Prison education: Ministers to tackle ‘disastrously overlooked’ issue of prisoners with SEND

Officials also pledge to provide prisoners wit education 'passports' and more in-cell laptops

Officials also pledge to provide prisoners wit education 'passports' and more in-cell laptops

The government has committed to improving the assessment and support of prisoners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) following scrutiny of the state of prison education by MPs. 

Officials have also pledged to provide education “passports” and more in-cell laptops in a bid to improve prison education, as well as changing legislation to allow prisoners to take apprenticeships.   

Ministers, however, have been criticised by the Prisoners’ Education Trust for failing to “deliver the scale of change needed” and for refusing to address long-standing funding issues. 

‘Clunky, chaotic and disjointed system’

MPs on the education committee, which is chaired by Robert Halfon, warned of “cracks in a clunky, chaotic and disjointed system which does not value education as the key to rehabilitation” in a report published earlier this year.    

In its response to the report, the government promised to expand its use of CURIOUS – a system that captures information on special learning needs – in order to get a better understanding of “a full range of learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD)” across the prison system.   

A review of LDD assessment and screening tools has also been commissioned by HM Prison and Probation Service, while officials have also committed to employing 61 SEND support managers each year for two years until there is one support manager in every prison by 2024.   

Halfon said it was “encouraging to see the government finally grapple with the disastrously overlooked issue of prisoners with SEND”.   

One of the committee’s other key points was a demand for prisoners to be offered the opportunity to take up apprenticeships. As a result, the government committed to changing legislation to make this happen earlier this year.

The Department for Education, meanwhile, said it is currently “working at pace” with the Ministry of Justice to introduce apprenticeships for those in prison and who are close to being released.   

Officials said they expect to make the necessary changes to legislation “by the autumn to allow the first apprenticeship starts in the autumn”. The plan is to initially allow up to 100 prisoners a year to be supported to begin an apprenticeship in custody.   

Halfon welcomed this move, saying that ex-prisoners who find employment are “statistically less likely to offend” and “giving offenders a route back into work is the best way to reintegrate and reinvest them in society”. 

The government’s commitment to improve SEND data and introduce a support manager in every prison will allow prisoners to fully access the rehabilitating education they need

The government has also promised to introduce “digital education passports” which will record learning and assessments to minimise the loss or delay of prisoners’ educational records when they are transferred between prisons at short notice. 

“Resettlement passports” have also been committed to, which will set up bank accounts and help with CV prior to a prisoner’s release to help them reintegrate back into society. In addition, in-cell laptops for prisoners to use when undertaking education have also been expanded to 41 prisons. 

A series of recommendations from MPs, however, were rejected. This includes setting a date for when all prisons will be able to support broadband, as well as removing the “six-year rule” which would allow prisoners on longer sentences to apply for higher education courses earlier in their sentence.   

A recommendation to make pay for education equal to the pay for prison work was also rejected by the government, which argued that the responsibility to do this lies with the prison governors.   

The Prisoners’ Education Trust criticised the government’s response, stating that it “mostly describes changes that are already underway and restates announcements that have already been made”, while “on the biggest issues facing prison education – the lack of funding and slow progress in making digital technology available to prisoners – it has nothing new to say”.   

A spokesperson for the trust also criticised the government for only rolling out in-cell technology in a handful of prisons.

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