Written evidence submitted by Nacro

About Nacro

Nacro is a national social justice charity and registered not for profit training provider, with more than 50 years’ experience of changing lives, building stronger communities and reducing crime. We house, we educate, we support, we advise, and we speak out for and with disadvantaged young people and adults. We are passionate about changing lives. We never give up.

Nacro is the largest independent not for profit training provider. We provide further education and skills to around 3,500 young people and adults each year, the majority of whom have experienced severe disadvantage and interrupted education. Around three quarters of our learners progress on to a positive destination in further education, training and/or employment. We are rated Good by Ofsted and we are a DFE and ESFA registered provider.

Nacro delivers resettlement services in prisons within the supply chain of four Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and runs a national resettlement helpline. Nacro have run the Bail Accommodation and Support Service (BASS) since 2018.

Nacro also delivers education in community and in secure settings. Since March 2020, in partnership with Novus, we deliver prison education contracts on behalf of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), comprising both adult education in three men’s prisons and two Youth Offender Institutions (YOIs) in the West Midlands. This contract is for technical education delivered in several sectors and draws on Nacro’s experience in delivering resettlement and progression for those leaving prison or moving across the estate.

We delivered high-quality education at Medway Secure Training Centre at the request of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for over three years. We transformed the curriculum and turned around education provision from a low base (Ofsted Requires Improvement to Good) in challenging circumstances. We retained our Good grade at re-inspection and our achievement rates were above national benchmarks in English (85%), maths (94%), and vocational and technical subjects (90%). We have also successfully delivered secure education to 12-18-year olds in NHS secure forensic mental health and custodial units in Southampton and London from 2015-2020, acquiring CQC good from a low base in both cases, with excellent feedback from commissioners.

Our response to this inquiry is based on the experiences of our staff. Please contact Andrea Coady, Acting Policy Manager, for more information about our response: andrea.coady@nacro.org.uk.







Key recommendations


We make the following key recommendations:


  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Incentives should be considered to encourage employers to hire and support prison leavers to ensure that employing prison leavers is an attractive proposition for employers. Programmes such as Kickstart should be developed specifically for prison leavers to encourage employer participation. 
  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Detailed assessment and planning of education and training is required, both at the prison level and across prison regions, to ensure that prison leavers are equipped with the skills and qualifications required in the local job market.
  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Industry standard equipment and teaching is required across the estate in order to provide the quality of education required by employers.
  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Prison leavers need to be equipped with the digital skills required for employment and access to services, and so investment in access to technology for all is required.
  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             There is a need for investment in apprenticeships and traineeships in prison as they have the potential to provide strong support for rehabilitation, and we advocate the greater use of ROTL to facilitate this.
  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Further resource is required for learners with special educational needs, and prison and education staff should have the training, space, and time for identification and assessment of learning need.
  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Education data should be shared at a local level to support the planning of education provision. This should be supported by investment in further research in to what works in technical and basic education in the secure estate.             
  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             A Digital Prisoner Learning Passport should be introduced nationally to ensure that data on educational attainment is shared within the prison estate, following the learner within the secure estate and out into the community.





Our response

  1. What is the purpose of education in prisons?

Education and training in prisons is often considered to be primarily focused on improving the employability of people in prison, and therefore contributes to a reduction in reoffending. Having a job makes re-offending less likely, and the right education, training, and work experience can help prison leavers to gain secure employment on release. We know that employment reduces the risk of re-offending by between a third and a half, and that prisoners who do not take part in education are three times more likely to be reconvicted than those that do.[1]

However, the benefits of prison education should also be understood in broader terms. When a classroom is set in a secure facility, teaching and education become part of the rehabilitative process.  As such the curriculum should include clear intent for personal success and progression beyond formal accreditation, and be focused on individual need that supports positive behaviour and attitudes to education and employment.

The level of expertise and flexibility to be able to respond appropriately to the diverse needs of the population should be a golden thread visible throughout the offender’s time in education. For example, the co-development of integrated education and care plans; the balance of activity within the core day.

We believe that equality of opportunity and inclusivity should drive the curriculum offer. It should ensure that learning builds on the necessary skills, knowledge, and behaviours so that all those held in custody can make expected or better progress through the qualification levels and pathways and develop knowledge, skills and behaviours. This must be responsive to specific needs; for example, education in prison can build self-esteem, encourage self-motivation, and provide new opportunities on release. This is of particular importance for those who are beyond working age or who face barriers to work such as disability.  

Education in prison therefore provides the following:

The aim of education to improve the employability of people on release from prison should always be connected and interlinked with the broader purposes of education through delivery to ensure engagement with education, and to promote a successful route to rehabilitation.

For people serving long sentences and those serving life sentences, education provides support for personal progression, employment or roles within prisons, and opportunities for high level skills and learning.

