PLA welcomes new report about prison teachers

25 Feb 2014

The Institute for Learning (IfL) and the Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA) have welcomed a new report from the University and College Union (UCU) outlining research it conducted with the Institute of Education (IOE) into prison education, and agree with calls for better support for prison education and more stability in the system.

Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL) and a member of PLA, said, “The major aim of prison education is to help prepare offenders to lead a useful life, after release, and to contribute positively to our society and economy.  We must ensure that prisoners are properly prepared for resettlement and employment. As well as taking a human toll, this country’s high rate of reoffending is very expensive for taxpayers, so investing in high-quality offender learning is smart as well as right.

“Research by the Ministry of Justice shows that learning in prison works, and that it cuts the likelihood of reoffending*. But although there are pockets of excellent teaching and practice, and examples of prison learning environments that foster such excellence, overall, the quality in offender learning lags significantly behind that found in mainstream provision. The chief inspector of prisons’ and the Ofsted chief inspector’s annual reports both make vivid the vast shortcomings.

“It is good to hear again that prison educators are a highly qualified group of practitioners, as the UCU report confirms. However, it is important to recognise that teachers in custodial settings face a great number of challenges, including unacceptable levels of disruption to learning and work-related activities; loss of teaching time due to the movement of students; restricted access to information and communication technology (ICT); restrictions on specific teaching resources; behaviour management issues; and the high turnover of prisoners. While it is important for prison education providers to be regularly held to account on their performance, the UCU survey has highlighted that constant changes to contracting arrangements for offender learning can lead to instability in the system and for teachers.

“Teachers in prisons need specific support and training to ensure the best quality teaching and learning, including for the high proportion of learners with learning difficulties and disabilities. We support the recommendation that specialist prison education modules should be developed for inclusion in initial teacher education programmes, to equip teachers for the complexities of working in prison settings. The PLA’s latest report, Smart Rehabilitation, joins the UCU in calling for an increased focus on continuing professional development (CPD). Prison educators should be supported to develop subject expertise and teaching methodologies. It is right also that they should be recognised as a specialist group, given the challenges they face, and their steadfast dedication to teaching in a far from conducive environment.

“There is a broad consensus about there being significant room for improvement to offender learning, so that what happens in practice is more closely aligned with the aims of prison education.”

Nina Champion, head of policy at PET, and co-author of Through the Gateway: How Computers can Transform Rehabilitation, said, “Access to ICT, including e‑learning resources, assistive technologies, research materials and online courses, requires significant improvement and could have huge potential to improve the quality of teaching and learning in prison. Better access to ICT would help teaching in prisons be closer to mainstream educational establishments, and would help ensure that prisoners are prepared for modern-day education, training and employment after release, as part of reducing levels of reoffending.”

Ros Foggin, who is an IfL Advisory Council member and one of IfL’s 1,300 or so members who work in offender learning, said, “Teaching in prisons is the toughest educational role I have ever held. I have wide and long experience of teaching and developing quality across further education and skills, but teaching in prisons truly is ‘teaching against the odds’, as the context and lack of e-learning resources give such major constraints. Teaching in prisons is the most needed yet the most thwarted part of the sector.”

Editor's Notes

For further information please contact the IfL via 0844 815 3202  or or Susannah Henty, Media Manager:; 020 8648 7760 or visit

*A recent report was carried out by the MoJ Justice Data Lab published in January 2014 which shows people supported by PET to study distance learning courses in prison are a quarter less likely to reoffend than a matched sample of ex-prisoners with the same characteristics.

  1. This press notice is available online here
  2. ‘Prison Educators: Professionalism Against the Odds’ outlines the findings of research conducted by the University and College Union (UCU) and the Centre for Education in the Criminal Justice System (CECJS) at the Institute of Education (IOE), University of London to learn more about prison educators and explore the impact of offender learning funding on their professionalism and practice. The report’s findings are based on a questionnaire completed by 278 prison educators, who are members of UCU and working in England, between April and May 2013.
  3. Research from the Ministry of Justice (2012) showed that prisoners who have a qualification were 15 per cent less likely to be reconvicted in the year after release than those who reported having no qualifications.
  4. The Ministry of Justice published research (here) from its Justice Data Lab (2014) showing that reoffending was reduced by a quarter for prisoners who had been funded by Prisoners Education Trust for a distance learning course, compared to a matched control group.
  5. The PET and Prison Reform Trust (PRT) report, ’Through the Gateway: How computers can Transform Rehabilitation’ (2013), examines the use of ICT in prisons and its potential as a tool for rehabilitation.
  6. The PLA report, ’Smart Rehabilitation: Learning how to get better outcomes’ (2013), tackles strategic questions about using limited and reducing resources to help secure the best outcomes, so that prisoners can desist from crime and make a positive contribution to their families and society.
  7. The ’Ofsted Annual Report 2012/13: Further Education and Skills’ is available here
  8. ‘HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales: Annual Report 2012–13’ is available here

About IfL

The Institute for Learning (IfL) was formed in 2002 by further education teachers, trade unions, employers and others, and is the professional body for teachers, tutors, trainers and student teachers in the further education and skills sector, including adult and community learning, emergency and public services, FE colleges, the armed services, sixth-form colleges, the voluntary sector and work-based learning. IfL supports excellence in professional teachers’ and trainers’ practice for learners.

IfL confers Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status, which since 1 April 2012 has been recognised as equivalent to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) for teaching in schools, and Associate Teacher Learning and Skills (ATLS).

An independent professional body, IfL is governed by an elected advisory council and non-executive board with the large majority from its membership, and works closely with several sector organisations, unions and employer bodies.

About PET

This year Prisoners' Education Trust (PET) celebrates its 25th anniversary. The charity was set up in HMP Wandsworth by a prison teacher and a barrister in 1989 who wanted to offer a wider range of courses to prisoners. That year, PET helped 12 people, now the charity supports approx. 2,000 each year to study distance learning courses across England and Wales. The charity does this by providing advice and funding for prisoners keen to study subjects and levels not generally available in prisons. PET also carries out research, informed by prisoner learners, to improve prison education.

In 2012 PET launched the Prisoner Learning Alliance to work together with 18 other expert organisations to champion learning for people in prison.