Lack Of Education For Prisoners Serving Longer Sentences

Ofsted has identified that prison education falls short of meeting the requirements of long-term convicts. While most prisons run classes for detainees who are serving sentences of a year or less, very few establishments offer learning strategies for those incarcerated for four or more years. Ofsted notes that programmes are centred on the average length of stay of particular institutions and are ill-suited to prisoners on longer or moving to a different prison. Two reports compiled by the inspectorate into education for offenders also conclude that the absence of a national system for recording offenders’ progress has severely impeded their chances of further development when they are transferred or subsequently freed. Roughly two-thirds of prisoners are assessed to have weak literacy and numeracy skills. However, when prisoners’ circumstances are identified, a good range of programmes is available. Currently, only “better” prisons provide study rooms with tutor support, but more is needed overall to diagnose offenders’ individual learning needs more quickly and accurately.

Ofsted is advocating for the Learning and Skills Council and the National Offender Management Service to come up with ways of enhancing literacy, numeracy and language programmes. Many low-level offenders also face drug and alcohol detoxification issues that need to be taken into consideration. The inspectorate recommends that prison education ought to build further on the offenders’ existing skills and what they have acquired before and during their sentences. Their assessments of 19 prisons have shown that advice and planning is mainly centred on what is available in that prison, rather than being focused on the offender’s longer-term needs. As a result, prisoners on longer sentences miss out on valuable opportunities to develop their skills further. While all of the prisons visited offer distance-learning programmes, few prisoners who possess level 2 qualifications, such as five or more GCSEs, can progress further, requiring a proper support system to facilitate their learning. Offenders at or above level 2 must pay tuition fees themselves or seek funding from charities.

The prison has a unique setup where it offers a facility to a training company free of charge. The only stipulation is that the prisoners should be given the opportunity to enroll in courses offered by the company. These courses cater to the health and leisure industry, creating opportunities for prisoners to develop new skills.

Inside the prison, there is an ongoing project to build a fitness centre that will be accessible to the public. The prisoners themselves use their construction skills to create this facility, which saves taxpayer money. The same goes for the gas training centre. In the future, the prison plans to develop an agricultural facility to train inmates for careers in farming and horticulture.

Spring Hill Prison is the first of its kind in the UK, and the facility holds 334 male prisoners. They range from those serving four to ten years to those doing life sentences and undergoing rehabilitation for reintegration into society. Half of the prisoners leave the facility each day to attend college or work for local businesses. They receive payments as full-time employees or for their placements.

The prison offers classes on a wide range of topics designed to keep the prisoners busy and interested. The classes range from cookery to music technology, and they are offered by Milton Keynes College. The approach has impressed Ofsted inspectors, who commended the prison for its "entrepreneurial" approach and "outstanding partnership working."

The focus on vocational training and development is a significant component of the education programme. Andy Woodley, Head of Learning and Skills at the prison, emphasises that the more ways prisoners can be assisted in learning and honing new skills, the better. Success comes from providing prisoners with sufficient skills to find employment after release, which reduces the likelihood of reoffending. Of all the prisoners released from Spring Hill, only 5% return, which is an impressive figure compared to the country’s average of 70%. It’s a positive development, and the prison management believes that they are making a real difference.


  • adamlewis

    Adam Lewis is a 34-year-old school teacher and blogger who focuses on education. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Florida. Lewis has been teaching since 2004 and has taught in both public and private schools. He is currently a teacher at a private Christian school in Florida.