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Prison education staff

Prison education is the unsung part of post-school education. It plays a crucial role in work with offenders and the prevention of re-offending. Its lecturers work often work in the most difficult of situations, often with less support or respect.

Over recent years prison education has been through privatisation and contracting out of services, cuts in resources and staff, lowering of pay rates and narrowing of the prison education curriculum.

UCU prison branches:


UCU tells MPs' committee that prison education needs more funding

On 2 July, UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell appeared in front of the Justice Select Committee to discuss the impact of changes to prison governance on education. During the session Paul raised major concerns about new one-year contracts for some prison education provision, saying they increased complexity, made provision less stable and posed a risk to the quality of prison education. He also said the short-term nature of the contracts suggested that some types of education were less important, but reinforced the point that all types of prison education have an important role in rehabilitating offenders.

Paul also highlighted threats to the safety of prison education staff, citing recent research by UCU and other unions which showed shocking levels of violence against staff in prisons. He said the new commissioning arrangements for prison education made it harder to challenge prison governors over health and safety issues. He called for longer, more stable contracts and more investment in both prison education and the wider prison regime to address these concerns.

Shocking prison staff violence report

Over a quarter (26%) of staff working in prisons have been the victim of physical violence within the last year, according to new figures from a coalition of nine trade unions and professional organisations.

The survey, published by the Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance (JUPA)*, found that one in seven (14%) of staff who were a victim of recent physical violence said they have been assaulted more than ten times in the past year. Read more:

Resolutions from UCU Congress 2019

UCU's annual FE sector conference held during UCU Congress in Harrogate has called on the union's Further Education Committee to undertake a number of initiatives to further support members working in offender learning, including working to secure a rep and health and safety rep in every prison, supporting branches to reach agreement on proper pay and reward structures, and seeking access to the Teachers' Pension Scheme, as well as campaigning to ensure that prison educators have parity of access to natural justice when faced with exclusion.

Delegates also heard about the difficulties some disabled prison educator members have faced in seeking the reasonable adjustments to which they are legally entitled and asked the Further Education Committee to develop a campaign to enforce the right to reasonable adjustments and provide improved legal advice to individuals.

Prison education annual meeting 2019

Reps attending UCU's annual prison education meeting were briefed on the outcomes of the Prison Education Framework (PEF) and were encouraged to engage as much as possible with the consultation processes. One presentation provided advice to reps about legal obligations, and another updated reps on the work UCU has been doing to tackle the issues of Teachers Pension Scheme (TPS) access; tackling health and safety issues; and access to natural justice:

UCU's prison education work 2019 [160kb]
PEF and DPS - presentation 2019 [147kb]

Latest prison educator news

Download the latest newsletter for staff working in prison and offender education, this month looking at the Prison Education Framework contracts, pensions and the annual meeting for prison staff: Prison education news, Feb 19 [483kb]

Prison education training & briefing day

UCU's prison education framework training and briefing day took place on 15 November, along with the branch AGMs for our three national prison education branches. Reps were briefed on the nature of the bidding process for the Prison Education Framework, structure of the lots, and likely timescales for announcements. Sessions on UCU's work in the last year, including on health & safety structures were also discussed. Presentations from the day and notes from the health & safety session here:

Here are the bidders who have been shortlisted for each lot of prisons [264kb].

No end in sight to prisons safety crisis

Labour Research examines the chaos in Britain's jail system and finds the conditions are also taking a severe toll on the prison workforce. Includes work by UCU.


In May 2018 UCU and PeoplePlus signed a recognition deal that now allows staff to be represented by the union on key issues: UCU and prison education provider PeoplePlus agree recognition deal

MP meets prison education staff

Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith visited Lancaster Farms Prison on 15 December to meet education staff. UCU said prison education is the key to reducing reoffending and has called for an additional £30m to be invested into prison education to support ex-offenders in to employment: Cat Smith MP to meet prison educators at Lancaster Farms Prison

Health and safety newsletter for prison education staff

UCU are extremely concerned at the reports from prison educators about recent breaches in health and safety in their workplace including attacks at work, lack of risk assessments and members being asked to lone work or escort prisoners. Get all the latest news and support in our newsletter.

