Dozens of MPs have called for all prison education to be brought into the public sector.
In a House of Lords debate on Thursday, Labour peer Baroness Blower called for the government to use the opportunity of the launch of the prisoner education service, set for 2025, to renationalise all prison education.
She said this should include “standardised curricula and qualifications – so important when prisoners are moved – and standardised education staff contracts to assist with recruitment and retention”.
Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana put forward a parliamentary motion signed by 32 MPs calling for the same move. The 32 signatures consisted of Labour, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and Democratic Unionist Party MPs, as well as an independent, although no Conservatives had signed the motion.
But Conservative parliamentary under-secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Lord Bellamy, said during Thursday’s debate that the government isn’t planning widespread changes.
He said that core education in prisons is delivered by four providers – three classified as public sector and one private sector provider, while wider prison education beyond core teaching is delivered by a range of providers, including from charitable organisations.
He added: “We are engaging with the market to encourage new providers to work with us to deliver high quality prison education. We do not currently envisage fundamental change to the prison system of outsourcing core delivery to specialist education providers.”
In 2021 Ofsted launched a review of prison education, while an education select committee report published last spring described a “clunky, chaotic, disjointed system which does not value education as the key to rehabilitation”.
The Prisons Strategy White Paper published in December 2021 pledged a new prisoner education service that will “make sure offenders can improve their basic literacy and numeracy, as well as acquire further vocational qualifications, like construction and computing, to make them more employable when they leave prison.”
Contracts for a new service are expected to launch in 2025.
The government finally launched apprenticeships for prisoners in October 2022, with up to 300 prisoners who are eligible for day release and nearing the end of their time in open prison expected to become apprentices by 2025.