Inspection round-up

27 Jun 2017



Prison type

Learning and Skills Inspection Grade

HMP Brixton

Category C and D resettlement prison


HMP Huntercombe 

Category C foreign national prison


HMP Lincoln

Category B local prison


Medway STC

Secure Training Centre 

Requires Improvement

HMP Pentonville

Local resettlement prison

Requires Improvement

HMP Brixton

At HMP Brixton, fewer prisoners than at similar institutions said it was easy to get a prison job, vocational or skills training, or education. Most of this came down to the system - “Prisoners were keen to attend education and training sessions but the restricted regime prevented many from doing so,” the inspectors found. While the range of classes was “reasonable”, an average of only 40% of places were occupied and English and mathematics sessions were less than a third full. Despite long waiting lists for the more popular training places, such as scaffolding and construction programmes, many places remained unfilled, and those engaged in work were often doing “unchallenging work on the wings”.

For those able to get to class, the quality of teaching and the standard of the work produced was variable, found the report. Work in music technology, catering and the bakery were of a particularly good standard, and the input of peer mentors was commended in vocational training, where they provided effective support for tutors and prisoners. Around 40 prisoners were taking part in distance learning funded by PET or the Open University. But too few prisoners gained the gained the English and Maths qualifications they had been working towards, and there was too little support linking qualifications to future employment. Novus, the new education provider, was aware of these failings and had begun to make plans to improve prisoners’ outcomes, but it was too early to measure the impact of this.

The library, though small, was well-run by the local council and supported by a “well-trained” orderly. Library staff also helped with other activities, including a scheme allowing fathers to record stories for their children. However, only 13% of prisoners said they were able to visit the library once a week, compared to 42% at similar establishments.

Good practice: “Prisoners appreciated the excellent training in the Clink restaurant and Bad Boys Bakery which provided good accredited training in catering, baking, and customer service skills in realistic commercial settings. The bakery supplied external companies and the restaurant was open to members of the public. BounceBack provided good construction training and good post-release employment opportunities for prisoners."

HMP Huntercombe

The foreign national prison HMP Huntercombe received by far the most favourable education report of those surveyed here. Management had a “thorough understanding” of the services that this population required, said inspectors, and education was kept relevant. Managers consulted prisoners frequently, seeking their views about provision and modifying it to ensure that prisoners’ learning was relevant to work in their home countries. Prisoners who did not speak English were encouraged to study before starting work, and “good quality” careers advice helped prisoners to make informed choices about courses that best prepared them for life after leaving the UK.

In classrooms, inspectors met prison learners who “took pride in their work, which they were keen to show us”, and tutors who had a “good understanding” of barriers to learning and adapted their teaching and training accordingly. The vocational offer was good – including courses in tiling, painting and decorating, hospitality and barbering, and there was a successful use of peer mentors in classrooms and workshops.

The most significant criticism was that the most-able learners were not always catered for in classrooms, while in the workplace those with poorer levels of English sometimes fell behind. The Virtual Campus was also redundant as it could not connect to the internet. But inspectors praised management for their general approach to monitoring and address failings, and commitment to improving provision.  

Good practice: “The instructors in barbering were skilled and had high expectations of prisoners. They were particularly good at linking practical skills and technical knowledge, and prisoners developed outstanding barbering skills. Most prisoners who started the course were successful, and they recognised the employment opportunities and benefits of the course.”

HMP Lincoln

Around 60% of people starting sentences at HMP Lincoln have English and Maths skills at below Level 1. But inspectors found a regime that did not adequately support them to achieve more - prisoners without any basic skills were expected to begin work before starting education, and there were long waiting lists for courses, particularly English and Maths. For those prisoners able to access it, the prison’s small education and training provision was had strengths, with an increased focus on “evaluating and raising quality rather than just tackling operational activities”. Education staff “treated learners with respect” and helped them develop “focused and realistic” targets for their education and future work plans. Classroom-based courses were “well planned to meet learners’ short stays”, and inspectors met many prisoners who were highly motivated and completed work in their cells. “Learners were proud of their neat, well-presented written and practical work. They developed the self-esteem and confidence they needed to present their ideas to their peers and respond appropriately to feedback.”

