Parliament debates education for young people

21 Jul 2014

Last week (w/c 21 July 2014) secure colleges and young people were debated in the Lords’ Committee stage of the criminal justice and the courts bill. During the discussion many of PET concerns about size and location were raised by peers who have been briefed by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (of which we are members). PET’s specific questions and recommendations for the education provision were also highlighted by Lord Hodgson who tabled a probing amendment with our support.

Young learner holding distance learning catalogue

Lord Hodgson said: “It seems to me the first set of challenges revolves around location. Noble Lords have pointed out that young offenders in larger secure colleges may well be at some distance from the homes to which they will return at the end of their sentence. How will the continued education of those young people be linked into their local authority and/or other community support programmes? In addition, given the recognition of the useful role that release on temporary licence plays in rehabilitation, which seems to me entirely sensible, how will that fit in with a continued and progressive educational experience?

“Secondly, within the institutions themselves, there seems to be a number of challenges to providing this worthwhile educational experience. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, there is the shifting nature of the population, with young offenders arriving and departing in a way that may be educationally disruptive and not at all helpful to a scholastic timetable. As the number of young people in custody decreases, there is also the likelihood that the residual number may be particularly disturbed and troubled, and therefore the emergence of gang culture may well become prevalent. It would be helpful if the Minister could give us his thoughts on how that could be tackled, and whether there are sufficient resources so to do.

“Of course, one way to address these various challenges would be to increase the use of IT-based distance learning. It is a field which continues to develop very fast. New IT approaches can capture the imagination of young people in a way that the more conventional pedagogic approach does not, and can therefore play a valuable role in supplementing the latter, more formal approach. Further, an online tutor could also help overcome the problems of transitioning to the community from the secure college. However, I am given to understand—the Prisoners’ Education Trust is concerned about this—that the Government have reservations about increasing these young people’s exposure to distance learning. Will my noble friend tell the House whether this revolves around the cost of the system, the availability of suitably trained personnel or, perhaps more prosaically, issues of IT security?

“As I said at the outset, I am convinced that improving educational performance provides a significant chance of reducing reoffending among young people.

"Therefore, I welcome the Government’s commitment to it. It will require some fresh organisational thinking, which is why I think commercial activities might be helpful—especially, as we have heard already, in the context of these larger secure colleges.

“To address this, my amendment proposes a requirement to establish an individual learning plan. In turn, the construction of the ILP will have to involve all relevant bodies, statutory and non-statutory. It will require the assessing of the individual’s prior educational achievement and, finally, a path for that individual’s future demands. In the amendment I argue that this customised approach is likely to provide the most efficient and cost-effective way forward.”

Lord Faulks, responding on behalf of the Government, recognised and agreed with the need for learners to have individualised support and he committed to exploring the use of online learning tools. Although the amendment will not be included in the bill, he said:

“Secure colleges will improve on the existing processes, and ensure that all young people receive an individual learning plan based on a thorough assessment of their needs and prior learning experience.”