Ofsted report highlights the need for urgent reform in OLASS

 

Key areas for improvement in Offender Learning have not been addressed, according to the latest Ofsted report - published in December 2015.

 

Prison education has been under intense scrutiny in the last year, with Michael Gove, Justice Secretary, highlighting it as a key area for improvement in the near future. 

There has certainly been some good news in the sector over the last 12 months, with two prisons in the UK achieving an overall 'Outstanding' rating, something that no prison managed in 2013/2014. These ratings show that the potential is there for OLASS to succeed in prisons, but the most recent Ofsted report has highlighted that this potential is far from being recognised in the majority.

The report found that learning and skills in prisons and young offender institutions are not being prioritised by many prison governors, and as a result, standards that were previously low have further declined. Of the 50 inspected prisons this year, almost three quarters were rated 'not good', with standards being markedly worse when compared with last year.

Given that recent research from NIACE found that inmates receiving vocational and basic educational intervention in prison were less likely to reoffend, it is surprising that standards have been allowed to slip. The report goes on to state that as funds towards adult education have been cited as being for the benefit of the community, there is a clear case for further investment in improving the quality of education in prisons.

A lot of the blame has been attributed to poor management of these services, with education not being given a high enough priority. This has led to very poor records of attendance and punctuality, something that will be crucial when it comes to rehabilitaiton. 

There is also a need for more skilled and creative teaching staff. While vocational training was generally found to be good, many areas were found to be repetitive and simple, leading to learners gaining qualifications below their potential. In addition to this, a lack of work experience, using temporary release licences, was cited as a key reason that prisoners lacked the ability to apply their learnings in a practical setting.

This report highlights the key fact that any improvements in the sector must come from the top down, with Offender Learning given a higher priority in the prison system than has been the case over the last 12 months. With Michael Gove making it clear that Offender Learning is high on the agenda for 2016, there are signs that we could see these improvements take shape in the very near future.

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