From education to employment

Ofsted: Slow progress on reading education in prisons


Shortages of prison staff and a lack of training means not enough prisoners are able to improve their reading – according to a new report by Ofsted and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons.

In March 2022, Ofsted and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) published a joint review of reading education in prisons, which highlighted the barriers preventing prisoners from receiving the support they need and made several recommendations that were accepted by His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and prison governors.

Today, a follow-up report to last year’s review finds that, while some progress has been made in meeting those recommendations, improvements in key areas such as screening, assessment, resourcing and strategy development have been too slow. 

The report also finds:

  • HMPPS and governors have not secured sufficient specialist training for staff.
  • Prison leaders have not provided ample opportunities for prisoners to access the library.
  • Prison leaders do not encourage regular attendance at reading classes.
  • Leaders do not provide enough classes for English for speakers of other languages (ESOL).
  • Prison leaders have not used assessments that can identify the specific reading knowledge and skills that prisoners are missing or need to improve.
  • Prison leaders have not established and communicated clear pathways to help prisoners improve their reading skills.
  • Prison leaders do not match the ambition of their reading strategies with the required level of detail in their action plans.

The report acknowledges that the prison system is still facing challenges as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, including staffing problems, which have contributed to the delays in making necessary improvements in prison reading education.

Ofsted and HMIP have issued additional recommendations for prison leaders and management, including fast-tracking the implementation and use of the new HMPPS reading tool and providing urgent support for ESOL learners. 

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said:

“Time and again, the crucial role that education can play when it comes to the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners has taken a back seat. It’s vital that prisoners have frequent and fulfilling educational opportunities that can increase their chances of success in life – and being able to read well is fundamental.

“But improving prisoners’ reading is not possible unless there are clear educational plans in place in prisons, and enough well-trained staff, equipped with the right tools to help improve prisoners’ reading.

“It’s reassuring that prison leaders and governors have acknowledged the importance of reading, but it’s disappointing that progress is still too slow.”

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, said:  

“We continue to be very concerned about how slowly prisons are emerging from pandemic restrictions and nowhere is this more evident than in education: classrooms remain empty, and access to libraries is limited.

“If people cannot read, they will struggle to find work when they leave prison and it becomes far more likely that they will reoffend. There needs to be far greater commitment from education providers and prison leaders to putting improving literacy at the heart of what they do.”

Related Articles