Prison Education Response
Friday 5th February 2021
Published by Olivia
Back to News

Written evidence submitted by Inside Connections Support CIC

In response to this inquiry, we draw on our expertise and lived experience, to make comments relating to the learning needs of prisoners and how they should be met. 

Inside connections was founded by John Burton in 2017.  John has been in and out of prison throughout his adult life, but since his last release he has turned his life around and is now helping others to do the same.  He knows first-hand the huge challenges faced by people coming out of prison and is determined to provide support to change lives and make a positive contribution to society.

Inside Connections has a track record of delivering services for offenders, informed by lived experience.  The organisation employs both ex-offenders and experts with a vast experience in the prison and education sectors.  Provision is labour-market linked to progress individuals into well paid work. We engage with prisons and employers to bridge the gap between custody and community, resulting in excellent success rates, securing and sustaining employment, which we know has a significant impact on reducing reoffending.  We work with a wide range of employers including City Fibre, Zapinamo, ESE Group, Willmott Dixon and Beijing Construction, to develop and deliver high-quality employability support, with a strong focus on achieving outcomes.  In the last quarter of 2020 we supported 511 of our service users to achieve work related qualifications (with a 97% success rate) and 32 people into sustainable employment.

“Inside Connections is about aftercare. We offer training and education linked to employment, with real job opportunities at the end of every course we deliver”

John Burton - Founder Inside Connections.


What is the purpose of education in prisons?

The key purpose of education in prisons is to aid rehabilitation. In order to achieve the best results it is essential to adopt a broad focus and think of education in the widest terms.   It is important to concentrate on the key elements that will help a prisoner to lead a crime free life. It is clear that employment is a significant factor in reducing reoffending, however, prisoners face a number of barriers in gaining employment and prison education needs to offer them the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to gain and sustain work.    

Many prisoners have had a negative experience of education, far too many were excluded from school or played truant and a high proportion have additional learning needs.  We must  remember these factors when designing a curriculum for prisons.  The offer needs to be engaging, motivating and holistic, based on individual need.  As a result of their negative school experience a high proportion of prisoners do not enjoy a traditional classroom experience. Every effort needs to be made to deliver education across the establishment to ensure a wide range of opportunities are available in different settings.  If prisoners do not want to attend education then we need to take education to them.  We know that a hands on working environment is often more appealing to this cohort. Prison education needs to have an employment focus, which lends itself well to learning preferences and a hands on approach.

Prison education has to help prisoners to address their wider needs, including personal and social development and softer skills required by employers.  In order to do this it is important to start with a thorough assessment to identify needs and develop an individualised  plan.  At Inside Connections everything we do is about enabling change.  Our approach is holistic, bespoke and user driven, ensuring that we help each individual to address all barriers to employment, including support with personal social development, employability, training, accommodation and the necessary qualifications and licences required by employers.  We ensure all participants are provided with relevant, support, tailored to meet their needs and succeed in employment.  We adopt a person centred, non judgemental approach to delivery, ensuring  that services users are supported to make decisions and own their journey.  It is essential for them to drive their individual plan and all  interventions are designed to help individuals to grow and develop, resulting in sustainable change and transformation.  This approach could easily be adopted in the prison setting, linked to OMIC and key workers. 

Our organisation was founded by John Burton, because of his own experiences in prison and on release.  He has used his lived experience to develop a service that is non judgemental and addresses need.  A number of our employees and volunteers have had a similar experience, which helps them to be authentic and credible, empathising with our service users and enabling them to make change.  Every individual who works with Inside Connections is provided with a mentor to ensure that they have someone to speak with about their particular challenges, which means that any issues can be picked up and resolved before they impact on progress. In most cases, this will be a peer mentor, with lived experience, enabling them to empathise with the mentee and build a rapport. We have found this to be a particularly positive element of our programme, valued by service users.  This approach could be maximised in the prison setting, with a more consistent use of peer mentors and the involvement of professionals with lived experience.

When considering  the purpose of prison education it is important to examine how success is measured.  We need to recognise that some prisoners are further away from gaining employment and ensure that KPIs do not discourage providers from working with this cohort.  Prison education must address individual needs to move prisoners forward, wherever they are in their journey.  The most important measures are progress and distance travelled, leading to employment outcomes. 


Does education in prisons deliver the skills needed by employers, and what more can be done to better align these

Prison education needs to focus on skills shortages and responding to the needs of employers.  Unfortunately, there is still a lack of coordination and connectivity between PEF & DPS providers, New Futures Network  and employers.  Although all have good intentions, a lack of coordination often leads to duplication and stepping on each other’s toes, which can result in employers being confused and frustrated.   Roles and responsibilities need to be more clearly defined with complimentary targets for each provider, focussed on meeting the needs of the employer, prisoner and prison. 

