Written evidence submitted by LTE Group (trading as Novus)


Novus welcomes the opportunity to submit a response to the Call for Evidence for the Prison Education Inquiry. The inquiry is a critical opportunity to reflect on prison education services following the implementation of the new Prison Education Framework, and the supporting Dynamic Procurement System. We have responded to each of questions requested and have made suggestions to further drive the quality of prison education, drive positive outcomes post-release and ultimately reduce re-offending.



LTE Group is the first education and skills group of its kind. LTE Group reflects the combined strength of six leading organisations, with the support, expertise and power of a wider group infrastructure, working together for the benefit of learners, employers and wider communities.

The Group includes:



Novus is an established and successful provider of skills, employability and learning support to offenders and other ‘hard to reach’ individuals. With 28 years’ experience of delivering in a custodial setting, we deliver education services from 50 prisons in total - 46 adults prisons (male and female), and four young people institutions. 


Our values

We conduct all of our work to the highest standards, with integrity and professionalism. We are committed to quality and driving outstanding performance. We invest in delivery, as high quality education delivery drives high levels of performance.


In brief






Question 1 - The purpose of education is ultimately to improve the lives and economic success of offenders, their families and local communities. It should contribute effectively to rehabilitation and reducing reoffending, moving offenders towards sustained employment, and creating value and purpose for those who may not be released. Education is also a dynamic security tool that enables safe and secure environments. It is essential that education available and accessible to learners is well-utilised. Regime challenges in the last year within the adult estate (such as the ability to safely move learners to education) has meant that less offenders are accessing education and there may be significant variability in the learner experience throughout the country, limiting the true purpose of education.  The impact of educational interventions on reducing reoffending (proven in research as shown in our response to Question 2) are not able to be delivered at the right and agreed volumes to have the desired impact.

Question 2 - To understand the effectiveness of prison education, effectiveness must first be defined to understand the baseline from which progress can and should be measured. There are multiple data systems within prison education, and these data sets should support each other as part of a wider eco-system to understand the offender and their needs. We have included a large sample of research and international comparisons for your review within this question.

Question 3 - In terms of how well prison education meets the needs of learners with LDD, our experience tells us that a consistent way of identifying need, a cohort of high quality staff, individualised support for learners, and a range of specialist partners to continue to develop the approach are essential. We outline the challenge of meeting the demand of all needs, and the resources available to do this.

Question 4 - To ensure that prison education meets the needs of employers, we believe that better, more targeted use of prison facilities and improving these to enable learning to meet employer needs rather than limited by the environment; investments in accessing relevant industry licences; incentivising employers; and investing in technology will progress how far prison education can reflect real work environments and prepare offenders for the modern workplace.

Question 5 – To incentivise offenders to engage in prison education, external factors which affect motivation must be addressed as these are multiple such as prior negative experiences of education.  Rewards and privileges available within prisons must elevate education and specifically prisoner pay must have parity with that available for attendance in other forms of prison work.

Question 6 – For apprenticeships to work in custody, legislative change is required first and foremost. Second, investment is required in providing the infrastructure for prisoners to apply for apprenticeships and address other practical issues such as prisoners being able to attend work based training opportunities on Release on Temporary Licence.

Question 7 – We outline the key challenges to ensure resources effectively meet need, focusing on the importance of high levels of attendance at education, improving digital infrastructure prison-wide conducive to modern learning to create site wide access and how the environment within ageing prisons can adversely impact on the education environment.

Question 8 – If prison education is not assessed as meeting standards, it is important to explore the reasons why, and the often complex and chaotic nature of education delivery within prisons. We outline current contractual mechanisms within prison education contracts and how the Authority and providers can work collaboratively to address underperformance.

Question 9 – It is important for the prison environments to be conducive to learning and engage learners. The environment has a direct (unable to access education) and indirect impact on learning (unable to attract the best teachers), which we explore in our response to this question. 

Question 10 – There are a number of differences between privately operated prisons that are governed by the Prison Education Framework contract and privately operated prisons which commission their education directly. These include infrastructure and funding mechanisms which we outline in our response.

Question 11There are a number of ways in which prison education is dynamic, and responds to the differing needs of sentence length and movement of prisoners throughout the estate, predominantly through tailored and sequenced curriculums determined by bespoke annual curriculum plans. Good best practice is outlined in our response.



What is the purpose of education in prisons?




