Written evidence submitted by StandOut



This evidence is submitted by StandOut, a charity based in London providing intensive and individualised through-the-gate support for men leaving HMP Wandsworth and HMP Pentonville. The StandOut Programme consists of a four-week interactive coaching course for people preparing to leave prison, followed by 1:1 support after release for as long as required. In response to covid-19, StandOut expanded to run a Helpline offering practical support and coaching to more people leaving prison in London. StandOut empowers people with the resilience and mindsets needed for lasting stability and employment. Through the StandOut Programme and Helpline, StandOut has worked with over 400 men since 2018. Each journey is unique but results indicate around 60% of those who complete the StandOut Programme are in employment, education or training.

This response is informed by the experiences and voices of men with lived experience of education inside prison, together with StandOut’s three years’ experience of delivering its programmes in London prisons. All the quotes included are from men currently serving sentences in HMP Pentonville and from StandOut trainees who are now released from prison and living in the community. We are responding to the terms of reference that are most relevant to our knowledge and experience.

What is the purpose of education in prisons?

Many people in prison have never truly ‘belonged’ as active members of society. They are disproportionately more likely to have grown up in care, experienced truncated education and generational unemployment, welfare dependency, mental health issues, homelessness, substance misuse and family breakdown than their counterparts in society.

Education in prison is therefore a huge opportunity to redress some of these experiences and inspire people to realise their potential through learning and personal development. Prison learners are likely to have numerous complex needs and a mistrust of traditional styles and models of education, and therefore education should aim to:

  1. Inspire, engage and motivate learners with a broad range of subjects and vocations with innovative material and delivery methods
  2. Encourage people to understand themselves and develop self-belief and purpose
  3. Capitalise on the opportunity to provide core education (Maths, English, Literacy, IT) to those who, for a number of reasons, failed to gain these qualifications through the traditional schooling system
  4. Upskill the prison population with the knowledge, qualifications, skills and confidence to approach the job market on release

“I feel there should be more emphasis on educational programmes which focus more on the psychological and social aspects of therapy, treatment and learning to become human again.”

“Lack of interesting subject matter is deflating and un-optimistic. Our willingness to participate in education should not be thwarted by curriculums that are neither practical nor stimulating.”

“The basic education like Maths and English is important but boring and people only get something out of that if they have the mentality that they want to get those qualifications, otherwise they’re unengaging. If these could be taught in a more engaging way then it would be much better.”

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

At StandOut we frequently meet individuals who have been to prison multiple times but have yet to gain basic fundamental qualifications (English, Maths, Literacy). This is a missed opportunity and acts as a barrier to engaging in almost all forms of education, both in prison and afterwards. Thorough SEND assessments should be carried out at all prisons as part of an individual’s induction programme and feed into their educational provision. We frequently work with trainees who it is clear have undiagnosed SENDs.

Unlike traditional classrooms, a prison classroom often contains a considerable mix of ages, experiences, educational attainment levels and SENDs, and therefore requires investment in highly skilled staff and a wider range of educational opportunities and levels.

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

There is often a misunderstanding in prisons of what employers want from an employee. Whilst practical skills are important for many vocational roles, many employers are willing to teach these on the job and instead place more significance on people having the motivation, life skills and positive attitude and mindsets needed to make successful and reliable employees. When employers talk to StandOut trainees inside prison, they consistently say that they are looking for people who will come to work on time, every day, with a positive attitude and enthusiasm.

“If I could change one thing about prison education it would be actually looking at what employers are specifically looking for, and providing those skills.”

“Education options need updating to fit the current world.”

It is insufficient if individuals are only equipped with certificates and qualifications but are not given the knowledge, tools and connections needed to approach the job market with confidence.

“It is crazy how throughout your whole life you’ll always be told to “go and get a job” but nobody teaches you how to handle an interview in order to actually get a job.”

“Education in prison provides you with some but not all of the skills needed by employers. For example, you are taught how to read and write, but not how to fill out an application form. And it doesn’t provide you with the discipline and commitment required to maintain a job.”

Our experience through the StandOut Programme is that to prepare people for the world of work you need to combine the practical skills and tools needed for the workplace (interview practice, disclosure, CV, job searching) with the softer skills and mindsets needed to both find and stay in fulfilling employment.  Courses that are dry, repetitive, and delivered by imparting information to learners will likely result in people disengaging from education.

At StandOut we have seen some brilliant individual examples of innovation and excellence in prison education and our trainees have reported positive as well as negative experiences. However, amongst the men we interviewed, attitudes towards education in prison were often negative.

“Purpose of prison education is just to keep people busy and keep their minds stimulated, not to help employability.”

