Why I’m taking a GCSE in prison

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21 August 2019

A prisoner studying a Maths distance learning course in his room.

As millions of people around the country find out their GCSE results, we share the stories of three students behind bars, all of whom were funded by PET.

“I have long thought about the opportunities that have passed me by in my early teenage years.”

Michael, GCSE English 

‘Michael’ – who is in his late thirties – works as an orderly in his prison’s education department. Having already successfully completed a number of courses, including peer mentoring, he has chosen to take up the education he missed earlier in life, after spending 13 years in prison.

Writing to PET, he said: “I have long thought about the opportunities that have passed me by in my early teenage years. The same opportunities that at the time I thought were pointless (or irrelevant, so to speak), as I was seeking greatness in a life of ignorance.

“I still have a long way to go in terms of my sentence… This doesn’t mean that I don’t have a plan, I’m just keeping my options open for now. However having a GCSE is one of my short-term goals I have set whilst I await my release. Kind of like when a country builds up from the bottom – it works on its infrastructure first, then it offers its services (or exports) second.”

“The subject that I am drawn towards is English… I feel that I at least need to gain a GCSE in the language that I speak. After which I may consider gaining a GCSE in Maths so to bolster the chances of employment upon my release.”

Jamie, GCSE Maths 

‘Jamie’, who is 20, was funded by PET earlier this year to take his Maths GCSE. He sees the qualification as the first step of his learning journey and a vital part of preparing for life after his release next year.

In his application letter, Jamie said: “Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to complete my Mathematics GCSE before leaving school, but I want to take this opportunity to change that and undertake my examination before my release from custody.

“I have a number of reasons for wanting to undertake this course: to increase my opportunities of employment and further education after release; to develop my skills and knowledge in a subject area which I have a keen interest; to address some of my sentence plan targets, especially education, training and employment.

“I do realise that achieving my aspirations will be difficult due to the circumstances I find myself in at the moment, however I am now taking control of this part of my life by planning my learning journey.”

Jamal, GCSE Science

‘Jamal’ had no qualifications when he came to prison, now aged 30 he has used his time inside to build up his skillset including Level 1 and 2 in Literacy, Numeracy, IT, and Painting and Decorating.

But Jamal is setting his sights high – his ultimate goal is to work in the science sector on cutting-edge research. To help him move towards that goal, he was funded by PET this January to take the Combined Science IGCSE with NEC.

In his application letter to PET, he wrote that it would be good to know that he’s helped advance scientific knowledge.

“It [would be] good to know I’ve helped or taken part in scientific breakthroughs in today’s world, whether it be by my understanding of the different sciences or by helping another with their work.”

Jamal’s learning and skills manager is very supportive of his ambitions, saying: “Jamal is a very keen and capable individual who wants to progress in relation to his educational levels and achieve as much as he can to enable him to have a better future once released.”

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