The Dame Sally Taskforce

It has been nearly nine months since the publication of Dame Sally Coates’ Unlocking Potential review, which called for education to be put “at the heart” of every prison. Her recommendations to this effect were all agreed to by the government, and some changes - notably giving governors more control over budgets – have already been put into practice. However, the reforms are numerous and far-reaching, and their success will largely depend on the determination, flexibility and creativity of institutions and the people who run and staff them.

With this in mind, HMP Littlehey, a Category C prison in Cambridgeshire, has become the first to establish a way to monitor and implement Dame Sally's recommendations. The ‘task force’ was established by Dave Taylor, Governor and Linda Callander, the Learning and Skills Manager at the prison. It includes representatives from the prison’s education department, careers service, NOMs and Dr Caroline Lanskey of Cambridge University, as well as a serving prisoner. It is chaired by Governor Taylor, who shares Coates’ vision of an education that is inclusive and ambitious. “I want to get education in everything we do – on the wings, in the workshops. There is so much potential in our prison which we’ve got to untap,” he says.

PET joined the task force at their third meeting to hear how things were progressing in the bid to take Coates’ recommendations from government policy to prison practice.

“Every prisoner must have a Personal Learning Plan” - Unlocking Potential 

Littlehey was already in the practice of assessing every new prisoner on their academic level and for any learning difficulties before Dame Sally recommended the same. It is now in the process of creating digital Personal Learning Plans for all 1,200 of the men and then ‘sequencing’ each individual to establish what education or other activities would most benefit them.

Lee, the prisoner representative at the meeting, said the sequencing initially caused some discontent among the men. “We were being told – ‘you do this’ with no option to say no,” he said. “I’ve had a steady job and family before going to prison but was suddenly in a class where I had to learn how to wash myself.”

Communication had improved since then however, said Lee, and there is broad acceptance of the benefits of the new timetables. This should improve further once the current prison population has been sequenced, says Linda, as each new prisoner will have the opportunity to meet with staff and help to determine what activities they take part in.

“Far too often we do things to prisoners rather than with them,” said Governor Taylor. “Historically we have told people when to eat, when to wash. But now we have started putting responsibility on individuals – giving them ownership over their own progression and a record of achievement.”

“Every prison should adopt a whole-prison approach to identifying, supporting and working with prisoners with Learning Difficulties and Disabilities.” - U.P

The Littlehey education team is beginning to take steps towards becoming a dyslexia-friendly prison, and is also in looking into how it might become a dementia-friendly institution in light of its ageing population. The prison has also looked into the process of setting up a Do-it Profiler, a system that allows the ability to keep a digital record of each prisoners’ individual difficulties and needs, and discover the best ways to support them. Again, this has the benefit of travelling with each individual throughout their sentence.

“The contribution that prisoners themselves can make to the education workforce must not be overlooked.” - U.P

Peer mentors are already embedded in the educational department at Littlehey. Lorna Poll, the OLASS Education Manager, is now recruiting two prisoners to act as senior classroom assistants, to help to design curricula, plan lessons and engage fellow prisoners outside of the classroom. Crucially, these recruits would be treated as far as possible as members of staff and would take part in team meetings. “We have a number of prisoners who have an academic background but cannot return to their previous job,” said Governor Taylor. “These people are untapped resources who could be really helpful in reaching out to those who are reluctant to step into a classroom.”

The prison has also recently introduced Prison Information Desk (PIDs), where trained prisoners provide information relating to timetables and give help with tasks such as filling out application forms. It is hoped that those who man the desks are at the same time will be trained towards Advice and Guidance certificates. The initiative is “a great help”, said Lee. “Instead of queuing to see officers the guys at the desk know everything they need to know. It’s an absolutely brilliant idea.”

“The recruitment of high-quality teachers need to be developed.”

The task force agreed that this had been an area of progression at Littlehey, which now only employs qualified teachers. The prison has started working with the Education and Training Foundation to develop YouTube videos that show teaching in prisons. Dr Caroline Lanskey, a lecturer in applied Criminology at Cambridge University, suggested that her institution’s trainee teachers could incorporate a stint teaching in prison into their training.

“There should be an expectation that businesses using prisoner labour in jails should consider suitable prisoners for employment on release.” - U.P 

There are a number of companies working in Littlehey, but, as one task force member said they could “count on one finger” the amount of prisoners who were employed with these companies after leaving. The team spoke about the possibility of building into contracts an obligation for companies to employ a certain amount of prisoners after release.

Blue-sky thinking 

At the end of every meeting task force members are given a chance to share any creative ideas they want to explore relating to education in prison. Governor Taylor discussed the new gardening techniques being used, and a new initiative whereby those working in the gardens will be encouraged to run their plots “like a business” and set prices for the kitchen.

“We want to weave in qualifications to everything, while also remembering that there are intangible qualifications – self-esteem, team work, all of which are just as important in making people feel valued,” he said.

The group also discussed prison/university partnerships, and the possibility of establishing one with Cambridge University. They began to discuss ways of engaging the elderly portion of their prison population, who Governor Taylor was concerned they tended to spend a great deal of time alone. Ideas included introducing prisoner activity coordinators, and organising more charity drives.

Implementing Coates’ recommendations come with challenges said Taylor. This is why Littlehey, and other prisons following suit, need to be "risk-managed and not risk-averse" in the fight to make them a reality. 

For more information about setting up a Coates task force in your own prison, contact 


 has been temporarily removed.