Dyslexia: Revolving doors at HMP Doncaster

On Friday 7 February 2014 PET attended an event held by The Cascade Foundation, to present some of the early results of their new initiative, Dyslexia: Revolving Doors at HMP Doncaster. From September to December last year, the Foundation worked with prisoners with dyslexia, dyspraxia and other learning difficulties, using multi-sensory techniques to make learning more accessible. Supported and guided by The Manchester College and Serco, the project worked with 37 prisoners in 13 weeks, many of whom had not engaged with education. 27 of the learners went on to complete and pass courses, some progressing on to higher levels of learning. The Foundation continues to identify, teach and support prisoners with learning difficulties within HMP Doncaster and an evaluation report will be published in late February. Speaking at the event, Doncaster prison Director John Biggin pledged his support for the project and spoke about the positive impact it had been having in the prison. Also there to support the project on the day were MP’s Rosie Winterton and Rebecca Harris.

‘You are not stupid’

Jackie Hewitt-Main, CEO of The Cascade Foundation, Project Director and a qualified special educational needs teacher, told the audience that she was diagnosed aged 40 with learning difficulties when she went back into education. "After years of struggling, it was an epiphany moment for me when I was diagnosed. It is easy to believe you are stupid because you have trouble reading and writing, when actually you are not stupid, you just learn differently from how you were made to try and learn in the classroom".

Non-traditional methods

The Cascade Foundation’s programme aims to approach education from a perspective that is appropriate for learners who have found traditional methods of learning difficult. For some that means drawing letters and numbers in sand or with toothpaste, or for others it can mean ‘going back to basics’ and using activities designed for much younger learners to learn the alphabet and basic arithmetic. Using a variety of methods and activities to engage with learners with different needs is what the PLA advocates for in our recent report Smart Rehabilitation

Specialist IT software

The project also uses computers and laptops with specialist dyslexia software on them. The software is used for both assessment and teaching, through a series of exercises that are selected by the programme depending on the needs identified during the initial assessment. PET also advocates for more effective ways of using ICT in prisons in our Through the Gateway report.


The event was a celebration of the work and achievements made by the Foundation at Doncaster and culminated in a moving awards ceremony as learners who took part received certificates from MP’s Rosie Winterton and Rebecca Harris, marking their completion of the course with The Cascade Foundation. Some prisoners involved in the project addressed the audience and spoke about how they had felt supported and championed through the initiative. One learner who has been in and out of prison all his adult life explained how he never knew what he was ordering at meal times in prison because he could not read the menu board. Now he is learning to read and write with The Cascade Foundation he can choose what he wants to eat like other people. Small victories like this make a life-changing difference to people who often see no way out of their situation, often after years of struggling silently.

‘Changing lives in action’

It was fantastic to see the benefits of what is clearly an innovative and forward-thinking programme. Rosie Winterton MP said; ‘MP’s try to change lives – you are changing lives in action’. The Cascade Foundation now hopes to open a centre for resettlement, providing accommodation; support, advice and guidance; skills and work training to help people get back on their feet once leaving prison. We look forward to tracking the progress of the Foundation in the future.

To find out more about their work, visit their website and read the press release from the event.