“Prison education should be on the radar of every FE college”

Since the government rolled out plans for governors to take control of their education budgets and commissioning, there have been more and more opportunities for further education (FE) colleges to get involved in delivering learning both in custody and after release. The Association of Colleges conference in Birmingham this month heard about partnerships between prisons and colleges that are already seeing considerable success and discussed how this could be replicated across the country. 

Ali Hadawi CBE, Principle at Central Bedfordshire College, shared an account of his institution’s partnership with HMP Onley to support employability courses.

“As a society we have a duty to play our part to help reduce reoffending and make our communities safer,” he said. “Prison education should be on the radar of every FE college.”

Following the success of this project, several more prisons had been in contact to request support, said Hadawi. “But rather than us deliver in different areas, we feel that other local FE colleges should be exploring partnerships with prisons in their communities,” he said.

Hadawi outlined what FE colleges can offer to prisons:

  1. Specialist kit and equipment for all sorts of vocational training.
  2. Staff who specialise in engaging people in learning and specifically in adult learning andragogical approaches.
  3. Employer links for work experience opportunities and employability advice.
  4. A transition into learning in the community after someone leaves prison.

Hadawi said some staff might be reluctant become involved with the programme, but that  “those who initially may oppose new ideas, can be engaged with them and end up being the greatest advocates”.

To illustrate the potential impact of prison/college partnerships, Hadawi shared the a story of a student at his college who at the age 14 was “going off the rails” and ended up in court, where a judge told him he had a choice: go to college, or end up in prison in the near future. He chose to go to college, found a teacher who took him under their wing, and was recently awarded a prize for his achievements.

“That young man will now be a contributor not a cost to society. By working in partnership with prisons, FE colleges can help more people turn their lives around,” said Hadawi.

PET’s Head of Policy Nina Champion presented an example of a multi-agency partnership at HMP Prescoed, where the prison has teamed up with local colleges (Adult Education Torfean and Coleg Gwent), charities Mind and Kaleidoscope and Cardiff Metropolitan University to run a substance misuse education project.

The programme, which prisoners have named CHASE (Collectively Heighten Awareness of Substance Misuse through Education), provides access to the following qualifications:

  • Level 2 courses in Health and Wellbeing, Behavioural Change and Substance Misuse
  • City and Guilds L3 in substance Misuse
  • Mental Health First Aid Level 4
  • Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector Level 4
  • Level 2 Counselling qualification

Participants can take on a peer mentor role in the prison and also have the chance to deliver classes in the community or volunteer in work placements outside prison through links with the charity partners.  

Twenty-six men have enrolled in the project since it began last year. Of the 11 who have been released, half are already in full-time paid employment within the substance-misuse field.

Neville Brooks, a consultant who helped set up the project, shared an email he received from a former student, reading: “Sorry I haven’t been in touch for a while but my new job is keeping me busy! I am doing loads of training courses and am studying for an OU module in psychology. I am also awaiting clearance to deliver a course in my local prison. There’s a turn up for the books!” 

Since the programme began, fewer prisoners have tested positive for drugs. An evaluation is being planned to establish if has a causal link to the CHASE

Neville gave hints and tips for other institutions thinking about forming partnerships:

  • The subject needs to spark interest and be a hook to learning
  • Allow the programme to grow naturally and have a flexible, multi-agency approach
  • Give the participants a sense of ownership
  • Coaching and mentoring for prisoner learners is critical to develop confidence
  • Beware of stigma, particularly directed at prisoners/ex-prisoners coming to study in college. Have a single point of contact between the prison and the college who can deal with any concerns
  • Enjoy it! Success will bring great satisfaction

The event was hosted by the Association of Colleges, which represents FE colleges across the UK.

For more information about setting up a prison/college partnership please contact Nina Champion.