Adult Learners Week 2014

12 Jun 2014

Susannah Henty, PET, writes:

“Earlier this month I went to two events in support of Adult Learners’ Week. The first, held at the historic London Canal Museum, was in honour of PET alumnus Junior Smart, who was selected from 1,400 nominations to win a regional award for his achievements in higher education and at work helping hundreds of disadvantaged young Londoners.

Junior Smart is well known for his work at the charity St Giles Trust where he set up a gangs-intervention project SOS, having spoken about his work helping young people exit gangs at conferences and in the media. But PET decided to nominate him for this award so people could recognise his other achievements in further education and to show how far he has come, personally.

In his early 20s Junior found himself in prison facing a 10 year sentence after getting involved in a south London gang but he used his time to study a degree in the arts, funded by PET. This helped prepare him for study in the community after he was released from prison and in 2013 he was awarded a 1st class BA hons degree in Youth Work. Studying his degree at the same time helped him do his job better, he was able to expand the SOS project, apply for more funding and employ other ex-prisoners to reach more communities. On the same night that Junior won the Adult Learners’ Award, the project, SOS, also won a prestigious Charity Award. Junior is now he is preparing to go into his second year Master’s degree in Applied Criminology and Youth Justice at Middlesex University. Read PET’s press release to find out more about Junior.

Junior was not the only ex-prisoner to receive an award, a man who benefited from training at HMP Brixton and Working Links’ Bad Boys Bakery has a whole new career after setting up a distribution business for the cakes. These stories are truly exceptional but they are also many other people who are still in prison surpassing what they thought was possible. We know all prison learners have to be determined and hardworking as they overcome many hurdles to study. Next month, PET’s president John Samuels will present one of our current learners with a certificate of achievement in recognition of his hard work studying for a maths degree.

PET also attended a second event, a Parliamentary reception for Adult Learners’ Week where NIACE introduced MPs and peers to current and former winners, like PET alumnus Frank Harris who is now an ambassador for the programme.

At the event, Minister for Skills Matthew Hancock MP praised the winners, in particular Robin Hood Primary School, which has established a successful family learning project in recognition that issues some of the children were having could be because their parents need support. PET would argue this is particularly true for prisoners and we know helping them to learn can have huge benefits for the whole family.

Hancock went on to say that he was a passionate advocate for lifelong learning and that if people hadn’t had a good experience of education the first time round, then we owe it those individuals to make sure adult study is a good experience. He summed up by saying:

“Social justice means that everyone can participate in our society.”

One of PET’s key objectives is to enable people to learn so they can contribute positively to society when they are released from prison. Adult Learners’ Week is an important time to promote learning for prisoners and to congratulate people for their amazing achievements, so often against the odds.