue improving learning opportunities for both men and women in prison, the two NIACE reports have suggested BIS considers the following:

  • Further research to track the development of Apprenticeships and pre-Apprenticeships for offenders and to capture key features which could inform future initiatives.
  • A national Offender Engagement Forum – made up of representatives from prison education, OLASS 4 providers and employers – to support efforts to develop a more coordinated approach to engaging a wider range of employers.
  • Support for the sector in measuring the impact of new arrangements under OLASS4.

Carol Taylor, NIACE Director for Development and Research, said:

“While being in prison is about punishment for crimes committed, it’s also about reducing re-offending, and the surest way to do this is to give offenders skills, access to work, a steady income, a sense of self-esteem and a chance to support their family and their community. Providing all offenders in prison access to education and training that develops job-related skills, enables them to gain qualifications and gives them real-life experience of the workplace. There are specific challenges facing female prisoners, which this work identifies, and NIACE suggests that account must be taken of their particular needs in order to best support them both inside of prison and upon their release.”