From education to employment

Lessons from T Levels: Why links with employers must be at the heart of prison education

Amina Bodhania

As students prepare to receive their A-level, T-level and other vocational results on Thursday, Novus’ Amina Bodhania reflects on how employer engagement should also be an integral part of prison education

This week, young people up and down the country will be receiving their Level 3 results and preparing to either progress to higher education, further education or employment. While much of the focus will be on those students who have studied A Levels, even more young people will be receiving technical qualifications such as BTECs and T Levels – the government’s flagship technical education alternative to A Levels.

Launched in 2020, T Levels combine classroom learning with an extended work placement of at least 315 hours, offering young people the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills that will lead straight to employment in sectors such as engineering and manufacturing, construction and healthcare. The purpose of introducing T Levels was twofold. First, the government’s ambition was to signal a shift in the perception of technical routes and to provide an aspirational A Level equivalent for learners who wanted to acquire more practical skills.  Second, and perhaps most importantly, T Levels have been designed in collaboration with employers, ensuring that technical education options equipped learners with the skills that employers need them to have when they enter the workforce. 

This alignment between technical education and employers makes complete sense and addresses feedback from employers about the critical importance of preparing young people for the world of work. And while aligning further education with employment is conducive for developing the skills the economy requires, it is equally important when it comes to ensuring that offenders can gain the skills that will lead to the stable employment upon release that is so crucial to breaking cycles of reoffending.

Vital skills for securing future employment

According to a 2019 Ministry of Justice report, the total economic and social cost of reoffending stands at a staggering £18.1 billion each year. While reducing reoffending requires collaboration across the justice sector to rehabilitate offenders, one key component is prison education, which is proven to reduce reoffending by 7.5 percentage points. This is in no small part down to the fact that it equips offenders – many of whom have had previous poor experiences of education, with over half having achieved the literacy levels expected of an 11 year old – with the vital skills required for securing future employment.

But while finding stable employment after release is an important factor in preventing an individual from reoffending, at present only 17% of prison leavers are being employed six months after release. This is a statistic which we at Novus are determined to improve. With more than three decades of experience in working with individuals distant from the labour market, Novus is an established and trusted partner of choice. And as part of the LTE Group, which also includes The Manchester College, higher education institution UCEN Manchester and training providers Total People and MOL, our strong relationships with employers across the country make us uniquely placed to do build lasting, impactful relationships with partners.

Greater collaboration required

 It is clear that greater collaboration is required between prison education providers and employers, in much the same vein as we are now seeing in technical further education. To achieve this, innovation is key. Building on the successful launch of the first apprenticeships for prisoners last year, this collaboration is something that Novus is already starting to embed into its curricula and programmes, so that on release they are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to find work. We follow the evidence, using the latest labour market analysis as well as our strong relationships with employers to design curricula for prisoners which give them the best chance of finding not just a job, but preparing them for a longer-term career.

Recent success stories include our work on the pioneering Yorkshire Model of providing joined-up education and employment support services has led to the number of prisoners moving into work or training upon completing their sentence in Yorkshire and Humber increasing by 65% across over the last three years, as highlighted in a recent report by the Centre for Social Justice thinktank.

By working with employers, including many high-profile businesses in sectors suffering from acute labour shortages such as construction and hospitality, we are able to ensure that learners don’t just acquire the skills employers require but also have the potential for direct entry into a role upon release. It is an approach that is already securing positive outcomes, with our employer partners having already employed multiple learners straight after their release.

With companies still struggling to fill vacancies and skills gaps in key sectors continuing to grow, an increasing number of employers are having to rethink their approach to recruitment. By collaborating with prison education providers, they could not only help address their skills needs but also help build a stronger society by breaking the cycle of reoffending.

Amina Bodhania
By Amina Bodhania, head of partnerships and business improvement at Novus, part of LTE Group

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