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Prison educators call for government clarity on contracts, pay and pensions

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The University and College Union (UCU)has this week written to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials and the government to call for clarity on issues like pensions, pay, contracts and the introduction of a Fair New Deal.

Letters from four University and College Union (UCU)prison education branches were sent to officials at the Ministry of Justice about the lack of pay negotiations, and UCU’s head of further education also wrote directly to prisons minister Damian Hinds MP to raise concerns about the lack of clarity around Fair New Deal for pensions in the prison contracts and the current procurement process.

Under the Prison Education Framework contract terms, prison education providers are due a payment uplift of 10.4%, and prison education staff and providers expected this to be automatically applied from 1 April 2023. Justice minister, Damian Hinds, confirmed this expectation in parliament earlier this year. 

However, this indexation has still not been applied, and the MOJ have not explained the three-month delay to relevant stakeholders including UCU. The failure to confirm the uplift means pay negotiations cannot start.

Regarding staff pension protection, UCU’s view is that the Fair New Deal for Pensions applies to thecurrent and future prison education contract when TUPE transfers apply. In November 2022 the ONS reclassified Further Education Corporations (FE colleges) as being part of central government and from that point in time staff should be covered by the FairNew Deal. Despite UCU repeatedly seeking confirmation of this important protection, the MoJ and UK government have failed to respond.

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 often work in the most difficult of situations, often with less support, pay or respect than other teaching staff.

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.

The union has accused the government of causing the current chaos in prison education and called on them to ensure the pay lift is applied as soon as possible.

University and College Union head of further education Paul Bridge said:

‘The current chaos and uncertainty around prison education contracts has been caused by the Ministry of Justice and more must be done to address the concerns of staff working across the country in often difficult circumstances.

‘This completely unacceptable delay shows the lack of consideration and respect that the Ministry of Justice has for prison education staff, who have carried out their invaluable work despite the compounding effect of the cost of living crisis on top of years of undervalued pay. Prison education is increasingly micromanaged by the MOJ, who are not education professionals, and whose attempts to turn education into a tick-box exercise undermines the expertise of our members who are experienced professional educators. 

‘We have long called for prison education to be returned to the Department for Education, who are clearly much better placed to manage the provision of this important public good. Unless the contract is uplifted very soon and the application of Fair New Deal is confirmed, there is a very real prospect of industrial unrest in prison education, and the blame will lay squarely with the UK government and MoJ.  

‘It’s time for a new fairer, strategic vision for prison education, one in which prison educators are professionally respected, recognised and rewarded in line other teaching professionals and where new national bargaining arrangements are established.’ 

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