Keynote speeches

Plenary 1: Value-driven

In the day’s first keynote address Ofsted Inspector Stephen Miller began by highlighting the many challenges to teaching in prison: working with a population that changes quickly as prisoners are released or transferred, sometimes in the middle of courses; students with widely differing learning needs and additionally some with mental health or substance abuse problems who have often been failed by previous experiences of school resulting in high levels of truancy and exclusions.

They may also have issues at home. This was highlighted by a short interview with two serving prisoners at HMP Parc, who joined the conference via Skype video calling technology. Head of Family Interventions at HMP Parc, Corin Morgan-Armstrong, told the audience how HMP Parc is using Skype to improve family ties by; contact for far-away families; enabling prisoner fathers to join parent-teacher evenings and through family learning (for example one prisoner is being taught Welsh by his daughter via Skype from her local Barnardo’s office).  One of the men told the audience that prisoners are often so worried about their families and issues on the outside that they get angry and behave badly.

He said: “When I Skype my family, I can see my children and they can see me. Contact is the most important issue for prisoners. When I can see they are doing well I don’t have to worry about home. It has helped my attitude. I’m now doing a philosophy course which I would never have done before. I’m a better prisoner, I’m happier.”

Corin Morgan-Armstrong went on to say that this technology had the potential to be used for other purposes in the future to improve education, such as contact with outside tutors.  However, this type of innovation is rare.  Mr Miller’s speech referenced its 2012/2013 inspections which found that more than half of prisons (58%) were ‘inadequate’ or ‘requiring improvement’ in terms of leadership and management.  Mr Miller announced that this May, inspectors will begin a ‘support and challenge’ package for these prisons to help them move to at least good.

Mr Miller then discussed Ofsted’s concern with the focus on a high quantity of lower level qualifications in prisons, rather than challenging people to obtain A-levels, higher diplomas or even degrees. He re-emphasised Ofsted’s position that it wants prisons to have ‘the best teachers, the best managers and the best advisors’ as a way to improve quality of teaching and learning. 

During the discussion that followed Mr Miller’s speech, prison tutor and IfL Advisory council member Ros Foggin, who has had a varied and extensive career working in schools, FE colleges and now in a prison, spoke about the lack of continuous professional development and resources for teachers. She called herself ‘the naked teacher’ because Ros felt she was teaching with herself as the main, sometimes the only, resource.

Ros brought out a ‘magic wand’ at the event and made three wishes: firstly for improved staff development opportunities, including informal support mechanisms; secondly for access to secure e-learning and teaching resources and thirdly; a more enriched and holistic curriculum. This matter was discussed further during a workshop on developing excellence in prison teaching, where a group of tutors agreed that mentoring was important but felt there should also be formal teacher training for working in prisons.

Actor and Director Femi Oyeniran spoke about his experience delivering film workshops at HMYOI Cookham Wood (see film ‘Involve, Improve, Inspire’ here) and explained the soft skills developed by the young people, particularly using their imaginations and problem solving. In response to a question about identity from PLA member Mark Blake from Black Training and Enterprise Group, Femi confirmed that being a young black male himself helped to engage BAME young people to engage with the project.  He added that when they realised he wasn’t the same as his film characters, and had a degree, it made them reflect on themselves and what they could achieve. Click here to find out more on what works for young people in prison.

Plenary 2: Outcome-focused

Professor Fergus McNeill from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Glasgow focused on desistance in his keynote speech, the concept of how ex-offenders can stop committing crime.  For his views on the event, read his blog here.

Giving the audience a whistle-stop tour in the field of desistance, he described how important obtaining credentials and qualifications is in shredding negative identities and the label of ‘offender’ which is a critical part of a person’s ability to move away from crime.

He also examined the penal system’s conflicting power dichotomy: negative power, meaning that individuals suffer in prison by increased lockdown or demanding labour and its opposite positive power, whereby they are enabled to develop and in that process required to give something good back.

Professor McNeill went on to say that rehabilitation is a quadrant-like process that relies on four areas: personal, social, judicial and moral. To successfully become reintegrated back into society, the public also has a responsibility to accept individuals have served their time and forgive them for their crimes.  He said: “What are the outcomes for prisoners? Reintegration back into society; that must be value-driven. This is the Justice system after all."

The session also heard from Professor Mike Maquire, prison teacher Amy Garcia and criminology student Frank Harris, who got his GCSEs in prison and then studied a distance learning course in counselling with support from PET. Frank said: “In 2004 I’d had enough, I wanted to change so I chose education. Today I saw the tutor who saw a little light in me. For me that was the beginning along with my desire to change, but that was the catalyst. Now when I’m called an ex-offender, I say, well actually I’m a final year degree student. I’m grateful to PET and the PLA for the continuation of my desistance, just being here and sitting on this panel is part of that.”

Plenary 3: Joined-up

The final keynote came from Emily Thomas, Ministry of Justice Transforming Rehabilitation Through the Gate Implementation Team and former Governor of HMYOI Cookham Wood. She spoke about the importance of consultation as new proposals and bids are put forward regarding the implementation of the Government’s new strategy. For her, joining up with other Government departments with an interest in prisoners or people leaving prison was absolutely crucial.

There were also some excellent closing remarks from Richard Ward, Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, the Assistant Chief Inspector of Probation Alan McDonald, Mark Johnson, Founder of User Voice and Clive Martin, Director of CLINKS.

Clive Martin posed a suggestion at the end of the event. He said: “Prison education is such a complicated picture, perhaps join-up is too much of an ask – what about a rethink? What is prison education is all about? This seems to be a structural problem, not one of performance. One Government department should develop one theory of change and implement it. If they were to shift the obsession with employability, which isn’t currently realistic for most ex-offenders, to one of desistance then it would succeed.”