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Teresa Carroll visits HMP Eastwood Park, where the ETF’s Rehabilitation in Action programme is working with prisoners to help them gain teaching skills. She meets learners at an awards ceremony, and finds out how they are mentoring their peers and motivating the most resistant learners to engage with education.

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The slogan ‘I can’t keep calm. I’m going to be a teacher!’ on the bags full of stationery made me smile, as they were awarded to three women at a celebration event attended by parents, partners, grown up children and staff. The women had recently completed their Award in Education and Training (AET) – which can be the first step in a teaching career – and the sense of pride and achievement was palpable.

It’s always great to see adults return to learning – as we frequently do in the FE sector – and we know the life changing power of education. What makes this celebration event all the more powerful is that the learners — Deidre, Jackie and Aleisha1 —are all prisoners at HMP Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire.

They are part of the Education and Training Foundation’s Rehabilitation in Action programme, where prisoners work with and are supported by prison teachers to develop teaching skills. It is delivered by Weston College, Somerset, one of over three delivering the programme in over 5 prisons in England, as part of the Education and Training Foundation’s Offender Learning offer.

Reaching the most resistant learners

Prisoners are carefully selected for the programme with many having previously acted as peer mentors during their sentences, with a history of success in encouraging other prisoners to try out education. Developing their skills to the next level seemed like the natural progression and has been mutually beneficial to both staff and learners. Kate Bryant, the Prison Learning and Skills Manager and Chloe Fourie, the Weston College Quality and Innovations Manager overseeing the programme - highlighted how the women could engage and maintain the motivation of the most resistant learners.

As part of their AET course, the learners had undertaken ‘micro-teaching’ projects. Deidre talked enthusiastically about her fitness class, attended by prisoners and staff, and about the need for differentiation to cater for a variety of abilities; Jackie explained how in her catering session she could embed maths in the making of pizzas, and Aleisha talked about supporting newly arrived traumatised prisoners through her mindfulness sessions.

‘Just keep going – things really can change.’ 

All three women talked about the difference Chloe and Kate, as well as Suzy Dymond-White – the prison governor – had made to their lives by taking a chance on them. They were all determined to repay this opportunity by giving something back for the remainder of their sentence and upon release. 

As Aleisha said, “We know what it’s like to think that things can’t change, so when we hear others saying that, we can tell them to just keep going – things really can change.”

In the future, the women see themselves supporting young people who are at risk of offending, or becoming mentors to other prisoners as they are released.

The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, announced that reoffending is costing taxpayers £15 billion per year – and that prisoners who take part in education programmes in prison are 7.5% less likely to reoffend within a year. The Telegraph reports that just over half of those serving time (53%) have any qualifications at all, which alongside holding a criminal record makes it difficult for them to find work.

It’s therefore in all our interests to find ways to motivate prisoners to engage in education in the way that the learners and teachers at HMP Eastwood Park have.

That’s not to say that all prisoners can train to be teachers – that’s unrealistic as some sentences make that an impossibility. However, for others, it is certainly worth exploring. We all remember our great teachers and even more so if they’ve had similar life experiences and understand where we are.

Cyril’s story

And if you need further convincing, take five minutes to watch Cyril’s story. After many years in prison, he turned his life around through education. For ten years, Cyril has now been teaching young people with behavioural and emotional difficulties. Just goes to show, things really can change.

By Teresa Carroll, Head of Wellbeing and Social Inclusion at the Education and Training Foundation (ETF).

Copyright © 2018 FE News

Find out more about teaching in prisons, at ETF’s dedicated Offender Learning website.  We also have useful teaching resources for those teachers already in this sector.

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