Prison educators may quit if pensions cut

26 July 2006

Many prison educators - the key to reducing prisoner reoffending, which costs the UK £11 billion a year* - may quit their jobs if their new employers worsen their pensions.

On 31 July several private companies will take over some of the contracts to provide (what is now called) the Offenders' Learning and Skills Service (OLASS). Most Offender Learning has hitherto been provided by professional teachers employed by further education colleges. Former college staff will automatically transfer to contract winners on the same pay and conditions but many have not received guarantees regarding their pensions.

Educators transferring to 'A4E' - one of the companies which has won a contract to provide OLASS, are currently members of the Teachers' Pensions Scheme (TPS) - a final salary scheme - and may lose out as A4E is ineligible to join the TPS.

With the contract changeover on 31 July, angry staff are writing to MPs. The University and College Union (UCU), which represents prison educators, is contacting education Minister, Bill Rammell.

The Learning and Skills Council is believed to be sympathetic to the educators' situation.

Christiane Ohsan, UCU's national official for prison educators, said: 'A4E' has offered stakeholder pensions which are not comparable to TPS. Another organisation which is to deliver Offender Learning work has agreed to fund the employer's pension contribution so that staff can stay in the TPS - there is no reason why A4E should not match this.

'It is to be hoped that A4E's tender - and the bid's acceptance - was not based on a calculation that the service could be supplied more cheaply by reducing staff pensions. That would send out a message which would wreck the morale of prison educators and lead to an exodus of valuable staff.

'With changes and new contractors such as A4E - quite new to Offender Learning work - and the importance of this work to government efforts to reduce offending, staff want to concentrate on their work, not worry about their pensions. This is not well paid work and if pensions are reduced many staff may vote with their feet and seek teaching work elsewhere, where they can protect their pensions.

'UCU is writing to the education minister, Bill Rammell, urging him to encourage A4E to meet the costs of the employer's contribution to enable staff to stay in the Teachers' Pension Scheme. If prison education is to avoid serious damage we need swift action by the Minister.'

* 'Prisoners who do not take part in education are three times more likely to be reconvicted than those that do'. Source: House of Commons education and skill committee report, March 2005. 'The link to recidivism' para 23 page 14.

Last updated: 15 December 2015