Learning Champions who 'Bridge the Gap' at HMP Lewes

“You will be able to achieve a sense of reward through taking a hands-on approach in helping another to take control of their educational goals and assisting them in achieving where they want to get to in the future” HMP Lewes Learning Champion.

The background to Learning Champions

Learning Champions were an idea first introduced at HMP Elmley when Nigel Foote was Prison Governor. Prisoners Education Trust featured HMP Elmley as a good practice case study in our Learner Voice Toolkit Involve, Improve, Inspire which was launched in July 2013 and included a film called ‘Help you, Help me, Help others’ featuring HMP Elmley Learning Champions and Learner Forum. Nigel Foote has since moved to HMP Lewes as a Governor where they have been busy introducing Learning Champions there too. Prisoners Education Trust would encourage other prisons to follow this example. If you are a prison already using Learning Champions then we would love to hear from you so please do get in touch here.

Tracey Johnstone, Lead Tutor at HMP Lewes, writes about the benefits of Learning Champions below:

What exactly is a learning champion?

“Learners who become learning champions find themselves playing a key role to support others who take up education opportunities. They find it takes them on a journey of self-development and helps others towards attaining educational qualifications for a better future. Some say the role is simply a good way to make the most of their time whilst in HMP Lewes.

I believe learning champions ‘bridge the gap from wing to education’ by offering an ‘open door’ attitude for people wishing to find out more information on anything related to education. They can inform prisoners what support is available to enable prisoners to study distance learning for example as well as all other subjects relating to the educational induction programme and prospectus”.

What does being a learning champion mean to the prisoners who take on this role?

Sean says: “My main personal goal as a learning champion is to make education a more readily available resource in prison, intrigue people enough so that they would like to use this resource and make the most of their whilst in custody.”

After giving his first presentation in an induction class, John said: “My confidence has risen considerably and I am relishing doing it again. I also helped the students choose jobs from the virtual campus.”

Nic described his role: “I aim to encourage the uptake of education on the wing by promoting education as being beneficial to the prisoner on the inside and after release. I want to encourage and inspire students in class, providing them with the tools necessary for success.”

Clive says: “The role provides a first hand experience of dealing with people from a variety of backgrounds.”

Personal development and progressive learning

“Learning champions are a valuable resource here at HMPS Lewes. They provide a vital communication link from wings to tutors and visa versa. I also work with Sean, Nic, John, Clive and the others to help them develop as individuals. For me, it is a priority that all learning champions are supported to achieve their potential. I also encourage them to use their experiences and the skills they gain on this programme to study a level two peer mentoring course or consider an Open University degree.

Supporting the induction programme

Learning Champions are a welcome addition to the education department induction programme setting the scene for educational progress .This is very much in evidence when Learning Champions are delivering peer on peer sections of the course using Power-Point material. They deliver 'How to prepare an action plan' for individual education and employability skills. The purpose of this development and engagement is two fold. Firstly, the Learning Champions are developing soft skills such as communication and presentation skills for their role, increasing their self esteem and confidence. Secondly, it sends a clear message to new learners that education and development is a gateway to real progression. The Learning Champions utilise their passion for education back on the wings by holding open door sessions to inform fellow prisoners about education and courses available. They take questions and queries for the education department and distribute information on our behalf within their respective wings.

Learner Voice

Most recently two Learning Champions were invited to The Prisons Quality Improvement Group (QUIG) where the Head of Reducing & Re-offending, Learning & Skills Manager, Education Manager, Activities Manager, Head of Commissioning and Contracts and the National Careers Service were present. They contributed massively by raising key issues regarding future education opportunities; came up with solutions about how to promote education on the First Night Wing and generally became the voice of learners. This opportunity really does lend weight to their motto ' Bridging the Gap'.