Learner describes prison's OU centre for excellence

Ahead of a visit by Prisoners’ Education Trust staff to Littlehey prison this week (February 2015), Brian*, a member of PET’s Learner Voice panel writes about his experience of studying a degree there, which he describes as a centre for excellence for Open University study.

“I arrived at HMP Littlehey in early September and the very next day had my education induction. This was the fourth prison I had been to in two years and as an Open University student I was very concerned about my application for a module starting in just under three weeks’ time. In the past when I was moved, I experienced various issues, including delays getting my studies put on my sentence plan and computer discs I needed for my course. Well I needn’t have worried at all for, unlike previous prisons, Littlehey couldn’t have had a better OU set-up.

I was welcomed by the education department who contacted the OU and made sure that everything was ready and all addresses changed. I found that there were over 20 OU students and the very next week they had arranged an “Open Afternoon” discussion with Nigel and Mel from the OU as well as a study skills session. Mel explained that our materials would arrive three weeks after the start date and we would automatically have extensions on the TMA so not to worry.

Here we have a monthly OU session in the library where we can ask questions and chat about any concerns. The Head of Learning and Skills is there as well as the member of the education department responsible for OU and distance learning, who is always available for help and advice. We have a suite of computers in a quiet room off the library which is available every day for our use. This provision is being doubled this year. We also get a plastic ID card with our photo on which we show to an officer to allow us to get to the library and OU Suite whenever we need to.

I already have the computer software installed by the prison for my next course starting in October just to ensure there are no problems with it. We are due to have the prison service’s computer-based learning platform, the Virtual Campus (VC) starting next month and have already had a pilot day to show us how it works.

In addition to all this, the education department has a ‘Learner Voice’ panel, which meets every month and a monthly newsletter. We are also going to an OU representative to assist the education staff in provision, advice and the newsletter. There is also an excellent book club that meets in the library and discusses the books that they have set.

The Shannon Trust’s Reading plan ‘Toe by Toe’ thrives here and there is a maths equivalent called ‘maths for us’ and the mentors wear distinctive T-shirts.”

 *Brian's name has been changed. He is still serving his sentence in HMP Littlehey.