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I was lucky enough to spend the day today with John. An ex-offender, John knew he wanted to turn his life around and was given the opportunity to study for a level 2 barbering qualification whilst in prison. He completed the course and on release managed to get a job in a salon. It was wonderful to see him back at our event after a year, with all the confidence that his new found skills and employment have given him.

Meeting John and many people like him is what gets me out of bed every day as I passionately believe that education and skills have the power to turn everyone’s life around. However, you never know if these inspiring people are complete one offs or if education really does have a positive effect on everyone.

Well as of now, and thanks to the Justice Data Lab (JDL), we can say categorically that there is a correlation between education and a reduction in crime. City & Guilds gave individual learner records to JDL who analysed more than 8,000 individuals over a one year period, all of whom had enrolled on a City & Guilds qualification whilst in prison. This sample was compared with a group of over 320,000 offenders who had not had access to qualifications whilst in prison and the results were impressive.

Offenders who had enrolled on a City & Guilds qualification and gained certification within the year being analysed were less likely to re-offend, had a lower frequency of re-offences and took longer to re-offend than those who had not. What was really exciting for us is the numbers of individuals we were able to include in the study as it really proved the value of education and the impact to the individual and society as a whole.

Our commitment to prison education goes back a long way and we work directly with Her Majesty’s Prisons as well as the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) through contracts with large providers such as Novus, Milton Keynes College, Western College and PeoplePlus. We also work with private prisons and extend our reach beyond the gate with probation officers to help give prisoners a pathway through to further education and training.

We were pleased that there has been a focus from Government over the past few years on prison reform and that education is included in this reform. In fact, just yesterday it was announced that a new executive agency of the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, will replace the current National Offender Management Service with a remit to tackle re-offending rates. I’m hopeful that our data will help this new agency to decide on the best interventions to take forward.

What must be considered though is the links to further education once an offender leaves prison. Too often, the movement of prisoners when inside and shorter sentences means that qualifications are not finished and there is no progression for the offender once they are released. I would like to see Government departments talking to each other more so that prison education can form the start of a pathway into further professional and technical education such as the 15 proposed routes outlined in the Government’s Skills Plan or progression into traineeships and apprenticeships.

Finally, but I think really importantly, is the potential impact that prison education has on social mobility. The statistics are clear that a large percentage of prisoners go on to reoffend once released and will have multiple stints in prison throughout their lives. Without qualifications and job opportunities the alternatives for these people are often very hard to see. The JDL study shows clearly that having a qualification reduces someone’s likelihood to reoffend and that in turn can allow them to go on and find work and progress in their work. This has clearly been true for John and it’s something that the City & Guilds Group recognises through its charitable purpose. We have set up a Skills Development Fund for social mobility projects and one of the fund’s key aims is to support skills interventions that reduce offending and re-offending.

What’s strange is that there is no mention of offenders in the report published by the Social Mobility Commission in December 2016. When the impact of skills intervention on offenders is so clear, we’d like to see the Government making stronger links between improving social mobility and offender learning and education programmes.

Yesterday’s JDL results will hopefully provide the impetus needed to place education and skills at the very heart of prison reform.

Kevin Wilkinson, Prisons Business Manager City & Guilds

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