The purpose of education in prisons is to improve the lives and economic success of offenders and their families. By improving lives and economic success, education has the potential to improve communities. Access to education also has a significant impact on the wellbeing and mental health of offenders. Education offers motivation and hope. It provides an opportunity to engage in positive and productive activity, and to advance their goals and aspirations. The focus of education should be to build the confidence, self-worth and social capital of offenders. Owing to the transformative nature of education, it can change the lives of offenders, their families and local communities contributing towards reducing the reoffending cycle. 


The purpose of education

We believe that the purpose of education is threefold, to:

  1. Improve lives, economic success and wellbeing of offenders
  2. Contribute to the wider, positive impact of rehabilitation, improving family relationships and the ability for offenders to contribute to their local communities
  3. Provide purpose and value for those offenders with long-term sentences/within the high security estate.

Novus is dedicated to transforming the lives and economic potential of offenders by providing them with the pinnacle of offender education. Novus has delivered education within prisons for over 28 years, working with 60,000+ offenders, as part of the Offender Learning & Skills Service, and most recently as part of the Prison Education Framework within the adult estate. We also deliver in three Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) at HMYOIs Cookham Wood, Werrington and Wetherby.

We experience daily the positive impact that education can have on offenders’ lives and future economic success. As such, we believe that the definition of education within a custodial setting is far broader than mainstream education. It commands a ‘whole prison’ approach whereby education supports and is supported by wider departments such as healthcare, psychology and offender management. This wider approach would mean that education delivery is cognisant of and tailored to the individual needs of the offender, their health, wellbeing and background. 

Education offers the opportunity for offenders to ‘reset’ themselves and become assets to their communities. Offenders are able to build their confidence, resilience and self-worth through education. By focusing on their strengths as assets, and by instilling a passion for learning, education equips offenders to take responsibility and ownerships of their journey. Responsibility and ownership are essential for an offender to genuinely engage with education and subsequently with work and family life. Often, offenders (both adult and young people) have limited, or negative, experiences of education. There are often barriers in place which must be broken down in order for offenders to believe in the potential of learning, such as exclusion from school or unaddressed special educational needs. How education providers work closely with HMPPS and wider stakeholders to overcome these barriers is critical. For example, within young people’s provision, education is mandatory. The teacher is, therefore, afforded the time to build trust, rapport and break down negative barriers to learning and assess learning needs, abilities and learning levels. This level of investment from a teacher and support staff is often valued by the learner and they too will invest in their work, take ownership of it and grow in confidence regarding their academic ability. Along with academic progress, young people develop interpersonal skills and life skills that may not have been as available to them in mainstream school, as this is a real focus in prisons, particularly in youth estates.

Once engaged with education, offenders should experience a wide spectrum of support and opportunities that range from acquiring basic skills needed to function in society (e.g. basic digital skills such as sending an email) to more traditional qualifications in English and maths, and professional certifications. Education is about equipping the offender with the right and relevant skills to function in society and work. It should provide skills, training, personal and social development and employability support for offenders to realise their ‘ideal self’ on release.

Education that is able to move offenders towards employment positively impacts recidivism. MoJ data from 2017 showed that ‘prisoners who take any form of learning activity have a significantly lower re-offending rate on release from prison than their peers. The proven one-year re-offending rate is 34% for prisoner learners compared to 43% for prisoner non-learners’.[1]

We know that getting education right (in terms of what is taught, how it is taught and how it relates to the needs of the local labour market) are critical in moving offenders into employment on release. Our experience of this is informed by supporting 912 offenders into work via our Novus Works provision (employability and employment brokerage service) in 2019/20. We know that education targeted at moving offenders into employment reduces reoffending. Data published by the MoJ in March 2013[2] shows that offenders who achieved P45 employment at some points in the year after being released from custody were less likely to re-offend than similar offenders who did not achieve P45 employment. The time from release until first re-offence was longer for offenders who achieved P45 employment than for the matched comparison group.’ 

Offenders in the community are an important resource for employers in the community, and by supporting ex-offenders into work, employers are helping to break the cycle of reoffending that is costly and detrimental to our local communities and economy. 

Education should also be accessible to those that need it. The ability of learners in prison to access education varies considerably throughout the adult estate, with attendance rates in education ranging from 80% to 36%, with an average of 65%. Due to this variability, education is under-utilised.

