From education to employment

Transforming prison education

Mandy Huggins

Prisoners who get a job on release are less likely to reoffend. That’s why HMPPS is transforming prison education to give prisoners the skills for employment when they leave custody.  

His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) is transforming education in prisons to equip prisoners with the skills and training they need to get a job on release, which has a proven link with reducing reoffending rates. Mandy Huggins, Head of Education, Skills and Work at HMP Elmley, tells us more.

Our prison population has some of the lowest levels of maths and English

It may not be entirely surprising to learn that our prison population has some of the lowest levels of maths and English, with over 60% at or below the level expected of an eleven-year-old. It’s also no wonder that prisoners typically report negative experiences of school, a truth borne out by statistics which tell us over 40% of prisoners have been permanently excluded from school-age education at one time or another.

Figures also show that those who participate in any form of education while in custody have a reoffending rate that is 9 percentage points lower than their peers who do not, and an increased likelihood of getting a job on release. That’s why in HMPPS we’re committed to delivering a quality education service that changes lives and improves outcomes.

We are improving prisoner education with a transformed Prisoner Education Service (PES) which aims to improve the numeracy and literacy of prisoners and support their participation in learning. The new service will bring together classroom learning and work-based skills to improve prisoners’ employability and provide them with the skills, knowledge and qualifications that will help them prepare for life and work on release.

New Head of Education, Skills and Work leadership role has been introduced

As part of the reform a new Head of Education, Skills and Work leadership role has been introduced into the prison leadership structure. All those appointed to the role are education specialists with a wealth of experience in education leadership, able to advise prison governors on the design and delivery of a quality education curriculum.

I am proud to say I was among the first recruits to the role which was initially trialled in selected prison sites last year. Having seen first-hand the difference we can make I am delighted that the role has now been rolled out nationally across the prison estate. 

I became a Head of Education, Skills and Work to help raise the profile of education within prisons and give people access to opportunities they might not have had previously.

Employment needs to be prioritised

If we are serious about reducing reoffending then employment, and helping people gain the education and skills they need to get a job when they are released, need to be prioritised. Just like my counterparts across the prison estate, I’ve worked with my team to look at the needs of our prisoner cohort and make sure our curriculum offers them the best opportunities to progress. We’ve seen a rise in the numbers attending learning with some who have never engaged with education before turning up with a desire to better themselves and improve their future outcomes.  

The new Prisoner Education Service will provide people in custody with a tailored learner pathway from the moment they arrive. Prison is about rehabilitation and that means equipping people with the tools to live independent and crime free lives on release. That journey starts straight away.

The ultimate goal is for everyone’s learning pathway to lead to employment

The ultimate goal is for everyone’s learning pathway to lead to employment when they leave custody.  We have strong links with employers and work with them to understand the skills they are looking for, as well as gaps in the labour market so we can prepare people with the right skills and training.

It’s an amazing feeling when someone leaves custody with a job offer and to see the sense of pride it gives them. It also gives me and my team a huge sense of achievement. It’s why we’re passionate about what we do and the difference education makes.   HMPPS have invited education providers to take part in a competition to deliver new core education contracts in prisons from April 2025 as part of the new service. Potential providers can see the contract notice on GOV.UK for more information and details on how to participate. The deadline for bids is 13 November 2023 and the new contracts will run from April 2025.

By Mandy Huggins, Head of Education, Skills and Work, HMP Elmley

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