From education to employment

Exclusive with Cheryl Bicket

The Shannon Trust has had a huge period of change and growth in 2006. It has been an exciting time, but also one that shared the frustrations of the over crowded prison system and the consequences of excess prisoner movement around the estate, causing problems for all the sectors in providing continuity and development.

Briefly, the Trust’s work is to supply a manual, called Toe by Toe, to prisoners who want to teach other prisoners to read ““ this has been done before in a haphazard sort of way. So all we do is extend this practice and give the framework to really succeed in the provision of literacy skills to non-readers. The programme really works and is hugely cost effective. Most prisoners will only stop offending when they make that decision for themselves, but if they make the decision without literacy they do not have the choice.

In 2006 the Skills for Life Strategy Unit wrote a reference pack aimed at the facilitators and our team of volunteers, who importantly mapped the Toe by Toe manual to the national Core Curriculum. It is strange how things go around in circles ““ the manual was a “tool non grata”, but then synthetic phonics became the flavour of the month and put us back on the agenda. This helps extend the acceptability of this voluntary project as a “whole prison approach” to the National Skills for Life Strategy.

However, this is a project for prisoners, and by prisoners for one another, and that is the secret of its success. The protection of their ownership and the skills they share with each other in confidence is paramount to our aims as a privately funded Trust.

The positive effect on prisoners who really want to help themselves is huge. They can find some good in themselves and really change someone’s life. We find that some of the people who learn to read in this way [one-to-one] dive into education with a mass of enthusiasm, realising that for the first time in their lives they are not “thick”, “stupid” or “dense”, which through illiteracy they have always been labelled. Other new readers just use their talents to operate their Playstation properly and fill out the canteen sheets correctly to get the food they really want ““ their choice.

Without literacy in an increasingly wordy society, you can say that you”re “tough enough” and that it will not matter, or you can turn to self-harm, including alcohol and drug abuse. All offending behaviour, but the let-out for illiteracy is still a taboo.

You often hear that people overdid the drinks the night before or are even hopeless at maths, but you rarely hear someone openly discuss their inability to read effectively, despite the fact that it affects 23%; a figure that is nearly trebled in the secure estate

However it is the positive effect on self esteem, better behaviour, morale and developing the good that is inside of everyone that should be targeted more. Nobody will stop repetitive negative behaviour unless they feel better about themselves. We need to make sure in the year to come that these positive effects and outcomes from projects are highlighted.

It is so hard to evidence this except in an anecdotal way ““ ex-prisoners who have decided to go straight do not want to be followed around for two years to prove to a statutory body that they really have gone straight; they would rather forget the experience and go forwards.

The over crowding problems of prison life make it increasingly difficult for the good and “soft outcomes” to be nurtured by even the most enthusiastic of staff, but it is this focus that should be brought higher up the agenda to make society a safer place for everyone.

Cheryl Bicket, Development Consultant, The Shannon Trust.

Related FE News articles:

Offenders Given Half A Million Pound Skills Bonus ““ 14/12/06

“Prison Should Be Like Normal Working Day” ““ 05/12/06

Prison Crisis Will Result In Re-Offending ““ 12/10/06

“There Is Conflicting Pressure” ““ 10/10/06

Women Prisoners Faced With Barrier to Learning ““ 04/10/06

Season’s greetings from FE News ““ wishing you all a happy Christmas and new year

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