At Inside Connections we have an excellent track record of working with employers to meet their needs, securing realistic and meaningful employment for ex-offenders.  We listen to employers and provide what they need. Experience tells us that employers do not always require full qualifications and we work with them to develop short bespoke programmes that allow service users to quickly enter the job market.  We engage with prisons and prisoners to start the journey as early as possible, ensuring productive use of prison time, connected to opportunities in the community.   We work with prisons to ensure their training is employer driven, meeting requirements and leading to sustainable job out comes.  Our large nation network of employers enables us to place individuals into employment on release.

One of the key issues with the current arrangements is the lack of support on release.  At inside Connections we recognise the importance of bridging the gap between custody and community.  Far too many prison leavers fall down, because of the lack of high quality, through the gate support.  We provide a range of wrap around support services, including mentoring, help with securing accommodation, mental health and drug and alcohol support.  We provide a mobile phone with a special app, which allows access to a wide range of support and services.     


How can successful participation in education be incentivised in prisons?

Education targets need to be part of the sentence planning process and where appropriate linked to ROTL opportunities. It is essential to plan and coordinate the prison journey from day one, with key milestones set as early as possible. Both prisoners and prisons need to be held to account in achieving targets. This will ensure that prisons provide the right opportunities at the right time in a prisoner’s sentence and prisoners have clarity about what they need to achieve and the benefits they will receive for achieving. 

We need to ensure that prisons do not disincentives participation in education.  This can sometimes happen inadvertently when other employment opportunities are better paid. It is important to add education incentives such as bonuses for achieving qualifications and targets. 

Prison training must lead to realistic employment opportunities.  At Inside Connections we focus on employment that is credible.  We ensure that our employers offer a minimum of the Living Wage, which can incentives participation, offering offenders a realistic opportunity to desist from crime. 

ROTL can be used as an incentive towards the end of the prison journey. It needs to be appropriately connected to employment outcomes and used effectively as an incentive. Prisons must remove any barriers to successful ROTL opportunities. For example, if a prisoner is granted ROTL for an employment  placement the prison needs to facilitate this in all but the most serious circumstances. Obviously prison security and public safety are paramount, but all too often prisoners are deprived of gaining important employment and training experiences, because of bureaucracy and minor issues. This has an impact on the relationship with employers and can be damaging for future opportunities.  If we want employers to engage with prisons in a meaningful way we need to make the process easy and meet the employers business needs.  The lack of continuity and consistency can frustrate employers, especially when they do not understand the rationale for pausing or stopping ROTL.


How might apprenticeships work for those in custody?

Legislation around the employment contract is the key barrier to delivering Apprenticeships in custody, because prisoners are precluded from being employed by anyone other than the prison Governor.  This results in a missed opportunity to offer education, training and employment in the form of an Apprenticeship.  Prisoners need to access provision that mirrors that in the community or we are failing to adequately prepare them for release.  Much could be done in prisons to start the Apprenticeship journey.  The ideal model would offer elements of the Apprenticeship in custody, moving to employment on ROTL and completion with the employer on release.  In custody the focus could be ‘off the job training’ and functional skills, using prison time productively, adding value and ensuring these elements are achieved before release. This would enable  the acquisition of knowledge and skills before moving to on the job training in the community.  Apprenticeships could be matched to areas of employment with the most skills shortages, providing an incentive for employers to engage.  


Are current resources for prison learning meeting need?

One of the most significant issues in prison education is the lack of digital resources.  For many years prisons have grappled with the issues around adequate Information Technology to provide prisoners with an up to date learning experience.  It is clear that this can pose security challenges. Safety and public protection are paramount, however, much more could be done to address the disparity between prison education and learning in the community.  Currently we do not equip prisoners sufficiently for the digital world.  This has an impact on employment opportunities and future learning.  A more engaging interactive learning experience could be provided digitally, which would be efficient and cost effective, providing savings to the public purse.   The prison education offer is far removed from that available through colleges and training providers, where distance and blended learning is the norm.  More needs to be done to learn from other countries using digital learning successfully.


What should happen when prison education is assessed as not meeting standards?

