PUPiL in action: LSBU/HMP Pentonville

“Without Learning Together we would never have had the opportunity to inspire one another” - Dan, Learning Together student

On 18 January, students, friends and family members of learners from London South Bank University (LSBU) and HMP Pentonville celebrated the successful completion of a unique module.

The course took place over the full autumn term and was led by Jenny Fogarty, senior lecturer at LSBU. An optional addition to an undergraduate degree in education, the module took eight LSBU students outside of their comfort zone and into HMP Pentonville, where they joined 12 Pentonville students to take a module on Education for Social Justice. This diverse group explored how education is used as a tool for social change and the factors that might influence that such as history, curriculum, theories of learning, technology and assessment.  

This module is the first education course to follow a Learning Together framework, which was initially developed by Drs. Amy Ludlow and Ruth Armstrong from the University of Cambridge in a 2015 partnership with HMP Grendon. The principles underpinning this approach focus on using the power of learning to unlock the potential for all and using this process to connect different groups of people - current university students and currently serving prisoners.

Throughout the term, the module provided an opportunity for regular dialogue between students. Jenny said: “The course was a time and space for students to learn in a new environment however it represents more than that. The personal and academic connections the students are making are transcending the physical boundaries imposed on them.”

The celebratory event began with a thoughtful introduction by Kevin Reilly, the governing governor of Pentonville, who reminded us that the learning communities created through this course “reaches wider than the guys in the room. It spreads across the prison and the university”.

Yet the most powerful impact was clearest in the words of the students themselves. James from Pentonville told how he was worried at first, asking himself “am I good enough?” But through the “interaction, openness and trust” of the learning space, he was able to realise this “unique achievement”. He said the course: “sparked a light in myself and allowed me to enjoy education for the first time in my life”.

Dan, a student at LBSU said: “without Learning Together, we would never have had the opportunity to inspire one another”. He praised the “resilience, determination and appreciation” of his fellow students. “My main lesson from the module is that education is a platform from which we can all thrive”, he said.

Partnership working such as this requires dedication from key players in each institution. And Jose Aguiar worked to ensure that this could happen within the walls of Pentonville. He said: “The partnership between Pentonville and LSBU was a success story. University and prison had shared goals of capacitating individuals in ways that bring about positive social change. Leads from both institutions worked closely together to ensure the programme ran smoothly and outcomes were achieved for inside and outside students and wider prison community.”

There have been challenges in working in this way, said Jenny. “The prison itself is an extremely challenging environment to teach in and the recent, well-publicised events have played a significant role in how the course was delivered,” said Jenny. “However, both sets of students demonstrated considerable resilience to attend and engage in sessions, prepare reading beforehand and follow up with weekly reflections.”

The strength of the academic relationships within this mixed cohort was apparent throughout the day. The pride that each student demonstrated in their peers was shared by their invited plus-ones and was reflected in the academic teaching staff.

For Jenny and Jose, this is just the beginning of a growing partnership between these institutions.  “The role of prison and university partnerships holds significant value and at LSBU we are keen to develop this further,” said Jenny. “Both institutions are designed to support personal transformation and courses developed through programmes such as Learning Together provide the space to co-construct learning opportunities that meet the needs of all students, regardless of their context.”

PET is excited to be supporting the wide range of existing and developing partnerships between prisons and universities through its newly created PUPiL (Prison University Partnerships in Learning) network. Read a ‘spotlight on’ a partnership in our monthly e-news, or join up to the network for more regular communications, including events, stories and fact files. To join the network, contact Robert@prisonerseducation.org.uk.