Prison education: a vision for the future

13 August 2020

Available to view here:

Join the conversation and become involved in shaping the future of prison education.


Running order and links

Janet Farrar, UCU president-elect, chairing the event
Seamus Henry and Rebekah Spencer, BSL interpreters

2.30-2.35 Introductions and event outline

2.35-2.50 Building solidarities for prison workers

Mark Fairhurst, chair, Prison Officers' Association
Marianne Quick, bargaining & negotiations official, UCU

Prisons are some of the toughest environments to work in never mind a place within which to deliver good and meaningful education. Our joint work with other unions who represent workers in the prison environment has really developed over the past few years with the establishment of Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance. Our joint working with key allies such as the POA has never been more critical than in our approach to health and safety and Covid-19 over recent months. How do we build upon this joint strategic approach so that we can further develop other aspects of worker solidarity within our branches and prison workplaces?

Related Links:

2.50-3.05 A vision for the future: a national prison education service

Kate Lomas, national chair, NAPO
Charley Allan, Justice Unions Parliamentary Group organiser

Andrew Harden, head of further education, UCU

UCU has been making the case for a number of years that prison education needs to be viewed as an equal educational partner, funded and prioritised the same as all other educational establishments be they schools, FE colleges or adult education providers. But with the implementation of the Prison Education Framework placing prison education firmly in commissioning model for profit under the Ministry of Justice - how do we bring prison education under the control of the Department for Education and a not for profit model?

We will hear from our sister trade union NAPO about their recently successful campaign to nationalise the probation service and what we can learn from that campaign. How we can use effective research and lobbying in parliament to advance and amplify the voices of prison educators and see meaningful and long-lasting change at a government policy making level.

3.05-3.15 A vision for the future: a national contract for prison educators

Brian Hamilton, UCU NEC and NOVUS branch chair
Janet Farrar, UCU president-elect

The process of commissioning education for profit in prisons has created a fragmented workforce, who face many challenges including their own terms and conditions. In developing an overarching strategy to remedy the previous pattern of disjointed and confused decision-making that has shaped the prison education sector in the past we will discuss how we transform the pay, working conditions and professional standing of our prison education members into the future.

How we can bargain for a prison educators' 'national contract' and how we can organise to win.

3.15 - 3.30 Online and mixed media delivery in prison education: opportunities & risks

Francesa Cooney, head of policy, Prisoners' Education Trust
Jenny Lennox, bargaining & negotiations official, UCU

Alongside other education workers, our prison members have had to adapt to the same challenges of transferring their work to their homes during lockdown with the added complexity that for learners in prisons, they don't always have access to the internet from their cells. The need for social distancing whilst protecting the learning opportunities for many of those in prisons means that more investment needs to be made for learners to access support from their tutors and equipment made available for tutors to support learners remotely. UCU's position is that any investment must avoid all of the previous 'for-profit' trappings that have blighted the current system.

We will hear from the Prisoners' Education Trust as to the benefits of improved access to in-cell technology to access education opportunities and the infrastructure that needs urgent investment to make that happen.

The advent of on-line and mixed media delivery with the prospect of more blended learning raises unique challenges for prison education members in particular especially as it relates to their safety and job security. UCU will outline our expectations of employers as to how online or mixed media delivery in a prison setting can be a useful pedagogical tool if set up and used properly. It is vital that we ensure the safety of teachers and learners in order to secure that outcome. We also need guarantees from HMPPS and education providers that good quality education must be properly resourced in terms of workload hours, CPD and equipment. Managing the approach to blended learning needs to be done carefully and professionally. It is by no means a cheap or quick fix.

Relevant Links:

3.30-3.50pm Amplifying and diversifying professional voices: designing and delivering a meaningful prison education curriculum

Jane Inskip, vice chair UCU
Hassey Gadhia-Birch, H&S convenor UCU
Sharon Clarke, prison site rep and regional black members' committee UCU

The PEF commissioning model has arguably diverted resources away from the development, design and delivery of truly meaningful and diverse education. How can UCU members amplify our voices as professional educators? How can we contribute to the development of a fit for purpose innovative prison education curriculum that sees the education provision being designed around social, cultural and educational needs which helps to reduce reoffending as opposed to contractual restrictions aimed at delivering a profit?

Current UCU branch activists will lead the discussion as to why we need to decolonise prison education and review for example, how 'British values' are taught in prisons which at the moment is not meaningful or reflective of the communities we serve. Decolonising the prison curriculum also requires us to reflect upon who is teaching what and why in order that we can address the structural inequalities experienced by our own members. How can we embed climate and sustainability into prison education curriculums including green skills? We will also consider whether a move away from the standard traditional vocational training currently offered towards more critical thinking may be a more successful route to raising expectations and reducing reoffending.

Related links:

  • To sign up for a UCU black members' prison education meeting in September email David Bussell to register your interest.
  • Prisoners' Education Trust - The Lammy Review - Three Years On
    A panel discussion about education, criminal justice and racial justice
    From 2.30-4pm on Tuesday 8 September, our online panel event will consider the links between disadvantage and discrimination in education and in criminal justice. We will hear from four experts on their work, research and reflections, followed by a Q&A

3.50-4.00pm Questions & close

Last updated: 17 August 2020