PLA calls for improvements to prison education contracts

18 May 2015

The Prisoner Learning Alliance(PLA), representing 23 expert organisations, calls on the newly appointed Secretaries of State for Justice, Rt. Hon. Michael Gove MP, and for Business and Skills, Rt. Hon Savid Javid MP, to take an early opportunity to reduce crime by improving prison education.

PLA report coverIn particular, PLA calls on the government to extend the current Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) contracts for a further year, to avoid the cost and disruption of re-procurement but, as set out in its briefing The Future of Prison Education Contracts: Delivering Better Outcomes, recommends using this opportunity to make some important improvements.

Alexandra Marks, Chair of PLA, said:

“Improving education in prison is a critical route to reduce the annual £9-13 billion cost of repeat offending. We welcome the new Secretaries of State, and invite them to seize this opportunity to give education greater priority in the regime and culture of prisons.

“PLA welcomes the increased numbers of learners achieving basic English and Maths qualifications. However, more flexibility in the OLASS contracts would enable prisons to meet a wider range of learning needs to help reduce re-offending.

“This summer, the government will need to make a decision on these contracts and therefore we urge ministers to look at what could be done better."

While people with qualifications are 15% less likely to commit crime after leaving prison, 58% of prisons inspected in 2013/14 were judged by Ofsted as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ for learning and skills provision.  

PLA offers eight solutions which, with greater flexibility within the contracts, could enable prisons to achieve better rehabilitative outcomes:

  1. Partnership working with the Community and Voluntary Sector

The contract should better enable charities to enrich the curriculum by delivering accredited and non-accredited courses and programmes.

  1. Engagement

Many ‘hard-to-reach’ prisoners who would benefit from education are not currently engaged.  There should be a more effective induction process and better use of peers to mentor others and champion learning on the wings.

  1. Progression

The current system means that providers cannot easily fund courses above Level 2 (GCSE pass). In 2013/14, just 600 achieved a Level 3 outcome, a decrease of more than half (55.5%).  The contracts should better support prisoners to access further education and higher level NVQ courses, A-levels and Open University degrees. 

  1. Personal and Social Development and Informal Adult Learning

Approximately half of prisoners have no qualifications and 42% were excluded from school. Many prisoners have had deeply unsettled lives and have missed out on development offered at school which helps people to build the soft skills, attitudes, thinking and behaviour that make them less likely to commit crime and more employable. 

  1. Technology

The Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) has identified that digital learning is set to transform education over the next decade. PLA calls for prisoners not to be left behind, and use ICT to complement and extend learning in prisons.

  1. Quality

The extended contracts should set out expectations for all teachers to access Continuing Professional Development (CDP) training, as well as encourage learners to have more of a say about the education on offer in their prison.

  1. Through-the-Gate

The contracts should be updated to recognise the changes under Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) and promote education providers to work with Community Rehabilitation Companies, national probation trusts and local community partners such as further education colleges, universities and employers to help learners make the most effective use of qualifications gained in prison after release.

  1. Leadership and accountability   

PLA calls for Governors to be responsible for the integration of education within the regime and culture of prisons by making the contracts flexible enough for them to achieve that.

Editor's Notes

For interviews, photos or further information please contact Susannah Henty (PET), Media Manager:; 020 3752 5676 or visit

The statistics in this press release along with further detail on each of the recommendations are in the briefing The Future of Prison Education Contracts

About Us

The Prisoner Learning Alliance was formed in 2012 by the charity Prisoners’ Education Trust ‘to provide expertise and vision to inform future priorities, policies and practices relating to prison education, learning and skills’. It now brings together 23 expert organisations who work to champion learning for people in prison.

See the full list of PLA members

PLA carries out research, informed by its members, prison staff and prisoner learners, to improve prison education policies.