Unlocking Potential: a review of education in prison


In September 2015 the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice asked Dame Sally Coates to lead a review of education in prison and make recommendations as to how it could be improved. This report sets out recommendations relating to: the current accountability framework for delivering education, the capacity of the workforce, the learning needs of different types of prisoners, the ability of prisoners to access higher level learning, the potential for IT to support education and the services available to support prisoners to get employment and/or continue their education on release. 

Summary of Key Recommendations

To put education at the heart of the regime, unlock the potential in prisoners, and reduce reoffending:

1. Every prison must use a consistent and rigorous assessment mechanism to set a baseline against which to measure individuals’ academic performance and screen for learning difficulties and/or disabilities (LDD). 

2. Every prisoner must have a Personal Learning Plan that specifies the educational activity that should be undertaken during their sentence. This should be in a consistent digital format that can follow the prisoner through the system if they move prisons. 

3. A core set of educational performance measures should be used by all prisons. Such data should be monitored consistently to drive continuous improvement. 

4. Ofsted should carry out inspections using the same framework as for the adult skills sector, with inspection intervals and follow-up arrangements driven by performance data and levels of performance. 

5. HMIP (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons) should give prisons an overall performance measure, with educational performance (as measured by Ofsted) receiving a separate, distinct assessment. This will be made available to the Governor concerned much closer to the 25 day Ofsted timetable in its work in schools and colleges than currently. It should not be possible for a prison’s overall performance to be more than one grade higher than the measure awarded for its education provision.

6. Governors, senior leaders, teachers, prison officers, instructors and peer mentors must be given appropriate professional development to support them to deliver high quality education.

7. The recruitment of high quality teachers needs to be developed.

8. A new scheme to attract high calibre graduates to work in prisons for an initial period of two years should be introduced. 

9. The current mechanism for funding prison education should be revised so that Governors and/or providers can design a curriculum that meets the individual needs and Personal Learning Plan of each prisoner for whom they are responsible.

10. Governors should be free to design a framework of incentives that encourage attendance and progression in education. 

11. Governors and providers should begin from a planning assumption that there will be substantial numbers of prison learners who will have significant learning support needs. Every prison should adopt a whole-prison approach to identifying, supporting Unlocking Potential: A review of education in prison and working with prisoners with Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (LDD).

12. Governors should be able to use their education budgets to fund learning at Level 3 and above. 

13. The planned investment in digital infrastructure should be used to enable more flexible learning across prisons.

14. The security arrangements that currently underpin the use of ICT in the prison estate should be reviewed. Governors should be allowed to develop an approach that allows suitably risk-assessed prison learners to have controlled access to the internet to support their studies and enable applications for jobs on release. 

15. The roles and responsibilities of existing organisations supporting prisoners into employment should be reviewed with opportunities to rationalise these roles and responsibilities explored.

16. The government should continue to develop an approach that encourages and supports employers to work in prisons and to employ prisoners on release.

17. Reforms to prison education provision should be introduced in three phases, linked to wider prison reforms. As part of this, the current OLASS contracts should be extended up to August 2017. 

View the report in full


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