Teaching in the gym at HMP Swaleside

15 May 2013

Nina Champion, PET's Head of Policy, writes about a recent visit to HMP Swaleside, where staff are engaging learners using sports and fitness:

After the release of PET’s report, Fit for Release in summer 2012 we were keen to visit prisons using sports to 'hook' people into education. We were invited to HMP Swaleside's gym where I met a passionate team of PE and education staff, including Nigel Hayward, Gary Lyttle, Stan Boles and Brian Fowler. There were four key ways in which the team engaged prisoners in learning and enabled them to progress:

Embedding literacy and numeracy in the gym

As recommended in Fit for Release, HMP Swaleside are keen to combine learning with fitness in order to encourage more prisoners to take up education. “Embedded literacy and numeracy in the gym has enabled and motivated offenders who would not usually engage with education to improve their functional skills and, in many cases, obtain a qualification. This has been achieved by combining shorter manageable education sessions with a workout before or afterward and the incredible support from the outreach tutors who have worked with many offenders with special educational needs" says Nigel Hayward, PE Specialist Supervisory Officer.

This is particularly important for people with learning difficulties, as one man's story shows. He said: "I am dyslexic and four years ago I could not read or write very well. A psychologist stated I had the reading and writing age of a ten year old. Swaleside offered me a unique learning programme especially for those with learning difficulties. It is held in the classroom in the gymnasium for no more than six people.

"The lessons are one hour long, then you are free to use the gym. This is very constructive as pupils with dyslexic problems struggle with the normal two and a half hours which are normally held in the Education block. The extra gym is a bonus too and an incentive."

"I now have level 2 qualifications in both English and Maths and having these qualifications has allowed me to do level 2 and 3 sports courses. I believe none of this would be possible without this type of teaching method which is in place at Swaleside gym. You get physically fit from the extra gym and educated at the same time. If you leave prison unfit and uneducated, your time has been wasted!

Offering a wide range of level 1-3 sports and wellbeing based courses:

HMP Swaleside offer a variety of courses up to Level 3: Community Sports Leaders Award - Level 2 (Sports Leaders UK), Gym Instructor - Level 2 (CYQ), Health Trainer - Level 3  (City & Guilds), Health Awareness - Level 1 (RSPH), Understanding Health Improvement - Level 2  (RSPH), Healthier Foods & Special Diets - Level 2 (RSPH), First Aid at Work (NUCO).

However it was disappointing to hear that unfortunately the level of education and sports based learning delivery has been reduced over the past 18 months due to the Prison Service's cost saving measures, which has reduced the number of staff in the gym.     

Supporting distance learning courses in the gym classrooms:

“In my opinion sports based learning provides an opportunity for offenders to improve their functional skills in an environment which maintains their interest as well as giving them the opportunity to gain vocational qualifications. This often fuels their motivation to start a learning journey to complete other related qualifications and interventions. Their participation in these activities has fuelled motivation for further learning up to and including Open University courses” says Nigel.

Mentoring and prison-wide annual Well Being Days:

On the day I visited, HMP Swaleside were holding a ‘Health and Well being day’. Prisoners trained as Health Trainers filled the sports hall conducting full body MOTs on fellow prisoners and staff. Every visitor had their blood pressure, lung function, cholesterol and glucose levels tested and received a consultation with a prisoner health assessor who gave tailored advice.

Visiting health professionals had stalls offering information on healthy living, dietary, mental health, sexual health, exercise, advice for quitting smoking. The Manchester College and National Careers Service also had stands to encourage prisoners to consider education. 

“I firmly believe the philosophy of "healthy body - healthy mind" and at HMP Swaleside we have adopted a holistic approach to Health and Well-being. This includes employing offenders in the Gym as Health Trainers and Peer Tutors to offer other prisoners referral, advice and support on all aspects of health and well-being. They also help organise events like this which are attended by community partners such as the NHS and various prison departments including Education, Library, Healthcare, Chaplaincy, Offender Management, Listeners and the Kitchen," says Nigel.

This event was a great way to showcase sports-based learning in HMP Swaleside and to encourage more prisoners not only to learn and think about their health, but to think about their education too.