"Education in prison often feels like a dumping ground - a way of making up numbers."

As well as the curriculum, the culture of education in prison and how it is marketed to those who will take part in it needs to be revolutionised. More investment is needed in courses and workshops that ignite aspirations and develop self-belief through interactive and engaging content. Our experience is that people are often incentivised by courses that provide direct links to employment. Greater involvement from employers in the design and delivery of prison education would ensure that content is informed by current and local market indicators.

Are current resources for prison learning meeting need?

The most significant resource issue is digital connectivity: both access to computers and tablets to further study and engagement with courses, and access to the internet in order to ensure that people in prison are able to access an appropriate range of learning materials.  Many of the men we spoke with said that their experiences of education in prison could have been significantly improved by digital connectivity.

“There needs to be more access to computers and online training. In prison you have no phone and no laptop so it’s difficult to adjust to the working world outside – it would be great if you could learn how to write emails and other general technology practice for work.”

For those doing distance learning courses, lack of technology limits learners from reaching their full potential. For example, coursework must be handwritten which is time consuming and difficult for some. Instead of being able to search for academic sources online, the students are often only able to access a limited and outdated collection in a prison library which can place them at a disadvantage.

Now more than ever, a digital revolution is needed in prisons to ensure that people are not left behind in today’s increasingly technology dependent economy.  Digitisation of education would also provide opportunities to advance for those who are ambitious to progress beyond entry level but are stymied by the often limited horizons of prison education.

"The bad thing about education in prison is that it's finite. I have completed Level 1 and Level 2 courses only to be told that I cannot progress to the next level because it's not available."

It could also widen access to some courses that are difficult to access due to infrequent timetabling:

“There are some good courses but they’re often difficult to access – only 6 or 8 spaces every couple of months.”

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

The prison daily regime, and its unpredictability, can be a significant barrier to impactful learning. For example, short staffing, security breaches and major incidents (not to mention pandemics) can cause lockdowns that result in hours or days of core course content being lost for learners with very little notice. Problems during free flow, the system by which people are moved around the prison, can often result in people arriving late or not being unlocked in the first place. With a team of two coaches per course, StandOut is in the fortunate position to be able to collect men when problems occur, but this is not the case for many educational programmes where, for example, contractual arrangements between the prison and PEF provider can mean no one follows up with people who do not appear in the classroom, damaging education provision for individuals often affected by matters outside their control.


"Deadlines in prison education are difficult because you don't have control of when the door opens. If a fight happens on the wing that morning, you're not getting to education to complete the work you had to do."


The core day in prison is interrupted by a break for lunch that can be as long as three hours. Not only is time for learning lost for both educators and for learners, men frequently use this time to sleep which means the afternoon session can be slow to get going. This routine does not prepare people for the reality of a full working day once released from prison. Bringing this “dead” time into use and wider availability of ROTL (release on temporary licence) is a good opportunity to ensure there is realistic preparation for life and work outside.


Another issue experienced by StandOut is that men sometimes have to decide between attending education or having a shower. Flexibility should be created within the core day so that men have the opportunity to keep clean and take part in purposeful activity. Others have had to choose safety over attending one of our workshops because gang related issues prevent them from crossing wings to get to classrooms.


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

A fundamental issue is the failure to create a meaningful and relevant education plan for each individual. Effective planning would establish interests and motivations, as well as educational needs, and could help identify educational courses that would benefit and engage each individual. Planning could also ensure that education is not disrupted by movement between prisons or being released into the community. Planning is often ad hoc and means that men can complete courses at random with no clear path for progression.

“Education in prisons does not provide the necessary skills needed by an employer because you cannot focus and continue to develop in one area. Education should follow a longer-term, individualised plan.”

“There is no planning [in education] around how to achieve your long-term goal.”

Men are often transferred part-way through completing courses to prisons where they cannot continue them. Our experience is that this can discourage men from signing up to courses in the first place. Prioritising educational courses and ensuring people are put ‘on hold’ from transfer to another prison could improve engagement. People are often frustrated by being unable to get hold of certificates and proof of completion if they are transferred or released before they are received. These practical issues undermine the perceived value of education.

Short sentences should still offer opportunities for meaningful education and must clearly be linked with follow up opportunities in the community but, too often, long delays in enrolment for courses and a lack of joined-up working through-the-gate mean this opportunity is lost for many.

A personalised and holistic education plan, that includes a SEND assessment, should be created at the start of each individual’s time in prison with opportunities for progression and development. Improved joined up working between prisons and probation teams would ensure that achievements in prison could be included in a CV and that for those who wish, education started in prison can be picked up or advanced to a higher level once released.


January 2021