Government steps up plans to improve prisoners’ literacy skills

Government launches reading app pilot and contract for literacy schemes

Government launches reading app pilot and contract for literacy schemes

Government plans to boost the literacy skills of prisoners have moved a step closer, with the launch of a new reading app and commissioning of “innovative solutions”.

The Ministry of Justice this week announced that 300 offenders in Kent, Surrey and Sussex will be in a pilot for a new reading app, called Turning Pages Digital, as part of a £20 million plan to help cut the cost of reoffending and address education attainment.

The app will allow those leaving prison to improve their reading skills with trained mentors and help boost their job prospects.

It comes as the government also launched a £360,000 contract opportunity for bids to the Literacy Innovation Fund – a pot of cash for schemes that will help learners read, particularly those who are harder to reach.

The government’s contract notice online said it was looking for “solutions which deliver English learning in an appealing and accessible way to prisoners (including those that may have additional learning needs) who are currently unable or unwilling to engage in the current education offer to improve their literacy skills”.

“We are particularly interested in approaches that support prisoners with a range of reading and writing needs, including decoding, word reading, reading fluency, vocabulary learning, spelling and reading/writing practice.”

Bidders will be able to apply for projects in five regions, although will only be awarded one. It is planned as a 25-month contract with an optional 24-month extension, beginning at the end of February 2023.

The Turning Pages Digital app has been funded through the £20 million Prison Leavers Project, which aims to cut the annual £18 billion cost of reoffending by tackling some of the key drivers of crime, such as unemployment, poor education standards and substance misuse.

An education select committee report published earlier this year called on the government to improve prison education, which it dubbed a “clunky, chaotic, disjointed system which does not value education as the key to rehabilitation”.

A report by Ofsted and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons in March found some “serious systemic challenges”, adding that the curriculum was not focused on reading but practising for exams.

According to the government, offenders who engage in education are nine percentage points less likely to reoffend, but with more than half of them having the reading ability of a primary school child they can continue to struggle after release.

Turning Pages Digital has been developed by digital agency Yalla Cooperative and the Shannon Trust, a charity which helps those from disadvantaged backgrounds learn to read and works in 80 prisons already.

Pank Sethi, a Shannon Trust board member who was a reading mentor during his own time in prison, said: “I helped a learner read his five-year-old daughter’s note saying ‘I love you daddy’ for the first time, and have supported another who is now at university.

“It’s not just about education or getting a job, it’s about the positive impact that literacy has on an individual’s whole life and wider family.”

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