Furthermore, regime challenges in the last year (such as the ability to safely move learners to education) has meant that the capacity and availability of education has been under-utilised.  A focus on moving learners promptly to educational areas is required so that education providers are able to deliver their services, and to a high standard. 

New contracting arrangements as part of the Prison Education Framework which from 2019 mean that prison education plans and schedules are agreed prior to the new contract year. However, there remains operational issues in arranging for those learners to attend education to deliver our agreed plan.

In turn, this ultimately means that less offenders are accessing education and there may be significant variability in the learner experience throughout the country, limiting the true purpose of education.  The impact of educational interventions on reducing reoffending (proven in research as shown in our response to Question 2) are not able to be delivered at the right and agreed volumes to have the desired impact.



In the landmark review in 2017, Lord Farmer outlined the importance of prisoners’ families in ‘Importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to prevent reoffending and reduce intergenerational crime’[3]. Further, the importance of family ties as part of education was stressed in the Coates Review of prison education in 2016. Dame Coates said ‘there is good evidence that strong family relationships can help support prisoners in desisting from crime and thereby reduce reoffending.’[4] It was recommended that there be ‘no barriers to funding family and relationship-strengthening as part of a broad education offer’. In our experience as an education provider, we recognise both the importance of education in bringing families together, and the longer-term benefit of education for families when offenders leave custody and go into work, self-employment or further education, breaking the cycle of offending. Within our provision, we have delivered a wide range of family-based projects. Two recent examples are included below:


The impact of projects like these is that education extends beyond the individual, and supports them to see the positive impact education can have on their family ties, again, further reinforcing the positive impact on reducing reoffending.



Access to education and libraries can positively impact the wellbeing of offenders. The offer of education, recreational activities linked to education, and access to reading can be a welcome distraction for offenders during challenging times and crisis, whether this is upon entry into prison or any life event that may affect the offender and their wellbeing. There is also an important social aspect to education. It presents the opportunity for social interaction with peers, prison officers and teachers. We know that when an offender is engaged and settled, this also has a positive impact on the safety and security of the prison, ensuring that a calm environment is maintained. In our experience, we believe it is essential that our teachers and education staff demonstrate investment, time and energy into the individuals we support to increase their self-worth. 

Longer term, the overall impact of education (e.g. increased confidence, self-worth and resilience) will positively affect the mental health and wellbeing of offenders in custody and through the gate.


Legal requirement

The purpose and importance of education is also enshrined in law. Under Section 86 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, the Secretary of State must provide suitable education and training facilities that will be suitable for the training needs of the person subject to adult detention.

Under Rule 32 of the Prison Rules 1999 (with similar provision for young offenders under Rule 38 of the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000 (“YOI Rules”)), the requirements for prison education are outlined. For example, every prisoner must be able to profit from the education facilities, and be encouraged to do so. Reasonable facilities must be afforded to accommodate training, distance learning, private study and recreational classes. Further, special attention shall be paid to prisoners with special education needs, and for those prisoners of compulsory school age, a minimum of 15 hours of education must be offered per week. 


Education delivery in practice

Education delivery within a justice setting is unique. It presents complex challenges that require long-standing expertise and understanding to effectively engage prisoners and incentivise them to proactively participate in education. Scale and breadth in terms of teaching capability, quality and resources are required to meet the many, wide-ranging needs of offenders. These challenges must be addressed to achieve the purpose of education in prisons.

At a practical level, education in prisons should:


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



Defining and demonstrating effectiveness

In order to measure effectiveness of prison education, what is meant by effective must first be defined. The effectiveness of education can be measured in a number of ways, including:

  1. Does commissioned education meet the level of need represented throughout the prisoner cohorts?
  2. Does commissioned education contribute to reducing reoffending? If so, how will this be measured?
  3. Does commissioned education lead to further positive outcomes for offenders, e.g. employment/self-employment or further education?

What is meant by ‘effective’ must first be baselined. Data that is collected in relation to prison education can then be used to measure, target and test the effectiveness of prison education and training.  There is a wide range and volume of data that is captured to monitor prison education. Most recently, the Curious system was implemented during the mobilisation of the new Prison Education Framework contracts (PEF). This is a data management system developed by the Ministry of Justice. Further detail is provided below.