This was hampered by regular curtailments of the prison regime in the last year, meaning learners took longer than necessary to achieve qualifications and could not progress to higher level courses. When prisoners were able take exams, pass rates for lower levels were very good but less good for more advanced qualifications. The library seems to withstand restrictions - around 68% of prisoners regularly borrowed items. But a reading mentoring scheme, which had recruited eight mentors and 12 participants, had not seen a single completion course because mentors and participants had no time allocated to work together.

Good practice: “In ICT, learners worked well in groups to identify the range of jobs in a theme park that used computer skills. Prisoners understood how their course would help them find employment and develop their careers.”

Medway STC

Education at Medway Secure Training Centre fares better than some areas in a report that records serious failings in other areas. Nacro, which took over education last year, has introduced a vision of education as integral to resettlement and rehabilitation. Staff, up to governor level, have “moved quickly and enthusiastically to introduce improvements”. But inspectors criticised Nacro’s short contract length of only a year, saying this was “creating pressure to move too rapidly, thereby not allowing initiatives time to settle and consolidate”.

There is “generally good rapport” between education staff and young people at Medway, providing a “good backdrop to support learning”. The majority of young people were found to engage well in class and achieve a positive outcome from their time in education. Teachers were “enthusiastic and encouraging” and used information technology to engage pupils. The education department also had a joined-up relationship with other departments, with education staff attend regularly healthcare reviews, resettlement and other individual planning and review meetings. A new curriculum is being developed that will broaden vocational offer and introduce a more personalised approach for learners.

Inspectors said improvements could be made in measuring learners’ progress and in safeguarding: inspectors were concerned that education staff were not aware of issues facing the most vulnerable children – particularly those at risk of self-harm. They also noted that the residents were calling for more access to sport.

Good practice: “In horticulture, they were receptive to instructions on how to prepare the ground for a forthcoming project. Young people were at ease when reading aloud in an English lesson, voluntarily referring to the dictionary during a classroom discussion.”

HMP Pentonville

At HMP Pentonville, inspectors found some areas of improvement since the last inspection: the number of activity spaces and qualification opportunities had “increased substantially” to nearly 900, which was close to providing nearly all prisoners (including Vulnerable Prisoners) with some kind of activity on each working day,. Around 50 prisoners were following education opportunities at an advanced level, including PET-funded distance learning courses, and received appropriate support to do this. Inspectors also noted that a number of prisoners were engaged in prison/university partnerships; studying at degree level.

But on the most part, the quality of teaching and learning was “varied” and in some cases required improvement. Teachers often had low expectations of learners and set “identical, frequently undemanding activity”. Vocational lessons fared better - particularly textiles and barbering - and inspectors praised the good use of peer mentors. Importantly, Pentonville’s management team had “identified, correctly” that improvements were needed to the learning and skills provision, and were taking steps to address this, but “much more needed to be done to improve it,” found the report.

The library was praised as “spacious and welcoming”, but access was a problem - only 15% of prisoners visited once a week - far below the national average.

Good practice: “One prisoner acted as a good role model during prisoner induction to education and skills by explaining how learning in prison had led him to wider opportunities and increased self-confidence.”


This month Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons published reports of HMPs Garth and Guys Marsh and HMYOI Parc’s Juvenile Unit. We take a closer look at key issues and good practice revealed in Ofsted’s sections, including this month: the standard of outreach for vulnerable prisoners; diminishing library access; and a successful Braille translation workshop.


Prison type

Inspection grade

HMP Garth

Category B Training Prison


HMP Guys Marsh

Category C Training & Resettlement

Requires Improvement

HMYOI Parc Juvenile Unit

YOI for boys under 18, attached to HMP Parc


Classroom Learning

Teaching is roundly praised at HMP Garth,where “most prisoners progressed well from some very low starting points”. Tutors set prisoners clear individual targets and recorded their progress effectively, with a good knowledge of their students’ personal and learning difficulties. Lessons were planned carefully, and were made relevant to prisoners' future needs and interests. Maths tutors were particularly effective in helping prisoners to recognise the practical applications of mathematics after release, found inspectors, including, for example, activities relating to personal budgeting and renting accommodation. Teachers made good use of the virtual campus to link learners to community education, training and employment, and to help prisoners access Open University pages. 

