Prison Education review – what it means for prison libraries.

The article I am referring to is linked at the end of my blog 🙂

Ive worked across different establishments and spoken with a range of colleagues. These views are trying to capture the challenges we face across the board, not accuse a particular service, prison or provider of failures in any way.

I hope my thoughts are useful/can be part of the conversation for positive developments.

Five years on from Dame Sally Coates independent review, Ofsted and HMIP launch a joint review in to prison Education. It is, without question, very disheartening reading informing us that ‘around 60% of prisons have been graded inadequate or requires improvement.’ For those working or living in prison it doesn’t really come as any suprise.

The pandemic presented us with an unworkable scenario. As other Education settings leant on technology to deliver remote teaching, prison educators had to resort to paper based work-packs to be delivered to learners under their doors on the wings. In-cell phone lines were not easily accessible and tutors were often not allowed on to the wings, meaning we relied on already stretched wing staff to deliver and retrieve the work-packs.
To say the situation wasn’t ideal would be a gross understatement. The review highlights the detrimental impact this all had on prisoners, particularly those with SEND needs and ESOL learners. The report also evidenced that two fifths of prisoners were in their cells for more than 23 hours a day during July to December. Currently in classroom learning still remains limited and its clear that we face a well-being crises among the prison population, and that the most vulnerable of prisoners will feel the impacts most adversely.

There is a lot of hope and opportunity within these challenges. What I saw during this time was a passion, drive and determination to keep providing education from both the prison and civilian staff. I also witnessed endless patience, flexibility, resilience and understanding from the prison learners.

The report offers library staff two key insights and some real opportunities.

The first insight; in a stretched prison education system libraries are the resource education providers can lean on. Our services are vital now more than ever. The review places a strong emphasis on reading and will shape the focus of Ofsted and HMIPs visits this autumn/winter. Education departments and tutors need to work closer with their libraries to bridge gaps for those who need support with reading. Library staff have a wealth of knowledge in this area. It was my experience that tutors and library staff did not work together on making in cell packs accessible to all readers and this feels like a missed opportunity.

The second insight was that if library work had been more considered in this review the outlook wouldnt be so bleak. Referring to reading support the article states

“a few prisons had made efforts to implement peer -support buddy systems. It is unclear whether buddies had been trained or whether this was an effective way to support these learners”

I felt frustration at this, perhaps if library staff had been involved in this review things would have been evaluated differently. I know that for one of the libraries I worked in it would have read

“The buddy scheme is extremely successful and had been the primary way reading has been taught in our prison. We work with Shannon Trust trained mentors and although Covid has provided challenges the scheme has come in to its own during this time”

libraries are often the providers of projects such as Shannon Trust, Bear and Me and Storybook Dads. If we aren’t including libraries in reviews of education then we aren’t getting a true picture of provision, or a real understanding of the value libraries add.

My final thought is around opportunity, its something I’ve thought about before but have never had a line manager I could quite convince!
It is so clear to me where libraries support educational opportunities for prisoners but we don’t seem to recognise the vocational opportunities. With CILIPS apprentiship scheme and prison orderlies working in our prison libraries I would love to see recognised library qualifications for prisoners. That would be a great way to address one of the major concerns of the review;

“prison leaders and education providers must make sure that there are as many vocational training opportunities and places as possible”

Id love to know others thoughts on all this.

heres the article

Thanks for reading 🙂

Prison Education review – what it means for prison libraries.