From education to employment

Part Two of the Interview with Steve Taylor

Here is the second instalment of our Union Affairs Correspondent Phil Byrne’s in – depth interview with the Chairman of the Forum on Prisoner Education (FPE), Steve Taylor.

In this section Mr Taylor tells us about the “catch 22” situation that most prisoners face when choosing between education and work; reveals how boredom can lead to crime; and praises the recent change in funding as a “step forward”.

Levels for Jobs?

Phillip Byrne: “Do some of the menial jobs we expect people to carry out today have any bearings on the levels of crime? Should there be standards that all employers have to meet to do business, i.e., actively trying to ensure that all of their staff at least achieves level 2 in English and Maths?”

Steve Taylor: “I”m not sure about employers having to ensure that all of their staff meet level 2 [in English and Maths] because there will always be jobs that don”t necessarily require that.

“Interestingly enough though, at Leeds prison in West Yorkshire the Head of Learning and Skills has actually taken that kind of approach to jobs inside the prison. For example, if you”re a prisoner and you want to be a cleaner on your prison wing, you can”t do it until you get your level 2 in English and Maths. Otherwise [he argues] how will you be able to read and understand the instructions on the disinfectant? In doing this he is providing work-based incentives to take part in education. That approach is now actually happening in a couple of prisons.

“The question as to whether or not menial jobs have any bearing on the levels of crime is a deep criminological question. There are tens of studies as to what can lead people to crime and one of those is boredom rather than necessarily doing a menial job. I guess [menial jobs like] lining up supermarket trolleys would be boring.”

LSC Bring Prisoner Education Mainstream

Phillip Byrne: “The Leaning and Skills Council (LSC) has recently taken over responsibility to fund Offender Learning and Skills (OLAS) – Does the FPE believe that this is a step forward or backwards?”

Steve Taylor: “It’s a huge step forward. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened in prisoner education. But”¦here comes the inevitable but; the problem we have with it is the speed that the transfer to the LSC has taken place.

“Less than a year ago we were told it was going to be the LSC who were doing it, and then in December invitations to tender went out for the three development regions. The contracts were awarded three months ago and these services started on the first of August; amounting to breakneck speed in those three development regions and its all about to start again; in fact, next Friday in the six remaining LSC regions. There hasn”t been an opportunity for the LSC to properly evaluate, or to learn from the three development regions before it gets rolled out nationally.

“That is our concern, but fundamentally it is a huge step forward because it’s about mainstreaming offender education with adult education, which is where it should be. We used to have a separate prison health service – As if prisoners have different needs to the rest of the population! Well of course they don”t. Prisoner health now comes under the local primary care trust within the NHS, which has led to a massive increase in quality of prison health care. It’s going mainstream; it’s moving in with mainstream adult education and that can only be a good thing.”

Paid to Work, Paid to Learn?

Phillip Byrne: “Prisoner access is also an issue. There is no point in improving the quality of teaching and provision if there is no one to train. Firstly, what is your opinion on the fact that prisoners can earn more money for doing the laundry than they can for attending a course? And secondly, what overall measures need to be taken to encourage offenders to attend courses, and to actually get them there?”

Steve Taylor: “One of the big talking points is that if you get paid less for education there’s no incentive to learn. Whilst we do think that prisoners should be paid the same for education as they are for work, there is a fairly strong opposing argument, [i.e.] Where in the outside world do you get paid to learn? The answer is nowhere. And there is a bit of an issue with that; you might get a student loan or something but nowhere do you get paid a wage for learning. So that’s a sticking point.

“The Government say that there is no evidence that the lower pay [prisoners receive] for education [compared with the pay they get from carrying out chores] prevents some from learning. Well they only have to talk to prisoners, as the Site Committee did, and they will find evidence of just that. The Site Committee said that the Government should be paying the same; the All Party Group of Further Education said they should be paying the same. It is only the Government themselves, who believe otherwise.

“What they [the Government] often say is that the difference is only a couple of pounds. To a prisoner, whose income is probably about a tenner a week, a couple of pounds is a phone card and another 15 minute conversation with his wife and children. That is quite a big difference so of course he’s going to work because he”ll earn more. It’s something that will cost the Government next to nothing to rectify and one that they”ve got to get on to really.

“There is a shortage of prison officers, but I don”t see prisoner access [in terms of physically getting prisoners to lessons] as that bigger an issue. It is an issue in all prisons, but only some of the time.”

All of us at FE News would like to thank Mr Taylor once again for his help in talking to us in such depth about a subject that needs to be addressed ““ in the middle of his annual leave to boot!

Phillip Byrne, Union Affairs Correspondent

Help us to address the issues in the FE Blog

Related Articles