A new inquiry into the challenges faced in prison education has been launched by the parliamentary education select committee.

MPs on the committee said that while the Covid-19 pandemic had made delivery of education challenging across the board, provision has been “significantly impacted” for those in custody.

They will examine to what degree adults in prison and younger learners in custody can “access suitable education that meets their needs, how effective current arrangements are in ensuring prisoners continue in training and employment on release and how this reduces reoffending”.

The inquiry will also look at the education opportunities for those serving longer sentences, and consider what needs to happen to “ensure prison education delivers the skills needed by employers and the economy, and how apprenticeships can work in a custodial setting”.  

Chair of the committee, Robert Halfon, said: “Study after study has painted a bleak picture of the educational backgrounds and prospects of those in custody.

“We must make sure access to training and education is made a priority, aiding the rehabilitation process and giving prisoners the tools to improve their lives.” 

The committee pointed to a joint report by the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education, which found prisoners involved in any sort of education have a “significantly lower reoffending rate on release compared with their peers”.

However, a briefing by The Prison Reform Trust shows a “significant decline in both the quality of education and the number of prisoners participating” – 200 people in prison achieved a level 3 qualification in the 2017/18 academic year, a 90 per cent decrease from 2011-12.  

The MPs said that where possible, they would like to hear about prisoner learners’ and former prisoners’ own perceptions of how the prison education system is working and what could be improved.

The committee is asking for submissions in the following areas:

  • What is the purpose of education in prisons?
  • What data exist to demonstrate the effectiveness of education and training in prisons and on prisoner attainment, and what international comparisons are available?
  • How well are additional learning needs met by the prison education and youth custody systems, including SEND and language and communication needs?
  • Does education in prisons deliver the skills needed by employers, and what more can be done to better align these?
  • How can successful participation in education be incentivised in prisons?
  • How might apprenticeships work for those in custody?
  • Are current resources for prison learning meeting need?
  • What should happen when prison education is assessed as not meeting standards?
  • How does the variability in the prison estate and infrastructure impact on learning?
  • How does provision compare in public sector and privately run prisons?
  • 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 deadline for submissions is 8 January 2021.

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