From education to employment

I can’t keep calm. I’m going to be a teacher!

Teresa Carroll, Head of Wellbeing and Social Inclusion at the Education and Training Foundation.
Posted on May 23rd, 2018

Teresa Carroll

Teresa Carroll, Head of Wellbeing and Social Inclusion at the Education and Training Foundation.

The ETF’s Rehabilitation in Action programme is working with prisoners to help them gain teaching skills. Teresa Carroll meets learners and their teachers at HMP Eastwood Park as they celebrate completion of their course with an awards ceremony.

The slogan ‘I can’t keep calm. I’m going to be a teacher!’ on the bag full of stationery made me smile, as they were given to three women at a celebration event attended by parents, partners and grown up children. The women had recently completed their Award in Education and Training (AET) – which can be the first step in a teaching career – and the sense of pride and achievement was palpable. The women, their families and the staff who supported them were delighted to be part of and witness this achievement.

It’s always great to see adults return to learning – as we frequently do in the FE sector – and we know the life changing power of education. What makes this celebration event different is that Deidre, Jackie and Aleisha1 are all learners at HMP Eastwood Park. They are part of the Rehabilitation in Action programme, where prisoners work with and are supported by prison teachers to develop teaching skills. It is delivered by Weston College, one of over six colleges delivering the programme in England, as part of the ETF’s Offender Learning service.

Developing teaching skills

Prisoners are carefully selected for the programme with many having previously acted as peer mentors during their sentences, with a history of success of encouraging other prisoners to take a chance on education. Developing their skills to the next level seemed like the natural progression and has been mutually beneficial to both staff and learners. Chloe and Kate, the teacher and manager from Weston College overseeing the programme highlighted how the women could engage and maintain the motivation of the most resistant learners, where staff had failed.

As part of their AET course, the learners had undertaken ‘micro-teaching’ projects. Deidre talked enthusiastically about her fitness class, attended by prisoners and staff, and about the need for differentiation to cater for a variety of abilities; Jackie explained how in her catering session she could embed maths in the making of pizzas, and Aleisha talked about supporting newly arrived traumatised prisoners through her mindfulness sessions.

‘Just keep going – things really can change.’ 

All three women talked about the difference Chloe and Kate, as well as Suzy – the prison governor – had made to their lives by taking a chance on them. They were all determined to repay this opportunity by giving something back for the remainder of their sentence and upon release.  As Aleisha said, “We know what it’s like to think that things can’t change, so when we hear others saying that, we can tell them to just keep going – things really can change.”

In the future, the women see themselves supporting young people who are at risk of offending, or becoming mentors to other prisoners as they are released.

It costs over £30,000 per year to keep a person in prison. So it makes good business sense to break the cycle of reoffending and that’s without considering the emotional and social impact of crime upon society. It’s in all our interests to find ways to make sure that people don’t return to prison.

That’s not to say that all prisoners can train to be teachers – that’s unrealistic as some sentences make that an impossibility. However, for others, it is certainly worth exploring. We all remember our great teachers and even more so if they’ve had similar life experiences and understand where we are.

Cyril’s story

And if you need further convincing, take five minutes to listen to Cyril’s story. After many years in prison, he turned his life around through education. For ten years, Cyril has now been teaching young people with behavioural and emotional difficulties. Just goes to show, things really can change.

Find out more about teaching in prisons, at ETF’s dedicated Offender Learning website.  We also have useful teaching resources for those teachers already in this sector.

Teresa Carroll, Head of Wellbeing and Social Inclusion at the Education and Training Foundation.

1 Not their real names

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