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MPs and peers call for prison education to be renationalised

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MPs and peers from across the political spectrum have condemned the failed privatisation of prison education and called for the service to be brought back into public ownership to support the rehabilitation of prisoners.

In a House of Lords debate today (Thursday) over prison education,  Baroness Blower, a Labour life peer and former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, described prison education as “fundamental to rehabilitation” and called for it to be brought back into the public sector, “with standardised curricula and qualifications – so important when prisoners are moved – and standardised education staff contracts to assist with recruitment and retention”.

In the debate, crossbencher Baroness Meacher also raised the “potential benefits of doubling the prison education budget”, while Conservative Lord Cormack asked the Government to provide statistics on the impact of education on reoffending rates, with Minister Lord Bellamy pledging to “investigate whether we can publish that further information”.

The debate came after 32 MPs signed a parliamentary motion by Labour’s Zarah Sultana calling on the Government “to use their pledged launch of a Prisoner Education Service to bring the delivery of prison education back into the public sector, with standardised qualifications, curricula and staff contracts”.

The Coventry South MP’s motion highlights how “the current for-profit system of prison education wastes millions of pounds of public money each year and encourages a race to the bottom between the four main providers in terms of quality of education, suitability of curricula and conditions of staff employment”.

In Parliament next week (Tuesday 28 March), Mary Kelly Foy, MP for City of Durham, will ask ministers during justice questions what assessments have been made of the benefits of bringing prison education back into public ownership.

Responding to the debate, University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘The current for-profit model for prison education is not fit for purpose. The exceptional talent and commitment of prison educators is being wasted by government and providers. The government tries to spend as little as possible on provision whilst the four prions education providers game the system to maximise their financial return. This means learning experience, curricula and ultimately a reduction in reoffending are sacrificed.  

‘The delayed introduction of the next iteration of the contract – The Prison Education Service – should be an opportunity to review and reflect on the experiences and the numerous shortcomings with the existing arrangements rather than a press ‘repeat’ exercise compressed into an unnecessarily tight timetable. It’s time for a new strategic vision for prison education, one which is built around a new national contract that recognises and rewards in line other teaching professionals, where new national bargaining arrangements are established, and ensures prison educators get the professional respect they deserve.’

The issue will move to the House of Commons on Tuesday when Mary Kelly Foy, Labour MP for City of Durham, asks Justice Secretary Dominic Raab about “the potential merits of bringing the delivery of all prison education into the public sector”.

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