Data collection in the adult estate

Education providers in adult establishments have been contractually obliged to complete entries in to Curious since July 2019. The MoJ Curious system has been established by the Authority to act as a single repository for contractual and performance data. Curious is also planned to be piloted in one establishment in the youth estate in March 2021. Fields include data describing each prisoner’s progress and activities such as enrolled courses, success rates, achievement of qualifications, assessment results, and health and disability needs. These data fields are used for quality assurance and improvement of the learner experience and outcomes, and to produce contract delivery reports by course.

The Curious system collects education data, which could be supplemented by integration of data from other systems to produce a more holistic data set that captures information outside of education. This could be key for offenders and their resettlement pathways to clearly identify and respond to their needs, e.g. housing, gaining access to debt advice, improving links with family. All of these are critical factors in reducing reoffending and holistic data would enable us to identify what works and what is needed for the offender. 


Data collection in the Youth Estate

As referenced, Novus holds responsibility to record and analyse data in the youth estate via the Oracle EBS database. All data is collated and reflected in a Quality and Performance Data book that effectively informs annual reports and quality improvement plans. Each child’s attainment is recorded and monitored in the business data & learner progress meetings by the senior management team and scrutinized during the contract review meeting. Data collected includes initial interviews, assessments, diagnostics for Special Educational Needs, time spent in education, tracking of progression and achievements of both accredited and non-accredited learning. This level of scrutiny is welcomed and enables education providers to identify areas for improvement effectively.

However there are still challenges to data collection in the youth estate, such as the lack of data transferred to education providers in custody to describe previous education undertaken in mainstream provision.





Data summary

In summary, there are multiple data systems across both the adult and youth estates.  There are also data systems in the community that hold valuable information to measure the effectiveness of our service, including DWP who will record employment information.  The key challenges are:


Ofsted inspections

One baseline available to monitor the effectiveness of prison education is the Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF), introduced into adult prisons in February 2020 to replace the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework (CIF).

Prison education is currently assessed against the Ofsted EIF by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) - an independent, statutory organisation which reports on the treatment and conditions of those detained in prisons, young offender institutions, secure training centres, immigration detention facilities, police and court custody and military detention. Following an inspection, HMIP award prisons a series of quality grades (either good, reasonably good, not sufficiently good or poor) against standard expectations for Safety, Respect, Purposeful Activity, and Rehabilitation and Release Planning.

In the adult estate, contracted education providers performance against the Ofsted EIF contributes to the overall purposeful activity grade, which also includes time out of cell; access to the open air; provision of activities; participation in education; and access to library resources and physical exercise. The purposeful activity quality grade describes the performance delivered by both Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service and multiple contracted providers for a wide range of activities. It does identify the effectiveness of education delivered by the contracted Prison Education provider.  Novus recognises the rationale behind this approach, to incentivise multiple teams and providers to work collaboratively to achieve the wider HMIP expectation. However, outsourced education providers are unable to understand their specific grade or performance within this methodology. This makes it difficult for education providers to identify improvement / strength areas and associated responsibilities.

In the youth estate, education providers have much more control over the services they deliver within purposeful activity (which doesn’t include e.g. work), so the Ofsted grade is much more reflective of prison education effectiveness.

International comparisons

A summary of international comparisons and academic research is shown below, including:


Netherlands and Norway

Reducing Reoffending: The Role Education plays in the Netherlands and Norway (2018)

Richard Wakelin – Churchill Fellow (Novus Head of Education, Youth Estate)

Winston Churchill Memorial Trust / Novus

Purpose: To understand the role education plays in reducing reoffending in Holland and Norway.