The picture is more mixed at HMP Guys Marsh, particularly for learners whose educational level is lower or higher than average.  There was “scarcely any provision” for the large number of prisoners with entry-level English and mathematics skills, and none for prisoners whose first language was not English. Teachers were insufficiently trained to support learners with special educational needs, nor did they “stretch or challenge the more able learners” in functional skills programmes. However, inspectors commended the atmosphere in classrooms, where learners were mostly “well motivated, positive and engaged” and teachers showed a good ability to manage behaviour.

At the YOI unit of HMP Parc, “nearly all teachers and boys enjoyed positive and supportive relationships,” found the inspectorate. Impressively, all boys who remained on the unit for six months or more improved their literacy and numeracy by at least one level. Teachers set clear objectives; used a wide range of teaching methods; planned activities well and amended their plans during sessions to suit the emerging needs of learners. Lessons progressed at a good pace and “a variety of activities engaged the interest of boys and encouraged constructive discussions”. Individual education plans tracked each boy’s preferred learning style and needs. Classrooms were well equipped and decorated, with some bilingual (English/Welsh) displays.  


HMP Garth has 13 “well-equipped and managed work areas,” where prisoners can develop skills including catering, woodwork, waste management and tool hire maintenance. “They were doing good work,” said the inspectorate, particularly in the tool maintenance workshop, a commercial contract between the prison and Speedy, a national tool hire company, where men “took their responsibility for repairing items very seriously” and in the prison’s Braille workshop, where prisoners have “translated competently a large volume of books”. Vocational tutors were praised for their ability to challenge the most-able prisoners to produce high standards of work. (For example, on the catering course, prisoners participated regularly in competitions). However, instructors did not adequately encourage the men to take up vocational courses and gain qualifications; nor did they incorporate English or maths skills enough into the work.

The options for prisoners taking vocational qualifications at HMP Guys Marsh; and included barbering, catering, cleaning, horticulture and fork-lift truck training. Inspectors noted some examples of embedded learning, for example prisoners involved in industrial cleaning using ratios to calculate relative volumes of cleaning solutions and water. However, they also found instructors did not ensure that prisoners recognised the importance of good English and mathematics in their work, and work placements offered too few opportunities for progression.


While the library at Garth was “welcoming and well-organised”, and Guys Marsh had a “good, spacious and well-resourced facility”, in both prisons access to the library was poor, mainly due to the lack of escorting staff. There was no induction for new prisoners at Garth, and at Guys Marsh the Shannon Trust’s Turning Pages programme had stopped running. 

But access to the library was good at Parc YOI; found to be well-stocked with a “good range of age-appropriate fiction and nonfiction and accessible resources for boys with limited reading skills”. The librarian encouraged boys to read and visited the residential unit regularly so that all boys could borrow books.

Management and regime

Education at Garth was helped by a daily regime that was “reliable and delivered on time”, allowing for over 10 hours a day out of cell for prisoners in full-time activities. Good partnership working between prison staff and education provider Novus had improved the allocation of prisoners to learning and skills activities, with prisoners being “directed to the most appropriate activity to help to support their longer-term employment objectives”. The prison had also recently introduced strategies to incentivise prisoners to enrol on functional skills courses. However, Garth did less well at providing for prisoner outside of the majority population -  managers failed to provide a wide enough range of activities for vulnerable prisoners, who could only work in one type of workshop and who had insufficient access to education courses. Achievements of men from black and minority ethnic background was lower than the White British population, and managers did not monitor their involvement adequately.

Guys Marsh had suffered a long period of “significant change and turbulence” in staffing and organisation since its last inspection, which negatively impacted education provision. While purposeful activity places had increased, 30% of prisoners were not engaged any activity at all, and too many left at the same level of English and Maths that they came in with. Difficulties began during the induction process, with people being directed to classes at the wrong level or to courses that did not exist. The prison had stopped running outreach provision in the wings or in workshops or for vulnerable or self-isolating prisoners. There was no diagnostic or specialist support to identify and support prisoners with a learning difficulties, and prisoners were inappropriately sanctioned for not attending educational classes where they could not participate – for example, because of their dyslexia or illiteracy.

However, the inspectorate noted that the prison team had a “clear strategic vision” to improve the quality of provision and was putting this into practice. The management also recognised that “culturally, significant change was needed to ensure that all wing prison staff fully valued and supported prisoners’ involvement and attendance in learning and skills development”.

