Education Inspections - February '17

20 Feb 2017

A new series looking at how education fared in Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons' reports each month.

In February, Wymott receives high praise for an inclusive and embedded approach; Norwich's local prison provision is marked highly, and education at Channings Wood and Exeter are rare examples of progress in faltering regimes. 


HMP Channings Wood (Devon, Category C)

Overall: Not sufficiently good on safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. 

“Channings Wood is a prison in decline. Four years ago we found a prison coping reasonably well with its challenges. This time we found a prison struggling to cope and the impact on prisoners was evident.” – Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector.  

Learning, Skills and Work: Good* 

"Teachers use a wide range of resources to engage and challenge learners."

In the context of a negative inspection report, Channing Wood’s education was rated relatively well, with some areas rated ‘good’ and some seen to ‘require improvement’. Teachers, said Ofsted, are “well qualified and trained”, and those whose performance falls below the high expectations receive “swift and effective support”. Lessons were planned around individual targets and ambitions, and involved a “wide range of resources to engage and challenge learners”. However, the inspection does note that this rarely includes computers. The proportion of prisoners studying advanced level or undergraduate level distance learning courses was also high. Links with regional employers were good and several employers had visited the prison to talk about the range of potential job opportunities after release.

The main weaknesses link with failings in the overall system. The prison has been running a restricted regime for over two years and the inspection team said they experienced further “ad-hoc regime reductions” almost every day during their inspection. This mean that while on paper therefore there was sufficient work and education for the whole population, in reality many of the places available were not allocated or used – 40% of prisoners were not involved in any meaningful activity, and officers often failed to unlock men from their cells so they could attend activities they had signed up to. Overall, “prison managers failed to promote a culture and ethos that acknowledged participation in purposeful activity as a key priority,” found the inspectorate, all the greater shame when the education on offer is of a good quality.

Full report here.


HMP Exeter (Category B, local)

Overall: Not sufficiently good on safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. 

“There was a real and troubling concern that the situation at HMP Exeter was fragile […] Unless the regime at the establishment could be improved, violence reduced and the prevalence of drugs and other contraband addressed, further declines would be almost inevitable.” – Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector

Learning, Skills and Work: Good*

"In art lessons prisoners learning to draw faces elucidated on ratios, percentages and fractions during their discussions and explanations."

Like at Channings Wood, education stood out as a rare positive in a picture of a prison struggling to cope with violence, drugs and staff shortages. At HMP Exeter, Ofsted inspectors found a well-managed education department. “Education and training provision was frequently reviewed, with courses selected to meet the needs of the short-stay population,” reads the report.  Prisoners were generally keen to attend lessons, which “stretched and challenged prisoners, with active discussions, group work, peer assessments, individual tasks and useful extension activities”. Trained and accredited peer mentors provided “focused guidance” for less capable prisoners, including in the library, where a “buddy scheme” was put to good use.

The integration and support for English and mathematics functional skills were judged “outstanding” in many sessions. In art lessons, for example “prisoners learning to draw faces elucidated on ratios, percentages and fractions during their discussions and explanations”, while in horticulture, prisoners were designing a garden using a brief from a client, where they calculated areas of decking and the volume of ponds, and then produced a written quote.

The department came under some criticism for failing to use individual learning plans enough, and for not always ensuring that qualifications were available to match what was being taught. However, it was the regime’s restrictions again that was the largest obstacle to effective education. “Sessions often cancelled or started late owing to prisoners not being moved on time, and there was a lack of enforcement of sentenced prisoners attending workplaces,” said Ofsted. As a result, places in work and education were left unfilled and “far too many” prisoners spent long stretches locked in the cells on the wings.  

Full report here.


HMP/YOI Norwich (Mixed Category, Local)

Overall: Reasonably good on safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement.

“Norwich had continued the forward momentum we noted at our previous inspection; a significant factor was strong and stable leadership by the governor and his team.” – Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector

Learning Skills and Work: Good* 

"Prisoners participated well in lessons and work, and made the most of learning opportunities."

HM Inspectorate found Norwich prison to be much improved since its last inspection four years previously. This included in the provision of purposeful activity, where “attention had been paid to enhancing the activities places available, and both the number and range of what was offered had improved”. In this area the prison went from failing, to meeting, the healthy prison test.

In education a “good selection” of subjects and levels were offered and prisoners participated in and “made the most” of learning opportunities. However, the report found that prisoners were not enough involved in the selection of these courses and that too little attention was paid to the courses’ usefulness after release.

While there was more time out of cell in the prison overall and the “majority of prisoners had something worthwhile to do”, too many men were locked up during the working day. This affected the attendance in education.

In the library, the inspectorate praised the availability, stock level and the librarians’ efforts to promote literacy.

Full report here.


HMP Wymott  (Lancashire, Category C)

Overall: Reasonably good on safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement

“HMP Wymott was weathering similar pressures and challenges to other prisons, but was doing so with a proactive ‘can do’ approach.” – Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector

Learning Skills and Work: Good*

“Prisoners enjoyed lessons, were engaged and motivated and had an excellent attitude to developing new skills,”

Wymott’s education department comes in for a great deal of praise from Ofsted, with all outcomes judged either good or outstanding. “This was a significant achievement and an obvious product of clear leadership and a plan to provide good-quality activities which supported efforts to rehabilitate the men,” reads the report.

Nearly all stages of a prisoners’ education journey are deemed to be well supported, from initial induction, to teaching delivery, to preparing for employment after release. Teaching at Wymott is particularly praised - lessons were found to be engaging, varied and well-planned and in some cases made use of information technology such as electronic whiteboards. “Prisoners enjoyed lessons, were engaged and motivated and had an excellent attitude to developing new skills,” it concludes. There was a good use of learning mentors and the student council provided a way for learners to have a say over how the education was run. Relationships between teachers and students is also commended. “Prisoners demonstrated exemplary standards of behaviour in education, training and work. They were respectful to their peers, teachers, tutors and instructors, which created a positive learning and work environment.”

Wymott, which is a training prison, had a good range of purposeful activity outside the classroom was found to be good – including new initiatives like a patisserie offering catering training, a site joinery course for vulnerable prisoners and an increasing number of family learning courses to develop prisoners’ ability to help their children with their school work. Workshops also incorporated basic skills teaching, for example an industrial cleaning course taught about ratios. However, again regime restrictions often prevented these opportunities from being taken up. “We found too many men locked in their cells during the working day, rather than participating in the good range of purposeful activities offered,” reads the report.

The report’s other main criticism on the education side concerns the library. Shortages of staff meant that on “too many occasions” prisoners were unable to attend their library session, which was also closed in evenings and weekends, further limiting their access to books.

Full report here.

Ofsted's 'good' equates to HMI Prisons’ assessment of ‘reasonably good’

The Prisoner Learning Alliance recently submitted a proposal to HMI Prisons' public consultation on new expectations for adult prisons. It can be read here