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Prisons need more varied learning support, says Ofsted

Ofsted has called for clear national strategies to support the varied learning requirements of long and short-term offenders.

Its announcement comes on the back of two reports published today that evaluated learning programmes for prisoners serving sentences of greater than four years and those serving less than one year.

A lack of clarity regarding what type of programmes were most appropriate for offenders serving different sentence lengths was evident in both reports. Ofsted also warned that there are no national guidelines for learning and skills programmes that relate to the amount of time offenders spend in prison.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, said: "Improving skills is important, not only for the personal development and employability of offenders, but also to reduce the rates of re-offending amongst this group. The learning needs of long and short-term offenders are particularly challenging and complex, but it’s crucial their needs are met and every learning opportunity is fulfilled."

Although the report on short-term offenders found four out of five prisons were responding well by developing learning and skills programmes that are short and relevant, the range of courses varied considerably between prisons.

Not one prison visited had a sufficiently explicit learning and skills strategy for those serving long-term sentences. Ofsted also discovered there was little opportunity available for offenders to progress if they already had obtained a level 2 qualification.

According to the reports, early assessment of learners’ basic literacy and numeracy should be a high priority for both short-term and long-term prisoners. This is especially important because between a third and two thirds of surveyed offenders serving long-term sentences had low literacy and/or numeracy skill. Only half of prisons visited on the short-term survey showed strong emphasis on improving employability skills, and vocational training was satisfactory or better.

Ms Gilbert continued: "There is some good work being done in individual institutions. However, we need greater overall consistency in the provision of learning programmes and a national system for recording data, so that offenders are given every opportunity to progress and develop their skills during the period of their custody and on release."

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