PhD research on impact of distance learning


May 2014

Morwenna Bennallick writes:

I have been very fortunate to have been granted the opportunity to conduct PhD research alongside the Prisoners Education Trust and Royal Holloway University, exploring the impact of distance learning in prisons. This is an exciting project that aims to investigate the ways in which distance learning can support individuals in their personal development, rehabilitation and desistance from crime. I will be building on evidence of academics including Emma Hughes and Anne Pike

The criminal justice system is going through a time of unprecedented change. With the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda moving at full speed, proposals for huge ‘secure colleges’ for young offenders and the landscape of continuing cuts to resources, big question marks are left hanging over the position of education in prison. What is the purpose of it? Who benefits from it? What is it that prisoner learners, and those around them, benefit from most?

At the recent Prisoner Learning Alliance conference, Fergus McNeill discussed the ways in which education opportunities in prison can be seen through the lens of supporting desistance, a broader and more complex task than just supporting employment on release. [1] The relationship between education and individual (and social) identity underpin many learners’ narratives of change. The processes involved in this and the role that distance learning in particular can play are key questions for this research.

To focus on the impact that distance learning can have for a person when released from prison is not to ignore the important role it can play in life inside. Finding ways to cope with prison, build resilience or even feeling that time inside is being well spent are significant personal development processes which many prisoners attribute, at least in part, to their educational opportunities.

Building upon evolving bodies of literature on desistance, rehabilitation and debates on prisoner learning, this project will be drawing upon bodies of available quantitative data as well as generating some close qualitative evidence. It will at all times remain as close to the voice of the learner as possible.


If you have an interest in the research and wish to be added to PET's academic e-network please email:

[1] McNeill, F. (2014) <>