From education to employment

The Beginning of the Offender’s Learning and Skills Service

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.

The Sound of Silence

The quality of education provision in Britain’s prisons has traditionally enjoyed little attention at the top of the mainstream political agenda. Throughout the 20th century successive governments have considered the learning opportunities available to offenders of little consequence in terms of reducing the high levels of recidivism amongst the prison population upon release and, ultimately, of little interest to the electorate at the ballot box.

However, it is a subject which Britain needs to consider. As one of the most punitive nations in Western Europe with a prison population which currently stands at around 77,000, Britain has been slow to acknowledge the link between convict recidivism and the very high levels of illiteracy that are rife in the country’s 154 penal institutions.

The truth is startling. It is estimated that 70% of the UK prison population are illiterate. When you consider this statistic in the light of the fact that 58% of all adult prisoners, 72% of 18-20 year-old male prisoners, and 85% of 14-17 year-old male prisoners are currently re-convicted within 2 years of release at a cost to the tax payer of an estimated £11 billion a year, the link between a lack of basic skills among the prison population and the current levels of recidivism would appear clear.

Sidelining Debate

The current socio – political climate has sidelined the debate around the general morality of the penal system (not that this has ever been a particularly fashionable cause), but a new government unit set up to address the basic educational needs of the great majority of the prison population in line with the government’s manifesto commitment to improve provision in the countries jails does seem to go some way to acknowledging the fact that much work is needed if we are to realise the ideology of rehabilitation that our prison system is supposedly built upon.

The Offenders Learning and Skills Unit (OLSU) in the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) was set up in 2001 (called The Prisoners Learning and Skills Unit at the time) with a remit to work with key partners to take forward the governments manifesto commitment to dramatically improve the quality and quantity of learning and skills in prison.

Working with LSC for Coherence

Since April 2004 OLSU has had responsibility for policy and funding for learning and skills in prison and for policies that support the development of learning programmes and learning support for all offenders, whether serving a sentence or out on licence. It was set up to work in partnership with the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and the National Probation Service to deliver a coherent and integrated service which focuses on individual needs and aims to improve offenders skills, enhance their employability and prevent them from re-offending.

Quoted on the DfES’s website, the head of the OSLU, Chris Barnham, is unequivocal in his belief that equipping prisoners with key basic skills has the potential to drastically reduce the current rates of recidivism: “Without the essential underpinning skills of literacy, language and numeracy, offenders are much less likely to gain the skills and qualifications they need to get and hold down a job, play a positive role in society and most importantly break the cycle of re-offending.”

Michael Lloyd

Read Part 2 of Michael Llloyd’s look at OSLU and offender education by clicking here, or Part 3 by clicking here!

Fight silence in the FE Blog

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