PUPiL Blog: An Interview with Amanda Baldry, Education Specialist at HMP Coldingley

In part one of a two-part feature we hear from Amanda Baldry, Education Specialist. Next month we will hear from three of her students serving sentences in HMP Coldingley.

I think prison-university partnerships are encouraging and motivating for the prisoners and give the staff a thing or two to think about!

Amanda is a Distance Learning Tutor at HMP Coldingley, where she supports learners undertaking undergraduate and masters degrees via distance learning. She supports prisoners to access further and higher education by providing advice and guidance, helping them with arranging funding and finance, submitting assignments, tracking progress and facilitating telephone and one to one tutorials.

Following her panel appearance at our Academic Symposium in April, she shares with us a staff member's perspective of supporting higher education in prison.

Mandy

You have worked in education both in prison and outside it - what are the main differences you notice in the learners?

 I have found the main difference is that the men in general are more engaged and committed to their courses although, some have told me that it is more about my style! They attend the education department because it is a different environment where they are treated respectfully and so they feel that they are not in prison for a little while.  However, my experience in a YOI (Young Offenders Institution) was the opposite – the students were very disengaged and disruptive. Although this has been exacerbated since the under eighteens have had to receive thirty hours education.

They attend the education department because it is a different environment where they are treated respectfully and so they feel that they are not in prison for a little while.

What do you think the benefits are of prison-university partnerships?

I think they’re great regardless of what level of learner they are working with or the activity. I think prison-university partnerships are encouraging and motivating for the prisoners and give the staff a thing or two to think about.  It’s great that the prisoners are able to meet and converse with people from outside the system who therefore treat them like human beings and value their input.

Mandy (1)

What are the challenges to you, as part of the education team in the prison, in bringing universities in for partnerships?

A particular challenge of a working jail is the focus is on going to work and not on education, so it may put governors off running something like a Learning Together group (aimed at encouraging lower level learners to engage in education) out of concern that prisoners will use it just as a way of getting out of work.  Security is also an issue.  We have now been advised that they expect any visitor that has been in three times to then be security cleared before they can enter the prison.

I also think that our reading group is fantastic because it is so stimulating for the participants both inside and out.  It gives them hope for the future too and they are developing skills that they would not be able to through study alone.

What kind of partnerships would you like to see in the future?

I would love to come in to work in the mornings to a scenario like Phil Novis, Leicester’s former governor, described to us at the PET symposium, with a choir singing in the yard with the men joining in or them all out doing Tai Chi.  I also think that our reading group is fantastic because it is so stimulating for the participants both inside and out.  It gives them hope for the future too and they are developing skills that they would not be able to through study alone.  Although, I’m not sure if other establishments have sufficient higher level learners to make this happen.

I feel that a partnership between an adult jail and a YOI would be great – allowing adults who would like to get in to working with young offenders when they get out to gain experience as lots want to get in to this sort of work to give something back to society and prevent young people entering the criminal justice system.

I think that having trusted C or D cat prisoners go in to the YOI could give the young people a better understanding of what it is like to be in jail for a long time and the realities of choosing a life of crime. I feel this would be particularly beneficial for young people who are given very long sentences as they often go off the rails as they feel that they have nothing to lose. 

Join us next month for an interview with some of Amanda's students inside HMP Coldingley.

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This is part of the PUPiL blog series. If you would like to respond to the points and issues raised in this blog, or to contribute to the blog yourself, please contact Rosie.