In considering what the purpose of prison education is it is also important to reflect on what it is not. Prison education should not be a baby-sitting service, meaningless occupation or used as a punishment.

The key elements of successful education in prison include:



  1. What data exist to demonstrate the effectiveness of education and training in prisons and on prisoner attainment, and what international comparisons are available?

In terms of the data available:

We would therefore recommend that the Committee seeks assurance from government that it will:




  1. How well are additional learning needs met by the prison education and youth custody systems, including SEND and language and communication needs?

The level of need

In the adult estate the data consistently shows that around one third of people in prison have a learning difficulty and/or disability. This is likely to be an underestimate of actual prevalence because, as HMIP note in their Annual report 2019-2020[4], prisons rely heavily on prisoners declaring themselves to have learning needs.

In the youth estate, MoJ data shows that children in prison are twice as likely to have special educational needs as those in the general population.[5]  30% of children who entered custody over 2018-19 were assessed as having special educational needs or disabilities, compared to less than 15% of children nationally. From our experience in delivering education in Medway Secure Training Centre, we see that a significant proportion of the children entering the youth justice system have Statements of Special Educational Needs/Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP), but there is a higher proportion for whom learning needs have been masked by behaviour and remain unidentified. We also saw an increasing proportion of young people with complex social emotional mental health needs (SEMH) and with language and communication difficulties either identified in their EHCPs or identified by us through assessment. Many also have other specific learning needs or global developmental delay identified in their EHCPs or identified by us. The vast majority of the children have had a disrupted education, with many experiencing changes of school, and permanent and fixed term exclusions which can negatively impact their confidence and skills.

Staff expertise and direction

The HMIP annual report also notes that staff may not have the experience or expertise to identify accurately those who had additional support needs but who did not declare them and they are not being asked to do this or report on this.

Allocation of learners to classes/sessions

HMIP also highlight the fact that adults with identified additional learning needs often do not have access to specialist learning support to help them make the expected progress. Ofsted also reports that, in many cases, prisoners are allocated to education, skills and work activities that do not best meet their employability and development needs.[6] Prisoners with additional learning needs receive insufficient support and the range of education, skills and work activities that vulnerable prisoners can access is poor.[7]

Provision of support

In our experience delivering adult education in the West Midlands adult prisons and YOIs, we have seen some improvement in the provision of support for people with special educational needs. This was a key part of the recent tender exercise for the Prison Education Framework. However, there remains a lack of parity with community provision:

Insufficient education places and lack of engagement

In the adult prison estate, additional learning needs are often not met by the prison education system because many simply do not engage in any education during their sentence. There are a number of reasons for this.

There is more that can be done to ensure that all staff appreciate that engaging with education is of benefit to all people in prison, and to develop a culture which encourages all prisoners to be drawn into learning activities that are relevant to their interests, abilities and aspirations. Providing appropriate incentives plays a part in this, but there is also a cultural element which endorses and encourages participation.

We would therefore recommend that the Committee shows support for the following calls of government:



  1. Does education in prisons deliver the skills needed by employers, and what more can be done to better align these?

Annual Prison Performance Ratings 2019/20[9]  show that the target for employment at six weeks following release was the poorest performing measure, with only 4% of prisons meeting this target. Although this is not the only measure of success for education, it is certainly indicative that there is much more that needs to be done in this area.

Education in prisons delivers the skills needed by employers where there are:

There are some really good examples of prison education delivering the skills needed by employers. Nacro delivers foundation and high level vocational and technical qualifications within the adult prison estate, operating as a subcontractor to Novus on the MoJ’s Prison Education Framework. Courses include L2 motor vehicle, tyre filling, car valeting, carpentry, bricklaying, and scaffolding. The qualifications on offer mirror those available in the community through Further Education Colleges and training providers and present real opportunities for employment into entry level and semi-skilled roles in the construction industry.

Anomalies and issues

We know from our own experience of delivering education in prisons across the West Midlands that education delivered in prison can mirror what is delivered in the community in further education colleges.  The resources and facilities, particularly for vocational courses, are in some places of high standard and at the same level as we see in the community. The key difference is that in prison a two year full-time college course is delivered in less than 20 weeks which means that although prison-based learners get the same amount of teaching time, they do not get the protracted period of practice, development and mastery of those skills during the course. This can be key to refining and cementing the skills to take forward into employment. Additionally, if there is a delay between the completion of a course and release from prison (with the potential then to gain employment), skills learnt can be lost (and this is compounded by the lack of time for practice during the course). Skills can be taught at the wrong time in someone’s sentence, and therefore are not as valuable as they could be.

We would also highlight that there are some anomalies in funding which cause issues for prison education. For example, to obtain a forklift truck licence in the community it is necessary to attend a two day training course. This is not possible in prison as the course is delivered as a two week City and Guilds course. Unfortunately, this qualification is not recognised by employers, and so people still have to complete the two day training course once they leave prison. It also the case that prison education sometimes does not always keep pace with what is happening in industry.