  1. The reintegration plan I saw was broadly in line with the sentencing planning present in the UK, but the ‘choice for change’ programme built on this. Allowing for a programme of reflection appears to give the offenders the chance to reflect and then build a plan for their future. Education plays a more central role to the review process for the reintegration plan, which appeared to drive the learner’s behaviour to complete the programmes of study they needed to do.
  2. The role ICT plays in rehabilitating offenders and giving them choice along with independence appeared to be different to the UK. There was clear scope for development, with the potential for virtual learning platforms to extend across the regime and out of the classroom, but the internet and access levels were superior to that currently achievable in the UK.
  3. The UK could learn from prisons specialising in specific employment pathways. If prisons were smaller custodial units in the UK, we would inevitably have a more limited curriculum provision compared to prisons with larger populations. Prisons within regional cluster groups could specialise on specific employment routes, based on the LMI data for the resettlement area for the offenders serving their sentences within them.
  4. Thought needs to be given to the ways we measure the impact of education within the custodial setting. What can education in prison offer that impacts upon an individual’s ability to resettle and lead a crime free life? How can we measure this?
  5. The ‘lived environment’ is a key aspect of prison design. The building’s design, acoustics, flexible delivery environments and ability to move easily around a site are key. Increasing the access to the outside and exercise, through clever design was evident throughout my visits. The environment is also critical to mental health. Access to exercise and activity, whilst being able to remain in contact with loved ones and feeling close to the outside community were important features throughout my visits.
  6. The role education can play to support the integration of foreign nationals is key and supports all prisoners who struggle to interact with the prison regime. Education can help by providing the resources, such as communication aids like ‘picture it’ or equivalent resources through virtual learning environments. Digital platforms can further expand this and help reduce isolation by taking these aids ‘in cell’ and beyond the traditional classroom. This would complement the work already done in ESOL classes (English for Speakers of Other Languages).
  7. Digital platforms improve the effectiveness of the support networks in the prison and are more efficient than the paper driven systems we currently rely upon.
  8. Technology offers the potential for a ‘delivery platform’ which covers the work of the different prison services for example education, health, offending behaviour, and such innovations could support prisoners both in and out of the cell.
  9. The role reintegration centres play in supporting learners within the prison and then upon release could be replicated in major cities in the UK. This would bridge the gap that many ex-offenders fall into upon release.
  10. The UK could learn from the Dutch ethos around the importance of ‘contact’ and positive interactions through the removal of physical barriers. We should not underestimate the importance of interacting with the person inside the prisoner.
  11. More emphasis should be placed on the role restorative justice plays in the rehabilitative process and we should look to implement them where possible.
  12. The role reintegration centres play in supporting learners within the prison and then upon release could be replicated in major cities in the UK. This would bridge the gap that many ex-offenders fall into upon release.
  13. The UK could learn from the Dutch ethos around the importance of ‘contact’ and positive interactions through the removal of physical barriers. We should not underestimate the importance of interacting with the person inside the prisoner.
  14. More emphasis should be placed on the role restorative justice plays in the rehabilitative process and we should look to implement them where possible.
  15. It is important that we aim to capture the work-related skills being developed in prison industries. This does not have to be done exclusively through the delivery of accredited courses, as it is just as important to acknowledge the softer, transferable skills required for the workplace.
  16. The role education can play, coupled with technology on enhanced wings is something we should develop in the UK. The use of Skype and other communication aids maintains important family ties. The impact that a custodial sentence has on those left behind at home was expressed to me by several prisoners during my visits. Technology like skype can lessen the impact and can form part of the educational offer in prisons.
  17. Education is sometimes more than what we can accredit or quantify. The value of supporting a learner to write a card to his child at Christmas, read a book over Skype at night or manage their money, all have important parts to play within the reducing reoffending agenda. It is encouraging that under the new funding arrangements within England, that Education providers can now enable and support learners with unaccredited, yet worthwhile programmes.
  18. It is necessary to develop public confidence in the justice system. This could be achieved through promoting positive outcomes and the benefits of those outcomes to communities.
  19. Where ever possible we should engage with employers to ensure our curriculum gives learners the best grounding to enter the workplace. In additional to technical skills, the emphasis needs to be placed on developing positive work behaviours, attitudes and motivation.
  20. The reintegration model where key services operate in a hub, would benefit the prisoner and the service providers. This allows those providers to operate more efficiently and encourage information sharing.
  21. Replication of the reintegration model in the community provides a familiar and supportive environment for prisoners to seek support upon release.
  22. The ‘WeShoring’ social enterprise model could be applied in the UK. This could meet the workplace gap for those ex-offenders who need work experience, support and further skill development before they enter the workplace.
  23. The role social enterprise plays in supporting offenders within and then through the prison gate should be recognised. Social enterprise can uniquely reinvest in the communities they are part of.
  24. My trip to the Netherlands highlighted the complexity of trying to deliver a mainstream curriculum within a custodial establishment. The varied and complex needs of the prisoners required a flexible curriculum to meet their needs.
  25. Academic research has a place in informing policy and practice within education in the UK prison system.
  26. Further research is needed to develop a consistent set of measures and standards to measure success post release. Recidivism should not be the only measure due to the complexities of offending behaviour.
  27. It is critical to retain engagement with employers from the point of sentence. This could be part of the work done by the Education provider, ensuring that the prisoners are equipped with the skills required to meet labour market needs.
  28. Sector champions could advise education providers on curriculum and skills shortages and they could advise employers on supporting ex-offenders into their businesses.


