On the 19th January 2016 the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alistair Redfern took part in a short debate tabled by Lord Hanningfield “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to help improve education standards in United Kingdom prisons.” The Bishop spoke from his own experience of visiting a number of prisons in his diocese and of the important work of chaplains, musicians and arts projects within prisons.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for his introduction to the debate, especially for linking education with vocation for people in prison. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, it is a very complex territory with very deep needs. A lot of research shows that the prison population represents people with multiple needs. Therefore, the task of education and vocation will be challenging. I see the importance of formal education for literacy and numeracy to help people to get jobs. I am all in favour of that, but I want to look behind that at the informal fashioning of vocation and the development of character and confidence, which allows people to enter formal learning. I will draw on my own experience of going into prisons.
I will describe three little pictures. The first is a very moving experience of working with a group of women in a women’s prison, exploring with them how important they came to realise the value of structure and pattern was in their lives. Many had come from contexts where there was no structure or pattern at all, just a lot of chaos. The opportunity to think carefully about how people could better live together with the aid of some kind of structure, framework and pattern was very valuable.
I think of another experience that I had recently of taking services in a prison with quite a lot of girls and young women, a lot of whom are loners and have problems with drugs. Nevertheless, they have formed a choir to sing in those services. They love modern music and have become a community. Suddenly, they became confident and acquired an identity through doing something creative and good together. We need to ensure that those kind of opportunities are available.
I come to my third little picture. A number of people in my diocese, myself included, go into prisons and conduct Bible studies and discussion groups. People need space to reflect on their experiences, their stories, the value of patterns and the making of communities through informal activities such as singing in a choir. Chaplaincy provides a very valuable space in prisons. I hope that the Minister will think about the role of the informal sector in giving people a chance to reflect, grow in a community, appreciate how to make connections and therefore gain the confidence in their vocation to tackle the formal learning that they will need for the world of work.
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): [extract]
However, education must meet the needs of prisoners and lead to real jobs on release. On top of this, prisoners must be motivated and encouraged to participate and engage in their own learning. To achieve this, prison governors, with the right tools, need to be more demanding and creative about the range of education provided in the prisons that they run. This can be done. The panel was particularly impressed by the cohesive relationship between the governor, senior staff and education provider at HMP Drake Hall, where an education offer has been tailored to meet the needs of the establishment’s female population, to which the right reverend Prelate referred.
All governors should be freer to engage with a wider variety of partners who can help improve education, building on the work that people such as James Timpson and employers such as Halfords are undertaking via their academies in prisons. Several noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Hanningfield and Lord German, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and my noble friend Lord Hailsham—mentioned vocational education. Vocational training that meets the needs of employers in the areas to which prisoners will be released is a keen aim for the Offenders’ Learning and Skills Service. In the past three years, more than 230,000 vocational qualifications were achieved each year by those serving sentences in England.
There is also clearly an important role for the many innovative charitable partners, such as the Prisoners’ Education Trust, the Shannon Trust and the Reading Agency, which are so successful in supporting and encouraging prisoners to read—and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby said, the chaplaincy. A range of education is delivered by National Prison Radio, with a popular book club airing daily. The Prince’s Trust provides support to young offenders to raise awareness and encourage self-employment on release, while the Learning and Work Institute has used its government funding to pilot a personal development course to engage female prisoners who are resistant to learning at Drake Hall, Eastwood Park and Low Newton prisons.