'Trailblazer' govenor reveals his vision at HMP Wandsworth

HMP Wandsworth News

Education reform is a personal commitment for Ian Bickers, the new governor at HMP Wandsworth, one of the new 'trailblazer' reform prisons.


Source: Rebecca Taylor, Wandsworth Guardian 

Reforming education in prison has special significance to the governor at HMP Wandsworth, who rose through the ranks himself despite having few formal qualifications from his time in school.

Ian Bickers is the boss at Britain's largest prison, and now has more control than ever as it was announced as a 'trailblazer' prison, leading the way on reform through autonomy.

Mr Bickers, who has been governor for a year, and was deputy at the same prison for two years in 2011-13, will now control his own budget, set his own contracts, and create his own recruitment policy.

For Mr Bickers, the issue of education in prison is even more important, as he believes he could easily have ended up in the same situation as his prisoners.

He said: "I left school with a small smattering of low-graded CSEs.

"I could have been where most of them are now, I hung around with the wrong people but because of a good PE teacher, I got into running.

"In my 30s, I did a degree with the Open University. Then I realised I had more opportunities because of the qualification."

Mr Bickers’ first role in the prison service was in an educational, non-operational job.

He said: "I have seen not just in my life, but in the lives of prisoners, how education can make a difference."

When Mr Bickers returned to HMP Wandsworth in June 2015, he faced a tough situation, but said he put back in the processes needed to restore education in the prison and now, 90 per cent of the time they reached their education targets.

One of his biggest frustrations has been the inability to qualify inmates to Level 3, a basic level qualification for many jobs.

He said: "The level is low, 11-year-old low, that is not going to get you a job, Level 3 is.

"I'm coming up with a plan to get a number of men into Level 3 advice and guidance. Then we will use them around the prison with other prisoners.

"I can stand up in front of as many prisoners as possible and tell them the absolute truth all the time, but they will not believe me because I am part of the system.

"Another prisoner will get through every single time."

His next challenge will be what happens should Wandsworth become a remand prison. Currently, 30 per cent of people on remand will not be convicted of any offence, and 70 per cent of those on remand will either not be convicted or will have served their sentence by the time of their hearing and be released from court.

Education goes beyond the books for Mr Bickers too, who is keen to be a role model to his prisoners.

Part of his changes will include a wardrobe and changing rooms where prisoners can access clean suits and shirts for when they attend court or appear via video link.

He said: "It will improve self-esteem too.

"The first impression really counts. When they go into an interview or to the benefits office, they will do the same thing.

"Everything becomes an opportunity for someone to learn."

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