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Education Committee launches prison education inquiry

The inquiry links into the Committee’s overall aims and work examining the issues faced by left behind groups and how education can support everyone to ensure they have the opportunity to succeed in life. It also builds on the work of the inquiry into adult skills and lifelong learning.

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While the Covid-19 pandemic has made the delivery of education challenging across the board this year, provision has been significantly impacted for those in custody.

A disproportionate number of those in custody have low levels of literacy and numeracy. The Prisoner Learning Alliance reports that nearly two-thirds of prisoners have truanted from school and 42% were expelled or permanently excluded. People in prison also have a high level of additional learning and other needs. Around 47% of those entering prison have no prior qualifications.

The inquiry will examine to what degree adults in prison and younger learners in custody can access suitable education that meets their needs, how effective current arrangements are in ensuring prisoners continue in training and employment on release and how this reduces reoffending. It will also look at the education opportunities for those serving longer sentences.

The Committee will consider what needs to happen to ensure prison education delivers the skills needed by employers and the economy, and how apprenticeships can work in a custodial setting.

The Committee is interested in how school exclusion policy impacts on youth custody and how alternative provision settings support young people who experience challenges in education and learning.

According to a joint report by the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education, prisoners involved in any sort of education have a significantly lower reoffending rate on release compared with their peers. A briefing by The Prison Reform Trust however points to a significant decline in both the quality of education and the number of prisoners participating. Just 200 people in prison achieved a level 3 qualification (AS level equivalent) in the 2017-18 academic year, a 90% decrease from 2011-12.

Where possible the inquiry would like to hear about prisoner learners’ and former prisoners’ own perceptions of how the prison education system is working and what could be improved.

Chair's comment

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, yesterday said:

“Study after study has painted a bleak picture of the educational backgrounds and prospects of those in custody. More than 40% of prisoners have been permanently excluded from school – a figure which rises to nearly 90% for children in young offender institutions. A disproportionate number of those in custody have low levels of literacy and even lower levels of numeracy, while people in prison also have a high level of additional learning and other needs. At the same time there is clear evidence of the huge benefits of education, both in helping to ensure those in custody have a future, and to society in terms of cutting reoffending.

“Our inquiry will be examining the reasons behind the decline in prison education and what more can be done to ensure those in custody can be equipped with the skills they need to transform their lives. For example, apprenticeships could from an integral part of the rehabilitation process, acting as a bridge from prison to working life on the outside, while simultaneously helping the country address its skills gaps.

“Education clearly has a key role to play in making prison work and ensuring custody is effective. We must make sure access to training and education is made a priority, aiding the rehabilitation process and giving prisoners the tools to improve their lives.”

Terms of reference

The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the following areas:

  • What is the purpose of education in prisons?
  • What data exist to demonstrate the effectiveness of education and training in prisons and on prisoner attainment, and what international comparisons are available?
  • How well are additional learning needs met by the prison education and youth custody systems, including SEND and language and communication needs?
  • Does education in prisons deliver the skills needed by employers, and what more can be done to better align these?
  • How can successful participation in education be incentivised in prisons?
  • How might apprenticeships work for those in custody?
  • Are current resources for prison learning meeting need?
  • What should happen when prison education is assessed as not meeting standards?
  • How does the variability in the prison estate and infrastructure impact on learning?
  • How does provision compare in public sector and privately run prisons?
  • How effective and flexible is prison education and training in dealing with different lengths of sentences and the movement of prisoners across the estate?

The deadline for submissions is 8 January 2021. For further information see the inquiry page on the Committee website.

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