The importance of vocational training and meaningful activity

We would wish to see greater promotion of vocational training. Contracts were designed to procure core education with some wider curriculum areas included with vocational provision, and Governors then have the autonomy to procure (through the Dynamic Purchasing System) other, more bespoke, vocational provision.  This means that, in some prisons, there is less focus on vocational provision.

Meaningful activity, regardless of whether people are going to use those skills in employment, can have enormous therapeutic value, and has a really positive impact on levels of self harm and violence. This can support successful rehabilitation, and enable people to leave prison with the skills needed to pursue meaningful and fulfilled lives. We would suggest that there should be more provision of education which is directed at those people who have a desire to develop knowledge and skills outside accredited and formal learning. This would have an additional benefit, as it is more likely to engage people in education who may consider that education is ‘not for them’, and this initial engagement may then lead to the pursuit of further education.

Governor autonomy and regional coordination

We agree that Governor autonomy is important in respect of the provision of education and training which meets the needs of an establishment’s population, but we believe that there is more work to be done to ensure that the training offered is suitable for both the cohort in the prison, and the local employment market. Stronger links with communities and employers is key to achieving this success. It is also important that there is co-ordination across prisons to ensure that prisons in an area are offering training which fits together across the estate, and to ensure that every prison is not offering the same training which then means that the employment market is then saturated. We would also note that training and education in prisons can be directed towards those skills that are needed to keep prisons running smoothly, as they perform valuable functions in the prison routine (such as bio-cleaning or barbering). Yet the skills learnt are not necessarily aiming to fill a gap in the employment market in the community.

In our experience, Governors need to have clear assessments of local need and a clear plan as to how the provision within their establishment will address particular skills gaps. We would wish to see clear, concise plans around vocational provision across prisons within a particular area, with a clear link to the local LEP’s priorities so that the education provision across those prisons works as a whole, and links well into the local employment market.

We also believe that there is more work to be done in planning and facilitating pathways into training across the prison estate (as set out below in our answer to question 6 on apprenticeships).

We would recommend that the Committee calls for:



  1. How can successful participation in education be incentivised in prisons?

We know that many people do not engage in education during their time in prison. This is a result of a number of factors, including poor previous experience of education, a lack of appreciation of the benefits that education can have, and the availability of less challenging ways to spend your time in prison (which can be at least as equally financially rewarding). It is also worth noting that successful participation can mean different things for different people, from some attendance at formal learning through to successfully completion of a course.

Incentivising participation in education includes, in our view, cultural, curricular, and financial elements:


  1. How might apprenticeships work for those in custody?

Successive governments have placed a strong emphasis on apprenticeships as providing a pathway into employment, and the lack of apprenticeships in prison is a huge obstacle to improving employment opportunities for prison leavers. Apprenticeships could lead to the creation of an employment pathway for people in prison. This would benefit both people in prison and potential employers, but it has not been explored and developed sufficiently. There are legal barriers that need to be addressed in order to make this a reality, and financial investment and a multi agency approach involving the MoJ, HMPPS, DWP, employers and others would be required. There needs to be no financial disincentive for employers in taking on apprentices from prisons, and consideration should be given to developing something similar to the Kickstart scheme to ensure this is incentivised.

We recommend that there be a renewed focus on developing apprenticeship pathways across the prison estate. We believe that apprenticeships can and should be developed in partnership with the contractors currently working within establishments, for example, facilities and maintenance contractors, in addition to employers in the community. This would ideally involve co-ordination across prisons, with a view to facilitating the classroom-based element of an apprenticeship in one prison, with a planned move to, say, a category D prison at a point in the apprenticeship in order to enable attendance at employment, utilising release on temporary licence (ROTL). This will require co-ordination between prisons, employers and education providers but could revolutionise the rehabilitative power of a prison sentence for those people who are able to take part. ROTL is under underused, and could be a valuable tool in developing pathways into employment.

We would therefore recommend that the Committee provides strong endorsement of investment in apprenticeships and traineeships in prison as they have the potential to provide strong support for rehabilitation. In particular:



  1. Are current resources for prison learning meeting need?

Physical facilities

In our experience, many prisons have good resources in terms of workshops, classrooms and other physical facilities. For example, at HMP Featherstone sponsorship by Bridgestone has supported the setup of a motor vehicle specialist tyre fitting workshop. Nacro are working with Bridgestone to deliver the REACT license. REACT is Roadside Emergency Action Concerning Technicians – Licence to Work Safely at the Roadside – this is the industry leading accreditation for working safely at the road side and a key employability skill linked to this industry. This is a really good example of innovative practice in a prison as it is not a funded course, but the prison were approached and took the opportunity to deliver a unique initiative.


