From education to employment

Can Improved Access to Education in our Prisons Really Reduce Recidivism?

As the new pilot schemes of the Offenders” Learning and Skills Service begin their one year development period, FE News reporter Michael Lloydlooks at how it is hoped that they will serve to raise basic skills and cut reoffending.

Preparing for Employment

Central to theOffenders Learning and Skills Unit (OLSU) proposal to deliver the goals set out in the government’s manifesto for reform of education in the prison and probation services is the development of new delivery arrangements for learning and skills for both offenders in custody and those released into the community.

With this in mind, The Offenders Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) is designed to establish an integrated learning and skills service for offenders, linking it much more explicitly with mainstream provision for post-16 learners. A greater focus on skills will hopefully lead to greater employability upon release, thereby contributing to reducing re-offending.The new service became operational last month in three development areas (the North West, North East and South West) where lead education providers where awarded the tenure, after a lengthy consultation period, to operate prison education services.

The remaining 6 regions in England will follow in August 2006. The idea is to decentralise the provision of offender learning and, at a regional and local level, transfer the planning and funding of services to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) in an attempt to create a more “joined up” service for inmates in prison and former convicts who have been released on licence. The nature of the previous system where various providers contributed to a fragmented service let prisoners down as they moved around the system between prisons and the probation services.

Selection of the Provider

The LSC in Lancashire, which is one of the authorities taking part in the pilot project, awarded Lancaster and Morecambe College the £6million contract to provide the new Offenders” Learning and Skills Service in the county’s five prisons and one young offender’s institute. The college had worked with the county’s prison authorities in two of the region’s penal institutions but, as with the awards granted by other authorities who are taking part in the pilot, there appears to be little information on what criteria were used when selecting the college above other bidders for the tenure. Was it primarily a question of cost?

Jayne Dooley, Adult Team Manager at the LSC in Lancashire who was involved in the selection process, explains how the agencies involved came to their decision: “It was certainly a question of quality over cost. Obviously we have to have eye on the cost, but our main concern was insuring that the best provider won the contract, if this meant renegotiating financial details for the highest quality provider, then that is what we would set out to do.

“We looked at a number of issues when making our decision: capacity, staffing structure, ability to deliver a plan, leadership and management, a clear understanding and commitment to our principles of equality and diversity but most fundamentally, quality of services and a clear track record in delivering post-16 education in a more traditional environment.

“The purpose of this exercise over the course of the next year (the pilot period) will be very much a learning process. As the name suggests we are in a development period and will be looking to build the curriculum around the lessons we learn and establish a coherent delivery model from there.”

Michael Lloyd

Read Part 1 of Michael Llloyd’s look at OSLU and offender education by clicking here, or Part 3 by clicking here!

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