Education makes the impossible, possible.

The figures show an overall decline in education within our prisons and that should be of concern, not just to those involved within education, but also to society as a whole.  I take a look at four key points, that are specific to prison from the report. The recent Ofsted report, in relation to prisons and the forthcoming, planned, autonomy of prison budgets which is being given to governors from next year also concerns me deeply, which I also explain.

As revealed last year, the number of people in prison participating on level 3 courses has been in decline, dropping from a peak of 2,400 in 12/13 to a low of 100 in latest published data.

This is an area of particular concern to me, especially with prisons becoming self-governing from early next year. I am aware that maths, English and ICT on the national prison curriculum are being ring-fenced in respect of budget, it will then be down to each individual governor to decide how much of the available budget, outside of ring-fencing, that goes into other educational course provision and that is a worrying position. However, as the high majority of prisons only provide courses to level 2, it will be down to the individual learner, with support from the prison, securing external funding to study above level 2, this is where my concern lies. Will governors, that may have an inclination against education, provide the necessary budget for the inclusion of extra subjects on the curriculum, and/or provide the resources into higher education study, or will they use the supplementary budget elsewhere?

I have studied all levels in prison, from entry level through level’s 1 and 2, I was fortunate enough, on two separate occasions, to study at level 3; once in HMP Wayland in 2009 where I completed a City&Guilds Level 3 Certificate in Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (P.T.L.L.S). Then in 2016, at HMP Norwich, I successfully completed a level 3 City&Guilds Certificate in Advice and Guidance. Whilst in HMP Norwich, again, in 2016, through funding secured from the Prisoner’s Education Trust, I successfully completed an Access Module in Understanding People, Work and Society via The Open University (OU). In October 2016 I began a Bsc Hons Degree in criminology and psychological studies, again, through the OU, for which, I took out a student loan. Ironic really, as HMP Norwich is an inner-city prison. Back in the day most inner-city jails were known as debtors prisons, which were placed in prominent positions to deter people from not paying their dues in life and here I was in prison committing myself to an overall student loan of a little over £20,000. “Education, education, education”, this mantra used by Tony Blair in 1997, is as relevant now as it was then. Education does and can change lives. The feelings of pride and self-worth, along with the belief in myself and personal achievement I have had from my incredible learning journey, have all been the catalyst for the successful life choices and decisions I am currently enjoying. Along with the small addition of one less to be included in the re-offending rate figures, you’re welcome.

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“Urgent action is needed to ensure that prisons – and more specifically, under-performing ones –are helped to improve” – @Ofstednews call for action in their annual report.

I am not sure how true a reflection this report actually gives, staffing levels have been so low, that all purposeful activity has suffered as a direct consequence. However, Education has to be the bedrock from which foundations are built in order for an individual to change their lives and, just as important, to cease offending. The course facilitators I have come in contact with over the years, in my own prison learning journey, are some of the most committed and dedicated individuals that I have met in my life. The job they do can be viewed as a thankless task, being put under constant pressure by the private companies that run the education system, who in my opinion do so for the simple process of making money and not for rehabilitation. You have prisoners classed as high risk that should not be anywhere near a classroom. However, the current scheme of bums on seats for maximum profits over safety makes this more common than it should be. Learners are being put in classes that they have no interest in whatsoever, again to fill spaces so that shareholders can buy the expensive Christmas present for their spouses. All the time the education system in prison is used as a cash cow for private companies, bottom line will always be more important than reducing re-offending rates. Does one, therefore feed the other? Private companies can’t make a profit if our prisons are empty #justsaying.

41 prisons and YOI’s inspected this reporting year, @Ofstednews judged 39% to be good for the overall effectiveness of education, skills & work. None were outstanding. This is 17 percentage points lower than the proportion judged good or outstanding last year.

39% is exactly why I have concerns as voiced above. To gain employment, education is a must. The education levels of those entering our prisons make for grim reading. The data shows that 85 percent of the country’s population have literacy skills at L1 or L2 compared to only 50 percent of prisoners. At lesser levels of education, the gap between national literacy levels and prison literacy levels steadily increase from just a couple of percent at Entry level 1 to over 30 percent difference between those achieving level 2 in prison compared to those achieving level 2 nationally. (Skills for Life national survey conducted by BIS in 2012). This has to change.

Having been employed in prison as an education mentor with many years’ experience, I have been in the fortunate and privileged position to witness the power of education on rehabilitation. One such personal case study springs to mind:

Whilst serving in HMP Blundeston, I, along with another prisoner and an officer, introduced the Toe By Toe (as it was then, now known as Turning Pages) reading scheme provided by The Shannon Trust. One of my learners, who we used to call, not in a derogatory way, ‘Billy the Broom’ one of the best wing cleaners I had ever met, kept it spotless, hence the moniker.‘Billy’ had some difficulties when it came to read and writing. So, I began mentoring him on the reading scheme. On a visit a few months later, whilst being visited by my partner and children, “Billy’s” family were visiting him at the same time. After a while an officer came over with “Billy’s” mum, saying she would like a quick word. What followed will live with me forever. His mum gave me the biggest, tightest hug, and with tears in her eyes thanked me because a few days prior to visit day “Billy” had written a letter to his mum for the first time ever. Now, tell me education is not important in all aspects of our lives.

The proportion of prisons and YOI’s judged good or outstanding by @Ofstednews at their most recent inspection increased by six percentage points, from 42% on 31 Aug 2017 to 48%on 31 Aug 2018.

So, taking on board the last point, we know that no prison received outstanding by Ofsted. To look at this another way, it means that there are still over 50% of prisons receiving; grade 3 (requires improvement) or, grade 4 (inadequate). If this was comparable with our schools in society, there would be a public outcry. Yet, hardly an eyebrow is raised outside of the prison system. Unfortunately, this would also seem the case for inside the system as well. In respect of YOI’s specifically this is a very worrying set of figures. In a Whitney Houston song it states “the children are our future”, without even the basic of educational skills it would be almost impossible for a YOI to rebuild their future. In any young person/adult custody environment, education has to be the foundation from which to begin to rebuild their lives. Along with any non-serious offences, committed before the age of 18, to be completely removed from their records. Once you find yourself in the revolving doors of the penal system, one thing you have to grasp on to is hope. What chance do YOI’s have in adult life if hope has already been taking away at a young age.


3 thoughts on “Education makes the impossible, possible.

  1. Thanks .Once again ,well researched ,thoughtful piece .Billy the broom …powerful stuff.
    Your voice will be heard
    Much love my dear friend

    Liked by 1 person

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