Ofsted and HMI Prisons say it’s time to give jail training ‘the eye it deserves’
Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman and HMIP Chief Inspector Charlie Taylor discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on prison education in a joint comment released today.
The comment also heralds the start of a new prison intelligence review, which will initially focus on reading.
The effects of COVID-19
The joint comment is based on evidence from 25 remote visits to adult prisons in early 2021 and 10 progress monitoring visits that Ofsted made between May and July this year. The results underscore the significant impact of the pandemic on the quality of prison education, but acknowledge that the quality of what was offered was already poor and has barely improved in recent years.
The results of these visits “paint a clear picture” of the distance education offered in prisons during the pandemic. In most cases this was limited to providing prisoners with work packages in the cells, with little face-to-face teaching or feedback, which has been a frustrating and demotivating experience for many prisoners. The packs were often not tailored to the specific educational needs of inmates, many of whom have difficulty reading and need closer assistance with studying.
Prisoners are typically among the most educationally disadvantaged prisoners in society, with a significant proportion having SEND and poor literacy skills. One detainee with dyslexia said he was told he could not study English or math until face-to-face classes were resumed. On this topic, the comment adds:
Given the large number of prisoners with suspected learning difficulties / disabilities and prisoners with a similar reading level as primary school-age children, it is very likely that distance learning is not appropriate for prisoners as well as for students with SEND.
Ofsted and HMIP also found that vocational training was badly affected as prison workshops and other work and training facilities had to close. This resulted in vocational course learners unable to complete the practical elements of the curriculum. And while there is some evidence that the number of prisoners learning English and math has increased during the pandemic, it was mainly due to a lack of preferable alternatives.
Opportunities for work experience were also lost. Some prisons have been unable to maintain ties with employers and some companies that typically employ prisoners are facing increased financial insecurity. In addition, interruptions in information, counseling and guidance services (IAG) in prisons have exacerbated these problems. This has left a significant backlog in the placement of prisoners, which has resulted in prison leaders being ignorant of the educational starting points for many prisoners.
The comment made a number of recommendations, including:
- Prison leaders and education providers need to ensure that assessments are used to identify learning gaps and get learners back into the classroom as soon as possible.
- Prison managements and educational institutions must ensure that as many vocational training opportunities and places as possible are available, while at the same time adhering to the guidelines on social distancing.
- Prison chiefs must work with IAG providers to clear up admission backlogs as a priority. All prisoners, including those with shorter sentences, should receive timely and effective training in education, skills and work when they are arrested.
Introduction of prison inspection
In the fall semester of 2021, Ofsted and HMI Prisons will start a review of reading in prisons. The Commentary states, “Unfortunately prison education is in very poor condition. It is time to give it the attention it deserves, ”and as a result,“ we will have a prison intelligence review next year. This will start with an emphasis on reading in prisons as we return to full inspection in September. We will look at how reading is taught in prisons, how it is assessed, and what progress prisoners make. “