From education to employment

LSDA Report Finds the Benefit in Artistic Expression for Offenders

Women prisoners and young offenders have been given the opportunity to express their creativity under a project entitled “Promising Practice in Offender Education and Training”, commissioned by the Offenders” Learning and Skills Unit at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES).

The project, which is managed by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) in partnership with the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), has yielded a number of case studies demonstrating how creative education and training can be accommodated within the practical constraints of a secured institution, and within uncertain timescales.

The case studies have been gathered as part of the first phase of the project, which aims to collate and disseminate examples of “promising practice” in offender education; create an accessible resource for other learning providers; and stimulate interest in quality improvement among managers, teachers, trainers, officers and others.

Open Space

Among the project’s successes includes a private exhibition at the National Gallery in the “open space” area, containing examples of prints, clay pieces and plaster produced by women offenders from HMP and Young Offenders Institution (YOI) Bullwood Hall, Essex. The participants worked with Gallery tutors during the project, allowing them to develop their employability and social skills, and to foster their capacity to work in a team and solve problems. Other case studies developed under the project include: the creation of a media and communications agency run by longer-term prisoners, an in-cell learning programme in literacy and numeracy, and a three-week intensive dance programme, targeted at women with a history of drug abuse and self-harm.

According to the LSDA, the case studies illustrate several positive themes, in particular “motivation, supporting transition, partnership and collaboration”. More than half the case studies demonstrate how working with external partners, such as colleges, employers, theatre groups and the National Gallery, can help to generate resources, expertise and funding, new opportunities, and to build participants” confidence. In addition, the LSDA says the studies also suggest the importance of internal partnerships, where education-staff work with prison officers, probation officers and other agencies to build a culture of improvement.

Life Enhancing, says Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thomson, chief executive of the LSDA and chief executive designate of the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) for Lifelong Learning, argues that the initiatives have proved life-enhancing for participants, nurturing qualities which reduce the likelihood of re-offending such as a positive social attitude, and higher self-esteem. He commented: “The case studies show how education and training can make a dramatic difference to offenders” lives.”

Promising Practice in Offender Education and Training forms part of a wider reform of the young offenders” education service, which is being reorganised to enable more offenders to participate in high quality education and training, and to gain qualifications. “Often offenders have missed out in education, have few or no qualifications and may have had negative experiences at school. Others have qualifications but need further education to realise their potential,” explained Thompson.

The Promising Practice project will move into its second phase shortly, continuing to forge relations between offenders” institutions and learning providers.

Michelle Price

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