"What works for young people in prison?" Susannah Henty writes:
"The Prisoner Learning Alliance’s first conference on Friday 25 April, held at the Open University campus in Milton Keynes, was a timely opportunity for those working with young people in custody to have their say and share good practice about education in the youth estate. The key discussions focused on the need for young people in prison to have personalised support, a range of learning activities and teaching that really engages them, as well as an opportunity to have a say in the education provision available.
Working together with charities, partners and community
During a workshop at the event Sally Garratt, from The Manchester College, and Cathy Jonhston, from Kinetic Youth, described the benefits of a partnership approach to working with young people.
They are running three pilot projects which offer mentoring for young people moving from a young offenders’ institute into an adult prison, work experience in the community to resettle young adults and an increased package of one-to-one support for young people with behavioural issues.
They told delegates that offering young people advice, mentoring and support from qualified and experienced youth workers, whilst taking part in education or work experience during their sentence, is already getting more young people engaged in positive activities and helping them to turn away from crime.
One such project is a community café in Gillingham where young adults volunteer on day release (ROTL) from prison. They learn about all aspects of running a business as well as catering, hospitality, customer service and even marketing. The project is also supported by an allotment, where the volunteers learn about producing food and serve fresh fruit and vegetables in the café.
Sally Garratt, Young People’s Director, Offender Learning, The Manchester College, said: “The project helps them to think about their resettlement plan back into society, builds self-esteem and a good work ethic.”
Cathy Johnstone, Administration Manager, Kinetic Youth added: “We have one young man in Rochester prison who runs the café with support from a trained youth worker. He is doing really well and wants to do this as his career. He has the skills and the knowledge now.”
Asking young people what interests them
The PLA conference also screened a film called ‘Involve, Improve, Inspire’ on the issue of learner voice. This short film was made last year for the charity Prisoners Education Trust by young people at HMYOI Cookham Wood about their roles on the youth council, where both they and the staff benefited from involving them in decision-making about education.
The film club is unfortunately no longer running but actor and director Femi Oyeneran, who helped teach the group for 18 months and who spoke at the conference, said:
“We made lots of short films for the prison and then when Prisoners' Education Trust asked us to make a film for the outside the young people were really excited. But we had the challenge that we couldn’t show their faces or use their voices so they had to really dig deep. I was blown away by what they achieved. The Learner Voice film showed how far we’d come.
“What I learned about prison is there was a lack of identity for many of the young people. As a young black man myself I’ve been in films they’ve grown up with but they saw I wasn’t that character. I’ve been to university. It made them review themselves.”
Opportunities to take part in a variety of engaging activities, such as running a community café or learning how to make films, clearly work for young people in teaching them academic and vocational skills, as well as key soft skills such as team work, self discipline and a positive attitude to work and learning. As the government develop plans for ‘putting education at the heart’ of the youth estate, the Prisoner Learning Alliance looks forward to contributing ideas and good practice, so young people can turn away from crime and contribute positively to their communities both in custody and after release."