  1. UK prison reforms need to take into account the need for small units. This allows for the development of a positive rapport between staff and prisoners, imperative to the rehabilitative process. The importance of resolving conflict was also a key aspect of the work I witnessed. This is a more manageable process on a smaller scale.
  2. Not only do we need to reform the buildings but also our policies and practices. For example, a more flexible use of ROTL to enable a smoother reintegration into the community. It is possible to reform our practices whilst rebuilding prisons to create a modern estate as was demonstrated in Norway.
  3. It is important to empower prisoners in their journey of personal development. This should involve them being included in target setting.
  4. Many prisoners are not ready to transition directly into mainstream education and training. The community schools in Norway provide facilities which act as a bridge between prison education and mainstream. This appears to be an effective model because it supports engagement.
  5. The wide use of ROTL in providing prisoners with a gradual reintegration into the community, supports resettlement and may have a positive impact on reducing reoffending.
  6. The design of the prison and the lived environment can impact on the efficiency of the regime and the experience of the prisoners’ whilst in custody. A prison like Halden, with a good design, can make the most of the space whilst creating an environment which is both secure and calm.
  7. Enabling learners to have their lunch break within the education or work setting, as they would in a college or workplace, normalises the behaviour and maximises the time out of cell. This also reduces the need for time to be spent moving prisoners around the estate.
  8. The role technology can play in a modern prison regime is wide ranging. In cell technology and how this can aid learning whilst maintaining family ties, through to the swipe card system for purchases at the prison shop. All of these empower the learner to make choices and support their reintegration back into the community.
  9. The shop in Halden provides prisoners with the opportunity to continue the daily behaviours they would experience in the community. When those behaviours (e.g. shopping for groceries) are removed, the prisoners are more likely to lose everyday life skills and become institutionalised. Creating a prison environment whereby prisoners have the opportunity to continue to use life skills where possible supports them in their resettlement.
  10. It is essential for prisoners to learn skills that meet current and future labour market demands. Prison industries should reflect the sectors with employment opportunities open to the prisoners in their resettlement areas.
  11. A prison environment, such as the island prison where the model depends on cooperation within a self-sustaining community, nurtures positive behaviours and supports the development of life skills essential for resettlement.
  12. The ability to spend time outdoors in a rural setting has clear benefits for prisoners, creating a sense of calm and mental well-being.
  13. Smaller prisoner to staff ratios allow for positive interactions, supportive work and ultimately supports rehabilitation.
  14. Academic research plays a critical role in informing prison policy and practices.
  15. The impact ICT plays in engaging in education should not be underestimated. Wherever possible ICT should replicate that availability in the community, with access to the latest technologies.
  16. Thought needs to be given to the types of education assessment undertaken in custody and the timing of these assessments.
  17. Whilst education can drive a sentence plan it must take into account other resettlement needs and the sequencing of these interventions.
  18. Prison education must strike a balance between giving learners the skills required for employment whilst providing them with enrichment opportunities. Use of the arts can be therapeutic in addition to encouraging engagement in other activities.
  19. We should look to be more fluid with prison education through the gate. This could be achieved by providing learning hubs where ex-prisoners can continue their learning and bridge the gap into mainstream.


Cogent Education Prison education in Norway – The importance for work and life after release (2018)

Christin Tønseth & Ragnhild Bergsland | Sammy King Fai Hui (Reviewing editor) (2019) Prison education in Norway – The importance for work and life after release, Cogent Education, 6:1, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2331186X.2019.1628408

Rehabilitation through formal education has been a long-term priority in the Norwegian criminal service. The rehabilitative effect of education is meant to result in employment and thereby ensure a successful return to society. Furthermore, education is considered as one of the most important ways to master life after ending incarceration and is an important crime prevention measure. In Norway, formal education in prison includes primary and secondary school, work qualifying courses, vocational training, and tertiary studies. Transformative learning theory argues for learning that leads to transformation and change in the learner. Method: Through Interviews with former prisoners and the bureaucrats who work closely with them, we have studied how prison formal education has affected ex-prisoners after release. Results and conclusion: The study has demonstrated that education in prison has contributed to social benefits, self-determination, and accountability by enabling the ex-prisoners to improve their mastery and self-esteem. These benefits transformation and change in the learner that have opened new doors. The study shows that formal learning can be something else or something more than the acquisition of pure knowledge or skills. More research on rehabilitation potential in different learning contexts is needed in order to improve sustainable trajectories into the society.