The management at Parc’s juvenile unit cooperated well with their colleagues at the adult prison, found the inspectors. The prison had also recently begun a partnership with a local college which would offer support to teachers to embed literacy and numeracy into their lessons.

Distance learning

At Garth, tutors “supported prisoners on Open University and distance learning well,” and had implemented successful arrangements to enable vulnerable prisoners to take distance learning courses. At Guys Marsh, 60 prisoners were following distance learning courses with one working at degree level. 


This month Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons published reports of HMPs Durham and Eastwood Park and HMP/YOI Swinfen Hall. We take a closer look at Ofsted’s section, dealing with the standard of learning and skills and sharing good practice highlighted by inspectors, including this month: embedded learning in industry workshops and gardens, an ‘Inside Out’ prison university partnership and a visit from a First World War museum to inspire creative writing. We also shine a light on things inspectors have marked down such as pay scales not incentivising learning, not providing sufficient high-level courses and a ‘culture of low aspirations’.

Prison Name  Category Ofsted Grade
Durham Local Requiring Improvement
Eastwood Park Women's local  Good
Swinfen Hall  YOI/Young Adult Category C Inadequate

Teaching was well-regarded at both HMP Durham, a local prison, and HMP Eastwood Park, which houses women. At Durham, teachers were “imaginative and creative in engaging prisoners” and “skilful in planning and delivering suitable activities for different abilities”. For example, in one lesson volunteers from a local army museum used First World War artefacts as prompts for creative writing. Prisoners felt safe in classrooms, and were able to “develop an understanding of concepts such as democracy and tolerance”. Teaching was of a particularly good standard in functional skills, including ICT, where the inspectorate observed that prisoners with little or no previous experience were able to “progress quickly from basic keyboard skills to designing power-point presentations”. At Durham, some prisoners also have the opportunity to take part in an Inside/Out module alongside students from Durham University, in which they were “challenged to reflect on their behaviour and the role of prisons in British society compared to other countries”.

At Eastwood Park, teachers were “well informed about women’s barriers to learning” and used the information to ensure learning assistants and mentors provided good support. The inspectorate also praised the use of volunteers from outside prison. Overall, “[w]omen appreciated the opportunity to re-engage with education and enjoyed their learning, which significantly boosted their confidence and self-esteem,” the report notes. However, the inspectorate noted that too few women progressed to higher levels of training.

Teaching at HMP/YOI Swinfen Hall was good at foundation level, with learners achieving well, receiving detailed feedback on how to improve, and developing their confidence in communicating. Bad behaviour, when it occurred, was “challenged appropriately”. However, the standard of teaching at higher levels was less good, and “tutors did not consistently reinforce good standards by correcting and guiding learners to improve,” says the report.


Inspectors found the range and standard of work and training opportunities to have improved at Eastwood Park since their last inspection, while at Durham places were still too limited. At Swinfen Hall vocational courses were “too basic and not particularly valued by employers” and the prison did not make the best use of facilities such as kitchens. The work that did exist is described as “repetitive”, providing limited opportunity for skills development. The inspectorate did note however that a few training workshops had begun to incorporate English and Maths skills, and that prisoners “demonstrated the benefit of this approach.”

At Durham prisoners also enjoyed working in the prison gardens, said the inspectorate. “They rapidly learned to identify a wide range of plants and gained a clear understanding of the link between food production and healthy eating.”


Library access was good at Eastwood Park and very good at Durham, where the library had a “good range of stock and effective links with education” and where access was higher than at comparator prisons. This was not the case at Swinfen Hall, where only 22% of prisoners had visited the library in the past six months.

Management and regime

At Eastwood Park there were not found to be enough English and Maths places for the population, and women waited too long after induction before beginning education, and the prison pay policy did not encourage them to continue. At Durham, too many prisoners were locked up or not purposefully occupied during the core day. There were too few places available for work and education and too little attention paid to attendance, found the inspectorate.

This was a greater problem at Swinfen Hall, where inspections saw poor attendance and punctuality in work and education as “indicative of a culture of low aspirations for prisoner outcomes and the quality of provision” in general. This was exacerbated by poor communication between the management and education providers, and poor long-term planning on how to improve the standard of provision. However, the report does end the report on a more optimistic note, suggesting that the recruitment of a new governor (Teresa Clarke joined the prison on the week of the inspection) presented an opportunity for change and to “raise expectations amongst both staff and prisoners”.