“Every Young Person Should Have a Plan” – A Learner Responds to Charlie Taylor

Eight years ago Steve (not his real name) was sent into custody aged 16. He was in the middle of his GCSE exams and was predicted 13 A*-C grades. During his sentence and while he was on remand, he had no contact with his school and his opportunity to complete his exams came and went. He said "the school didn’t want to affiliate themselves with me" and he lost every sense of connection with them. Steve was on remand in HMYOI Feltham and did courses in music and brickwork to pass the time, but had no real interest in either subject. He said it felt like he was doing education to tick a box, not because it was relevant to his future.

After being sentenced he moved to HMYOI Cookham Wood and did Level 2 courses in literacy and numeracy, although what he really wanted to do was GCSE’s. He knew that GCSE’s were very important in being able to progress forward after his release. However what actually happened was that he had to keep re-doing the Level 2 literacy and numeracy courses. He did numeracy three times in the end, getting 100% the first two times and 98% on the third occasion: “I was going backwards!’ He felt that YOI’s are not set up for people who are more able: "there are smart people in there but the establishments are not ready for that". In the end his Maths teacher realised that he was good with numbers and took it upon himself to tutor him in A Level Maths, but frustratingly he wasn’t able to do the test or get the qualification as only Level 1 and 2 was allowed.

When he was transferred to HMP Rochester at 18, it was the same Level 2 courses on offer and so he applied for ROTL to work in the community instead. It was only after release that he was able to go to college where he did Maths and English GCSE and an Access to Higher Education course. When he finished, he didn’t know where to turn for help about applying to university. "I didn’t even know what UCAS [Universities and College Admissions Service] was."

Once he had found out, he then faced the next barrier of having to explain his past to the universities. He described the courage it takes to go to an interview, explain your past to a stranger and persuade them to give you a chance. This is a big barrier for many people. Steve however managed to convince the Dean of one of the universities he’d applied for to give him a chance. "I did lots of research about the university and the course. I told them what I would contribute to the life of the university and why they should take me. You have to sell yourself and what you can offer."

Steve thinks it would help if prison Governors could write a reference to help explain to a university what that person can do and what their achievements are.

When asked what he would change Steve said: "there needs to be more emphasis on having a plan and structure in place before you leave custody. Every young person should have a plan before they get out about what they are going to do next. It is hard to do that research when you are in custody, but that information and advice should be available before release." Despite all these barriers and challenges, Steve is now enjoying the first year of a Politics and International Relations degree – an incredible achievement!