When prison education does not meet standards it is often a complicated picture, which cannot be attributed to one provider.  Prisons are multi faceted institutions, trying to meet numerous competing needs, in difficult circumstances.   Frequently facilities are poor and accommodation is not designed to meet present day requirements.  Old Victorian gaols were not built with education, training and employment at the heart of the regime and it is difficult to overcome some of these issues when budgets are tight, however, there are some excellent examples of outstanding provision, especially in the open estate, where education, training and employment needs are addressed in the most appropriate way, using on site facilities and ROTL, to successfully deliver the best outcomes. 

Where it is clear that a provider is not meeting the required standards it is important to use robust contract management to remedy the situation.  In addition, prisons need to have clear, meaningful KPIs related to education, training and employment, creating the right set of circumstances for success.  It is difficult for prison PEF and DPS providers to achieve the best results without the full support of the establishment.  An example would be around the allocation of prisoners to education and ensuring their consistent attendance.  All too often it is too difficult to get the right prisoners to education at the right time. The right time being the optimum point in their sentence or just the correct start time for an individual session.  Many prisoners have difficulty getting unlocked and escorted to education facilities and this inefficiency results in a huge amount of wasted resource at significant cost. 

The best success is achieved where partnerships are most effective and relationships between prisons and providers are strong.  When Ofsted has rated provision as outstanding they have commented on the seamless coordination of the offer and the ‘one team’ approach.  In the best examples it is impossible to tell which organisation employs each individual, because everyone is pulling together to achieve a common goal, the best possible outcomes for prisoners. 

Where the provision does not meet the required standard organisations need to be held to account and a joint action plan put in place, to incentives the partnership approach. The best relationships are fostered where all parties have appropriate, meaningful interdependent targets.  These plans must be robustly managed and monitored. All parties need to be held to account by the Prison Group Director to ensure a level of transparency and impartiality.


How does the variability in the prison estate and infrastructure impact on learning?

The lack of consistency across the prison estate leads to interruptions in learning and a disjointed experience for prisoners.  All establishments are different and the variability in the facilities available can have a massive impact on learning outcomes. 

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for prisons to respond quickly to changing trends in the employment market. A key issue is the lack of investment in prison education facilities. Where budgets are tight it is difficult to provide resources and equipment necessary to develop the specific skills required by employers, especially when trying to respond to skill shortages, which can fluctuate over time.  This is where employer relationships are vital.  At Inside Connections our employers provide equipment and invest in the learning environment, ensuring it is adequate to deliver the training required.  The result is an offer, which is perfectly aligned to real employment opportunities in an environment that is relevant and learner focused.  There are some good examples of employer sponsored academies in prisons, which need to be replicated across the estate.


How does provision compare in public sector and privately run prisons?

There are examples of good and outstanding provision across the public and private estate. It is a complicated picture and difficult to make a direct comparison, because the private estate has modern accommodation, with better facilities, often more adequate for meeting the needs of the current employment market.  In addition, part of the private estate is served by the PEF contract and the delivery is the responsibility of the PEF provider, however, some of this estate falls outside of the PEF contract and the prison provider has responsibility for the delivery of education.  Sometimes this can help to address the coordination and relationship issues encountered where there are multiple providers. It can also remove some of the barriers and restrictions experienced as a result of the bureaucracy and over complicated payment methodology in the PEF contract.


How effective and flexible is prison education and training in dealing with different lengths of sentences and the movement of prisoners across the estate?

The contracting of prison education on a regional basis has helped to reduce some of the issues around the movement of prisoners across the estate.  Most prisoners remain within a region as they move between different categories of prison and in theory this means that prisoners should be able to access similar provision at each establishment, however, when prisoners are moved they often have difficulty accessing education at the next prison.  Many factors have to be considered when managing the prison population and moving prisoners across the estate, but more could be done to fast track current learners into provision at the next establishment.  This highlights the need for a coordinated approach and the need for the Prison Group Director to ensure there is a coordinated learner journey across their area.  When individual Governors are procuring provision they need to consider the impact of movements and average length of stay at their establishment.  A more robust, uniform Prisoner Needs Analysis should be implemented at each prison to inform the curriculum mix and balance and ensure a relevant, suitable offer.  At the beginning of the learner journey it is important to emphasise assessment and goal setting, whereas the open estate can concentrate on employment outcomes, especially using ROTL to aid resettlement and bridge the gap between custody and community.  More can be done to target the right provision at the right time in a prisoner’s sentence.  Long term prisoners need good assessment and support to adequately participate in prison life, with employment focused provision towards the end of the sentence.  Short term prisoners need links to the community and an employment focus on day one.  If we do not get this right we waste the resource available and the opportunity to rehabilitate and transform lives. 

Sign up to our newsletter
Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Inside Connections:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails.  For information about our privacy practices, please see our privacy policy.