UCU prison education health and safety newsletter [390kb]

Put education at the heart of prison reform

Education is the key to reducing reoffending and ministers must ensure it is at the heart of prison reform, UCU said as governemtn published the prisons and courts bill that would enshrine into law that a key purpose of prisons was to reform and rehabilitate offenders.

Ministers must put education at the heart of prison reform, says UCU

Government publishes reforms plans

UCU welcomed the government's renewed focus on the importance of education in prisons, but warned that more investment is required to achieve meaningful reform.

UCU was responding to 'Unlocking Potential: a review of education in prison' published on 18 May 2016 by the Ministry of Justice, and plans for prison reform set out in the Queen's Speech which will give prison governors greater control over prison education services.

More investment in prison education needed for meaningful reform
Unlocking potential: review of prison education

Review of prison education

A government review of prison education examined how it supports rehabilitation of different types of prison learners. UCU made a submission to the review based on feedback from members:
Review of education in prisons survey, Nov 15 [357kb]

Name change for A4e

Formerly UCU's A4e prison education branch, it changed to UCU's PeoplePlus prison education branch in July 2015, following the sale of A4e to Staffline Group plc. A4e was merged with another Staffline Group acquisition, Avanta, to form a new company called PeoplePlus.

Related information

Charter for prison education

Prison education has a life-changing impact and delivers personal, social and economic benefits both to the individuals who receive it and wider society. We would like to see the new secretaries of state for business and skill and for justice harnessing these benefits by supporting a range of improvements that will yield better outcomes for all. Read more in our charter for prison education.

Prison education potential being squandered

February 2014: a report released by UCU and the Institute of Education (IoE) says the power of prison educators to help offenders turn their lives around is being 'squandered' due to constant retendering for teaching contracts.

See: Prison education potential is being squandered by constant changing of teaching contracts, warns report

Prison education: professionalism against the odds - executive summary, Feb 14 [102kb]
Prison education: professionalism against the odds, Feb 14 [651kb]

Prison educators recruitment materials

The new poster is suitable for all prison education staff. There are also new recruitment leaflets for the Manchester College and Milton Keynes branches.
Prison educators recruitment poster [155kb]
TMC prison educators recruitment flyer [35kb]
MK prison educators recruitment flyer [34kb]

Exclusion procedure

NOMS has a procedure for dealing with the exclusion of staff not directly employed by the prison service, ie UCU members employed by a college or other provider of education and skills in prisons. Members should contact their rep or regional office immediately they are excluded so they can have support. The introduction of this procedure was a major achievement for UCU because it now mean there is a fair process that will apply to all: PSI 42/2014 - exclusion of personnel on grounds of misconduct, 28 Oct 2014 [289kb]

Consultation on Transforming Youth Custody

May 2013: UCU submitted a response to the government consultation on reforming youth custody arrangements including proposals for the creation of 'Secure Colleges':  Transforming Youth Custody consultation – UCU response, May 2013 [433kb]

Prison educators suffering from high levels of stress

Education staff who work in prisons have considerably higher levels of work-related stress than British workers in general, a new report commissioned by UCU has found:
read the press release
A Punishing Regime - a survey of occupational stress and well-being among prison educators, Mar 13 [225kb]

UCU and prison education

UCU is the only union that represents all prison education lecturers. During privatisation UCU (as NATFHE) took the issues of prison education lecturers to the European Court of Justice and won. After lobbying by UCU during summer 2006, prison educators also won guarantees that the cost and value of their pension will remain effectively unchanged despite a change of employer.

UCU in in regular contact with the Home Office, OLSU, LSC and the colleges and other providers who employ lecturing staff. UCU also works very closely with other trade unions in the criminal justice sector and with other organisations concerned with the welfare of prisoners such as the Prison Reform Trust, The Howard league for penal Reform, and the Prisoner Education Trust.

There are UCU prison education branches, but most members are members of the UCU branch of whichever college is their employer. UCU branch officers can offer information and advice.

Last updated: 16 September 2019