The values that build outstanding educators

27 Sep 2017

Inspirational, challenging, kind: The values that build outstanding educators

Speakers on the panel:
Russ Trent - Governor, HMP Berwyn
Bobby Kasanga - Writer; Founder, Hackney Wick Football Club; PET Alumnus
Maria Navarro - National Lead for Offender Learning, Ofsted

The governor of HMP Berwyn says it is a strong set of joint values that will determine the success of his prison’s rehabilitation mission, in a panel leading on from the PLA Awards for outstanding prison educators.

Russ Trent, who has governed Britain’s largest prison since it opened earlier this year, said: "Berwyn is the first prison designed and opened to be a purely rehabilitative prison, and we're starting to achieve that.” Key to this was placing six values at the core of his prison’s operations and staff recruitment, said Trent.

"We don't recruit on competency, because I think we can train people to be competent; we recruit on values,” he said. “We appraise on values, and after that we promote people based on values as well.”

Berwyn’s six values are: celebrating successes; having integrity; looking to the future with hope; upholding justice and fairness; embracing Welsh language and culture; and resilience.

It is essential, said Trent, to “give prisoners a voice, and build trust and respect by doing what you said you're going to do”. Hope is also vital: “A big problem in our prisons is people taking their own life; if you have ambition and hope you don't take your own life,” he said.

Celebrating successes applies to both staff and prisoners, said Trent.

"With some people we have to work incredibly hard to catch them being good, but if you catch them being good it doesn't matter who you are, we all love being told we've done a pretty good job; we all love being told we're good at something.

“If you want to change behaviour you do it through reward, not punishment."

Trent was speaking alongside Maria Navarro, National Lead for Offender Learning, Ofsted, and Bobby Kasanga, who is the founder of Hackney Wick Football Club, as well as a writer and a PET Alumnus.

The panel were discussing what lessons could be learned from the preceding PLA Awards, particularly in terms of the qualities valued in prison staff. The PLA Awards are unique in that nominations comes entirely from serving prisoners.

The wordle below collates words from the 400 letters – the larger the word, the more times it was mentioned.

Maria Navarro, National Lead for Offender Learning at Ofsted, focused on two words that she said chimed with what was frequently identified in Ofsted reports on prison education.  

One word was ‘inspirational’. “Outstanding teachers get to know the learners very well, very quickly and very effectively, and they build a rapport with them. Prisoners recognise this,” she said.

The other was ‘challenge’ "People make a difference not only by being understanding and compassionate, but also by pushing the learners towards very, very high standards,” she said.

An engaging teacher is one who has "good subject knowledge", “is determined that learners do well” and "holds consistently high expectations for them", she added.  

Bobby Kasanga, who since leaving prison has started his own football club and has won an award for his work in his East London community, shared his insight into what made a difference in prison.

"There's always an ‘us and them’ sort of situation in a prison,” he said. “This changes if people start thinking: ‘These guys made a mistake but really, we’re all the same.’ They move from being gatekeepers to really to helping some in their path and journey upon their release."

"As a prisoner you're not meant to be weak, you're not meant to be vulnerable, you're not meant to cry, but it's the times when you're in your cell by yourself at night - that's when you really think about your life, your situation.

“Sometimes it takes a simple smile [from prison staff] to turn this around. Just saying good morning - it's so effective.”

The PLA commissioned Bobby to write a poem about the PLA awards. You can read it here.

Find further information about the Conference agenda and participants, what was said in workshops and other panels here.