The quality and variety of facilities differs across the estate, and generally we would say that modern establishments with purpose-built education and training facilities are the most suitable, as sometimes education and workshop facilities can be making use of older buildings that were built for another purpose. We would like to see equally high quality facilities across the estate.

Access to technology

It remains the case that most people in prison have very little access to the technology that could fundamentally change their access to learning. The lack of availability of technology in prisons deskills people as they enter prison, and fails to prepare people for release. There are, of course, security issues that need to be managed but computing technology allows every key stroke or internet search to be monitored and access can be risk-assessed and limited. For prisons to truly offer rehabilitation and opportunities for future employment then we must address this digital divide, and give people in prison access to the tools they require. During the global pandemic, the digital divide in our prisons has been highlighted, as have the benefits that technology can bring, for example with the introduction of virtual visits. Access to appropriate technology is of value in terms of education, and has additional benefits of enabling better communication with other services, such as treatment programmes or resettlement providers, and provides opportunities to maintain links to family and communities.  We know that maintaining contact with friends and family is really important for people in prison, as links to the outside world can really help with the transition back into the community and strong family and community connection can support a reduction in reoffending.

We therefore recommend that the Committee provides strong support for the following:



  1. What should happen when prison education is assessed as not meeting standards?

It is important to ensure that steps are taken so that areas for improvement are effectively identified and addressed.  If education provision is failing there must be consequences, and we would call for stronger accountability. We believe that where education is identified as inadequate then providers should be subject to a special measures board for closer monitoring and scrutiny of progress and to provide expert support. Where progress is too slow then the contracts should be either retendered or adapted and broken up to allow other providers to step in. Contracting must be robust enough to ensure quality, but must also guard against the creation of perverse incentives for providers.

We would therefore recommend to the Committee that:



  1. How does the variability in the prison estate and infrastructure impact on learning?

As stated above in the answer to question 6, older establishments tend to have poorer quality facilities due to their restrictions in terms of space and design. In general, more modern prisons are built with education and training in mind, and fit for purpose facilities are important to be able to deliver high quality education. However, there are older prisons where thought and consideration has been given when adaptations or new building work has been done in order to ensure that it is a suitable investment. This can have a significant impact on the ability to deliver high quality education.  In prisons where the Governor has high expectations of education within the establishment, it is often reflected in the quality of the facilities.

Security issues impact on the provision of education and the movement of people to and from classrooms and workshops can be more difficult depending on the layout of the establishment. Officer staffing levels and the stability of the establishment can have a significant impact on learning, as many hours of education can be lost due to the fact that people are not unlocked and/or escorted to their lessons.

We would recommend that the Committee provides endorsement for the movement of people around the secure estate to always take into account learning needs.


  1. How does provision compare in public sector and privately run prisons?

In our experience there are examples of good practice and innovation in both publically run prisons and private prisons and areas which require improvement in both.

There are a number of factors which impact including the quality and appropriateness of the facilities; the priority education is given within the estate; and the appetite and incentives provided  to innovate and continuously improve. The purpose built education and training spaces in newer prisons tend to offer higher quality facilities to support learning.

Investment in high quality, purpose built facilities across the estate should be seen as a priority, particularly to upgrade the older Victorian prisons which are often further behind in the appropriateness of facilities. And we believe that far more could be put in to place systematically to ensure that good practice and innovation is shared across prisons whether they are public or private.


  1. How effective and flexible is prison education and training in dealing with different lengths of sentences and the movement of prisoners across the estate?

The following issues are relevant:

We would therefore recommend that the Committee gives support to:

January 2021



[1] https://www.bristol.ac.uk/poverty/downloads/keyofficialdocuments/Reducing%20Reoffending.pdf

[2] https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2020/10/HMI-Prisons_Annual-Report-and-Accounts-2019-20-WEB.pdf

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evaluation-of-prisoner-learning-initial-impacts-and-delivery

[4] https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2020/10/HMI-Prisons_Annual-Report-and-Accounts-2019-20-WEB.pdf

[5] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/children-prison-special-educational-needs-jail-uk-a9034846.html

[6] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/859422/Annual_Report_of_Her_Majesty_s_Chief_Inspector_of_Education__Children_s_Services_and_Skills_201819.pdf

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ofsted-annual-report-201920-education-childrens-services-and-skills/the-annual-report-of-her-majestys-chief-inspector-of-education-childrens-services-and-skills-201920

[8] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ofsted-annual-report-201920-education-childrens-services-and-skills/the-annual-report-of-her-majestys-chief-inspector-of-education-childrens-services-and-skills-201920

[9] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/913004/annual-prison-performance-ratings-2019-20-bulletin.pdf

[10] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/814177/impact-short-custodial-sentences.pdf