Community Justice Coalition: Chalk and Cheese by Irina Dunn Published by Community Justice Coalition 2017 Australian vs. Norwegian Prisons


At a prisons Reintegration in Australia in 2017, former NSW Inspector of Custodial Services John Paget said that the $3.8 billion expansion of NSW prisons, including 7,000 extra beds show “the expensive failure of public policy in Australia”. This perspective provides a useful starting point for comparing prison retributive expansion in Australia with the successful rehabilitative justice systems in Norway and The Netherlands. This comparison could not have taken place in 1984 when the Norwegian and Dutch prison systems were clearly similar to that in Australia today.

However, new policies in the Netherlands that focus on rehabilitation and promote a reduction in the crime rate have allowed the successful closure of several prisons throughout the country. Australia’s justice system, however, is based on retributive and deterrence-based practices. Rates of re-offending are high, with approximately 45% of inmates returning to prison within just two years. Not only do high recidivism rates stretch prison resources and cause overcrowding, this rate of re-offending also increases the number of communities affected by crime. The restorative justice models used in Norwegian and Dutch prisons have proven to reverse these negative effects and have created safer communities. A focus on education and social services better prepare inmates for life after prison and future social integration. Bastoy Prison governor and clinical psychologist, Arne Wilson, argues that prisons should simply deprive inmates of liberty rather than provide inhumane conditions that prevent them from functioning as part of society post-release. The sentencing, confinement and public perception of the Norwegian Anders Breivik and the Australian Martin Bryant cases throw into stark relief the differences in the prison models, and, importantly, highlight areas for improvement in the Australian case.

This report will focus on these case studies, recidivism rates, and foreign prison experiences in order to highlight the differences between Australia and the prison models of Norway and the Netherlands, showing the potential for transformation and a revision of the way Australia’s justice system responds to crime.


Journal of Prison Education and Reentry Prison education in Norway – The importance for work and life after release

The Relationship between Prisoners' Academic Self-Efficacy and Participation in Education, Previous Convictions, Sentence Length, and Portion of Sentence Served

Roth, Beate Buanes; Asbjørnsen, Arve; Manger, Terje

Journal of Prison Education and Reentry, v3 n2 p106-121 Dec 2016

Journal of Prison Education and Reentry. Jonas Liesvei 91, N5009 Bergen, Norway. Web site: https://jper.uib.no/

Prison education is an important aspect of adult education. This study investigated current participation in prison education, as well as previous convictions, sentence length, and the portion of sentence served as predictors of academic self-efficacy. Survey data derived from prisoners in all Norwegian prisons provided the empirical evidence for the analyses. A principal component analysis of a 40-item academic self-efficacy questionnaire revealed self-efficacy components in literacy, mathematics, information and communications technology (ICT), and self-regulated learning. Educational participation had a positive influence on self-efficacy in both mathematics and self-regulated learning. Participants who reported no previous convictions scored higher than others on self-efficacy in mathematics, self-regulated learning, and ICT. Furthermore, the results showed that perceived efficacy in ICT decreased with longer sentence length. Portion of sentence served was not significantly related to any of the four self-efficacy components. The findings are discussed with reference to a need for mastery experiences in prison and implications for policy and practice.



OFFENDER TO ENTREPRENEUR: REDUCING RECIDIVISM AND IMPROVING LIFE CHANCES (2018) - Utilising entrepreneurship to be a better individual, employee or future business owner

Winston Churchill Memorial Trust / The Rank Foundation

David Morgan, Churchill Fellow (Novus Employment Advisor at the time of publication)

Purpose: To provide a platform for future discussions on how entrepreneurship can be utilised within the criminal justice system to reduce recidivism. It should provide the breadth and depth of research across prison education, through the gate services and community programs in order to develop future projects and how they need to be implemented. Not all elements of the programs may be appropriate for implementation in the UK, but examples of best practice can be drawn on and utilised. Finally, the report should also stimulate conversations with funders in the private and third sector to support the drive to reduce the overall cost of crime in the UK and that returning citizens become net contributors to their families and society.

