An Inspector Calls: a handbook for inspecting learning and skills

19 Aug 2015

Nina ChampionThe new handbook for the inspection of learning and skills and work activities in prisons and young offender institutions has been released and comes into play on 1st September. PET's Head of Policy Nina Champion summarises ten points to note about the new handbook below and is keen to know your views. Please let us know what you think!

  1. Clarity about the use of data

The new handbook specifies with greater clarity the type of data they will be using (p 12). The specific inclusion of ‘destination on release’ data is a welcome addition to focus attention on outcomes rather than just inputs (e.g. numbers of qualifications), however in practice this information can be difficult to obtain. In theory, it should be easier with the introduction of the CRC’s and the requirement for all prisoners to be on licence after release to be able to track destinations. What do you think? How easy is it to get this data?    

  1. Clarity about what 'Outstanding' and 'Good' look like

The new handbook sets out ‘grade characteristics’ which are descriptions of what outstanding and good provision look like. Will this be helpful?    

  1. Importance of culture

The handbook describes outstanding leadership and management as having ‘created a culture that enables prisoners and staff to excel’ (p.19). Learning culture is becoming increasingly recognised as an important prerequisite to successful learning outcomes. PET has been working on a project funded by NOMS piloting learner voice activities aiming to develop learning cultures in eight prisons and we look forward to publishing a report on our findings in the coming months. Education Training Foundation and NIACE have also recently been funded to develop a ‘health check tool’ for whole prison learning cultures. What do you think? Is a learning culture important? Do you have a good learning culture?

  1. Expectations for children and young people are clearly stated

The handbook sets out specific expectations for meeting the needs of particular groups including children and young people held in YOIs. For example it highlights the importance of learner voice by seeking and acting on their views of education.

There is also an expectation that activities will ‘provide sufficient challenge, enhance their confidence and self esteem and enhance their well being’. Ofsted also expect that ‘poor behaviour is responded to quickly and managed effectively’ and that ’young people are only returned to residential units as a last resort and repeat returns are investigated for underlying causes’.

PET is starting a new project focusing on education in the youth estate and for young adults. Are there examples of good practice with young people you can tell us about? Should expectations for other groups, such as older prisoners, be included?

  1. Personal development and behaviour outcomes are described

Outstanding personal development and behaviour is outlined as including the ability to ‘discuss and debate ideas in a considered way, showing respect for others’ ideas and points of view’, learners are ‘very motivated to learn’ and the prison culture ‘actively promotes all aspects of learners’ and prisoners’ personal development and behaviour’. What do you think are the best ways of achieving these outcomes?

  1. Emphasis on progression to ‘next steps’.

There is an emphasis on ensuring learners are well prepared for ‘next steps’ both in custody and after release(p.40). Outstanding outcomes for learners are described as ‘substantial and sustained progress from starting point’ and that ‘learners and prisoners progress as soon as they are ready to higher-level learning’. In terms of through the gate, it is expected that they ‘progress to positive destinations’. How easy is it in your prison to ensure prisoners progress to higher level learning and ‘positive destinations’ such as college or employment after release?

  1. Meeting the specific needs of women

Following the emphasis over the last year on a women’s specific curriculum (being piloted by NIACE), it is good to see descriptions of expectations for women learners in the handbook as a specific group. It states that the provision of learning and skills must be based on a ‘women-centred analysis’ of their needs. It also highlights the need for learning provision to be ‘diverse and not based on gender stereotypes’. Does provision in women’s prisons rely too heavily on gender stereotypes? Are there examples of women’s learning that go against gender stereotypes?    

  1. Research skills using technology

On p.37 Ofsted set out an expectation that young people ‘are encouraged to develop their research skills, including supervised use of internet’. As the Young Person’s Virtual Campus is developed, including a secure search capacity, this is a welcome addition. However, we hope it is an expectation for other prisoners in the future as the Virtual Campus capacity develops. What other digital skills should be developed?

  1. Equitable pay rates

PET have long called for equitable pay rates for work and learning, so prisoners are not disincentivised from engaging in education. It is therefore good to see this expectation set out several times in the handbook. Does your prison offer equal pay for work and education? We’d like to know!

If you have any comments on the new handbook from Ofsted we’d love to hear from you! Please contract nina@prisonerseducation.org.uk