Report to Justice Unions Parliamentary Group

5 June 2020

Marianne Quick, UCU bargaining & negotiations official, provided an update to over 30 MPs and peers who attended the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group (JUPG )on 3 June:

The vast majority of our prison education members have been delivering remote education primarily containing in-cell learning packs to learners since 3rd April, when face to face teaching was suspended and the restricted regime was put in place. There was however a great deal of confusion leading up to this point with different governors, different providers having differing expectations of their staff, our members. As we represent non-directly employed workers, we have no recognition with HMPPS to advocate for our members safety directly, relying instead on the employers, who because of their contract relationships with governors, have been very reluctant to "rock the boat" in case it endangered their contract arrangements. If it wasn't for the amazing solidarity work with our colleagues in the POA, the situation would have been much worse.

'It is vitally important therefore that the views and concerns of NDE workers such as prison educators are taken into account on any return to work planning to on site delivery and that this is done in a nationally controlled and consistent way.

'Following Justice Committee yesterday we completely understand why there will be an increased urgency about returning to face to face provision in the youth estate. As committed educational professionals, our members are of course keen to ensure that meaningful education is re-established as soon as it is safe to do so with the appropriate control measures in place. Reassurance however is needed that teachers won't be simply used as an out of cell "distraction service" and/or as cleaners. 

'As this group has been made aware previously, the levels of violence across the youth estate is of continuing concern, especially as we have been made aware on some sites that learners are waiting for education to be opened up again so that they can pick up feuds where they left off before the restricted regime. They know that education is not well-staffed with prison officers and therefore response times are slow. These factors in particular need to be acknowledged and addressed with increased staffing in place to protect our members. 

'Finally, we are also concerned that due to the social distancing and other restrictions that will be in place for the foreseeable future, the number of contract delivery hours required under the Prison Education Framework could potentially lead to job losses. The evidence given to the Justice Committee yesterday, highlighted the important role that in-cell technology has played in some establishments and we want to *explore what investments can be made to expand this provision so that learners can access tutor support via virtual learning platforms and delivery hours under the PEF can be met. 

'We are pleased that the HM Inspectors giving evidence at Justice Committee yesterday, highlighted the importance of education - it needs therefore to be resourced properly in terms of both time and safety.

Actions following JUPG included a letter to Robert Buckland to ensure that the Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance demands around safety strategy are taken forward. There was also a briefing including a number of justice questions which MPs present agreed to submit to ministers including the following: 

  •  eight national trade unions representing the majority of prison staff wrote to the government last month laying out their conditions for any relaxation of current restrictions. What is the Lord Chancellor's response to their very reasonable demands? 
  • will the minister agree to establishing a whistle-blowing hotline to report any breach of Covid-19 guidelines, as called for by eight prison unions, and will she guarantee that the prison service will intervene robustly to prevent rogue governors or contractors from enforcing any unsafe working practices? 
  • does the minister agree with her workers and the multi-union-backed Safe Inside Recovery Strategy that no-one should be forced back into the workplace or sanctioned if they are genuinely unable to work, including those who are high risk, self-isolating, shielding or pregnant? 
  • it's clear that prison visits won't be possible for some time as they are potentially dangerous vectors of infection. Does the minister agree that it is therefore vitally important to ramp up the roll-out of 'virtual visits' - not just for prisoners' mental health but also to reduce the risk of serious disorder? 
  • with prisoners confined to their cells for 23 hours a day and all visits cancelled, is the government taking every step possible to reduce the risk of despair and disorder during this pandemic - for example by making 'virtual visits' available to each and every prisoner?
  • what work has the government undertaken around in-cell technology, and has this been stepped up since the restricted regime was implemented to ensure prisoners can still receive the educational support they need?
Last updated: 26 June 2020