7 'firsts' in 2017 - A Festive Roundup

20 Dec 2017

Here are 7 'firsts' in 2017, as we wish all our friends, beneficiaries and supporters a joyful festive period - offering the chance to recoup, reflect, and gather momentum for the year ahead.

1) We're supporting record numbers

In 2017 we funded 3,006 different courses and arts materials across every prison in England and Wales. It is the largest number of prisoners we've supported in our 28-year history, and reflects a 30% rise in demand. We're now working harder than ever (and relying more than ever on your help) to make sure we can match the hopes and aspirations of people like 'Moose', a prisoner journalism student who wrote to us from HMP Erlestoke.

2) Including children in custody

After our research found that education for young people in custody often fails to meet their needs and aspirations, we opened up our funding to under 18's. Since then we’ve provided around 20 children with courses ranging from Fitness Instruction to GCSE Sociology to Open University Mathematics. We’re also conducting further research with young people, so we can adapt what we offer accordingly. Read Policy Head Nina Champion's TES article on why this age groups deserve our special attention.

3) And the first part of degrees

Thanks to a partnership between PET and the Open University, funded by The Garfield Weston Foundation, we can now fund the first 60 units of a undergraduate degree (equivalent to roughly half of the first year). We have already had huge demand for these courses, funding 50 last year and planning to reach 150 more next year.

4) Through our Welsh project, we’ve learnt a personalised service makes a bigger difference

Since 2015, our Cardiff team has been working intensively in the five (now six) Welsh prisons - offering a ‘wrap-around’ service that includes study skills support, mentor training and building links with colleges and universities. This has led to a 53% increase in distance learning courses taken up by prisoners in Wales. Meanwhile, we’ve also more about the importance of the prison community - staff included - in supporting distance learning. We were delighted when this project was awarded further funding, allowing us to continue this rich support, as we expand it to prisoners in England.

5) We've set up our PUPiL network

A big story this year, and doubtless in years to come, is the blossoming of prison/university partnerships across the country (check out our interactive map for a visual representation). In most cases, these partnerships bring students into prisons to learn alongside prisoners - they’ve studied subjects including criminology, philosophy and creative writing. Our PUPiL (Prison University Partnerships in Learning) network aims to support existing projects and help more institutions come together to change lives on both sides of the wall.

6) We’ve appointed our first alumnus trustee, and set up an advisory group

Simon Scott, who tells his story here, has worked as a consultant and coach in the criminal justice system since his release from prison. Earlier this year he was appointed as PET's first alumnus trustee, having received funding for an OU course back in 2001. He is now working with PET to set up an Advisory Group of alumni, whose expertise and experience will help to shape and guide PET in the years to come, as we put learner voice at the centre of all we do.

7) We’ve influenced government towards a broader definition of education

This year, the Ministry of Justice published a new definition of prison education: “[A]ctivities that give individuals the skills they need to unlock their potential, gain employment and become assets to their communities. It should also build social capital and improve the well-being of prisoners during their sentences.”

This holistic, outcome-focused definition was a quiet victory for the Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA), which had used almost identical wording in its Theory of Change report. The new definition will also act as an important guide for governors on what they can use education budgets for, as they gain great autonomy in years to come.

Do you want to be at the centre of changes to prison education in 2018? On 8 January, the PLA is opening up its membership to organisations and individuals. Help us put transformative learning at the top of everyone's New Year Resolutions. 

Visit here to pre-register your interest and find out more