Round up


On Monday 25th January 2016, a wide range of experts in youth justice, including academics, practitioners and policy specialists, attended PETs third academic symposium. This year’s theme was ‘Challenges and Solutions to young people and young adult’s learning in custody and through the gate’ and was held in partnership with the Department for Education at London South Bank University (LSBU). The event was opened by Dean of Law and Social Sciences, Craig Barker, who spoke of his excitement of the partnership between PET and LSBU, with ‘social justice’, ‘global responsibility’ and ‘improving lives’ being at the heart of what LSBU is working to achieve.

Chair for the day

PET was extremely grateful to have Rob Allen chair the event for us. Rob is a founding member of the Youth Justice Board, former Chair of the T2A Alliance and co-founder of Justice and Prisons and so brought a wealth of experience and interest in this area. He started the day by expressing a sense of optimism for those working in the Criminal Justice System currently, with Michael Gove’s interest in education playing a much bigger role in custody for both adults and children.

‘Culture eats policy for breakfast!’

After a great introduction from Charlie Taylor about his review into youth justice, the first panel kicked off to discuss education in custody, focusing on how the culture of an institution can either engage or disengage young people into learning. First we heard from Angus Mulready-Jones, Lead Inspector for HMIP giving a summary of the current state of play in secure training centres (STCs) and young offender institutions (YOIs). He told us that, generally, not enough children were getting close to achieving the 27 hours of education expected from the new contracts. He said the biggest challenge for institutions is how to manage the behaviour and violence so that young people can learn and attend education, as high levels of young people being on restricted regime and receiving ‘outreach’ education were rendering it ineffective. Better education outcomes were being found in the STCs and at a private YOI, but they still faced challenges such as young people repeating the same course throughout their time in custody. He found release on temporary licence (ROTL) was not being used effectively for the purposes of education.

We also heard from Dr Caroline Lanskey from University of Cambridge about using a multi-layered learning culture model to understand and facilitate learning that is of value to young people in custody. Using this model, learning takes place in every encounter and interaction so it is important that practitioners reflect on what values they want to reinforce. Layers included in the model are the social values, attitudes and practices; education and youth justice policies; the institutional context; the learning environment and at the very heart of this model is the young person. Caroline finished by stressing the absolute need to bring in learner voice so that young people remain at the heart of it.

Dr Di Hart had recently come back from Spain, Finland and the USA where she had been undertaking a Winston Churchill Fellowship looking at the use of custody for children in trouble (report available here). For Dr Hart, culture is exactly what helps young people to learn and she reflected on something an American prison educator had told her: ‘culture eats policy for breakfast’. The current ‘culture of violence’ in English YOIs makes it very difficult for young people to learn when they are ‘too busy watching their backs’. What was striking for Dr Hart is that the models in these other three countries had a clear theory of change; in Spain this was based on love and boundaries, in Finland it was based around care, upbringing and education and in certain parts of the USA it was based on positive youth development. In Dr Hart’s words in England there was a need to ‘rip it up and start again’ and go back to answering the big questions about what is the purpose and what are we trying to achieve.

Lastly we heard from a young person who spent time in the youth and adult estate, who told us there was a need for all young people to have secured a place in school or college before leaving custody. Governors should also help young people by providing references for schools and colleges. He also said that there needed to be more provision for young people in custody who are able to study at higher levels, as he was in the middle of his GCSE’s when he was sentenced, but was not able to complete them which set him back. He described that there was no contact between his school and the YOI to help him continue his education. Despite his set backs, he is now studying at university.  

Quality and inclusion

The second panel of the day focused on how to achieve quality and inclusion in delivering learning and education in secure institutions. We heard from Seamus Oates, YJB member and Executive Head Teacher of The Bridge Alternative Provision Multi- Academy Trust. He argued that both the secure estate and alternative provision had a lot to learn from each other. Mr Oates stated that it is about getting the best teachers, the best resources and small class numbers so that young people have ‘opportunities to fly’. Listening to young people should be central; they constantly say that what makes a difference are positive relationships with an adult who made them believe they could be a success.

Dr Nathan Hughes from Birmingham University spoke to us about the need for adequate training for staff to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills to work with young people with neurodevelopment impairments, such as traumatic brain injury, foetal alcohol disorder spectrum, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These disorders can affect young people’s ability to engage in classroom activities that often get mistaken for being badly behaved. A range of simple solutions could be implemented with an increase in understanding, which would make learning more inclusive.

Dr Jane Hurry from University College London, Institute of Education reminded the audience that children in the justice system have the same ambitions as children not in custody; for learning to be interesting, sufficiently challenging, active and well differentiated. Whilst they are excluded throughout their sentence, it is imperative to bring them the best of the education system. This can only be achieved through the same high quality training and continued professional development for teachers working in the secure estate as in the mainstream.

Finally Junior Smart, Founder of SOS Project, spoke about the pioneering work the project is doing in reducing the impact of gangs both in the secure estate and in the community. Junior argued that the emphasis on restricted regimes and the prison structure just serve to reinforce the nature of gangs. He also reminded us of the importance of using trained people with lived experience, the need to develop trusting relationships and listening to young people to find solutions.

Effective transitions

The final panel focused on effective transitions both for young people transitioning to the adult estate and for young people transitioning back to the outside world. We heard a particularly powerful account from Mary, whose brother went to prison at 18, about the peer pressure not to engage in education and that families are a ‘wasted resource’ in helping support learners achieve success.

We also heard from Professor Neal Hazel about the importance of planning early in a person’s sentence but also the challenges in information being followed through once a young person is back in the community. A range of studies have shown that only a third to two thirds of young people have education, training and employment arrangements in place for their release. Even when a place is secured, inadequate data sharing prevents young people from following through their plans.

Ross Little, a lecturer from De Montfort University, spoke about his research conducted at a YOI whilst working for the Howard League for Penal Reform and highlighted the importance of relationships in engaging with young people. He said young people will often identify more with a teacher than they do with a subject.

Finally we heard from Baillie Aaron, CEO of Spark Inside; a charity providing life coaching to people in custody. Baillie spoke about the need to connect young people to a vision in order to fully engage them both in custody and through the gate. She also spoke of the importance of building self-reliance and motivation in order to develop the skills and determination to work things out for themselves.

Expert roundtables

Throughout the day a number of roundtable events were held to focus on the challenges and barriers surrounding education for young people and young adults in custody and through the gate and secondly to focus on the solutions to some of the challenges. A number of key themes emerged throughout the day, including;

  • emotion management
  • assessments of need
  • vision, culture and leadership
  • learning through the gate / community links
  • personalised / learner-owned learning
  • the political infrastructure
  • staffing and skills

PET will now be working hard to incorporate findings from the day into a response for the Taylor Review in the spring. We will also make information from the day, including presentations, available online shortly.