Programme 1 – RESILLIENCE EDUCATION (<7% reoffending rate for 50 graduates released): thee modules completed over nine months during evening sessions, using socratic teaching methods (a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions). The course finished with a presentation of each learner’s business plan. Modules include Certificate in Certificate in Entrepreneurship, Financial Capability, Business Foundations

Programme 2: DEFY VENTURES (3,508 participants): Through its holistic approach, it challenges its participants, known as Entrepreneurs-in-Training (EITs) to take a different path. It provides a detailed and supported employment, entrepreneurship and personal development program through engagement with their dedicated teams as well as an established network of business leaders, investors and entrepreneurs as volunteers. In essence it is a leadership and personal development program. It commences in custody, and upon release the graduated EITs are supported firstly in sustained employment to gain a stable footing as a returning citizen, and then engage with their re-entry and incubator programs if they wish to use their skills and gifts to set up their own legitimate business. The program runs for approximately 6 months, and depending on the location, the EITs meet between one and three times a week for two hour sessions.

Over the duration of the course, the EITs gain valuable interactions with volunteers drawn from the local business community. They are a vital element in the success of the program as they provide the EITs engagement with men and women that are non-judgemental and experienced employers and successful business owners.

Programme 3: LAST MILE CODERS (200 participants): a program run out of seven prisons in the U to harness participants’ entrepreneurial and business skillset to create a business that balances a technological and social element. Through engagement volunteers, guest speakers and leaders from the business community the participants learn about three key elements: How businesses operate, the departments and functions needed and how they all interact to make achieve their goals; Personal development such as teamwork, effective communication, accepting criticism and how to gain confidence in the ability to grasp new ideas; and Coding without access to the internet - achieved through Last Mile Coders developing a bespoke platform that simulates a live coding experience. The curriculum enables the men to learn HTML, JavaScript, CSS and Python. In the future it will be expanded to include web and logo design.Each of men gain over 2,000 hours of experience, and the program lasts in excess of a year.

Programme 4: CORRECTION ENTERPRISES (work for 5,000+ men and women per year): Correction Enterprises operates workshops that employ people in industries such as laundries and sewing as well as re-upholstery, furniture manufacturing, signage and specialist training such as braille. They receive the standard prison wages for being employed. They also offer propriety products for sale to state employees and organisations (such as cleaning products) that offer competitive pricing due to their buying power from its suppliers. It also has an optical plant that produces prescription glasses for government employees at reasonable prices. The men and women can gain valuable vocational skills as well as being able to develop personal and social skills that are needed in their transition back to the community.


UCL Institute of Education. An assessment of the English and maths skills levels of prisoners in England

https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1531971/1/Creese_10.18546_LRE.14.3.02.pdf 2016

An assessment of the English and maths skills levels of prisoners in England Brian Creese* UCL Institute of Education, University College London Although the direct links between education and reducing recidivism in prisoners are problematic, there is little argument that education is a factor in promoting reintegration and rehabilitation. There is a current focus in prison education on education for employment, and yet there are no recent or unambiguous data about the skills levels of the prison population. The most often quoted figures are both 15 years out of date and deeply flawed in terms of their comparisons with the general population. This article sets out a new study that takes the mandatory initial assessments carried out on every new prisoner between August 2014 and July 2015 and compares them with the national Skills for Life survey conducted in 2011.This provides us with some hard facts about the English and maths skills of the past year’s intake of prisoners. The conclusions argue that while the numeracy skills of prisoners are better than previously understood, the cohort has extremely poor literacy skills, and addressing these needs should be a priority for government.


Exploring the outcomes of prisoner learners: analysis of linked offender records from the Police National Computer and Individualised Learner Records (2017)


Purpose: to compare the proven one year re-offending rates1 of prisoner learners and prisoner non-learners through a joint report between the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Department for Education (DfE) that presents initial findings from a data sharing project between the two departments.

Notable Results


Evaluation of prisoner learning: Initial impacts and delivery (2018)

Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute / Sheffield Hallam University / London Economics

Ministry of Justice Analytical Series

Purpose: Ipsos MORI, London Economics and Sheffield Hallam University were commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) 1 and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)2 in March 2015 to undertake a process and impact evaluation of prisoner education. This included the impacts of prisoner education under Phase 3 (August 2009 – July 2012) and Phase 4 (introduced August 2012) of the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS3 and OLASS4), as well as changes made to the service under OLASS4.

Notable Results

A Realist Model of Prison Education, Growth, and Desistance: A New Theory (2018)


Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom

Commissioned by: Novus

Purpose: Using a realist review method (Pawson, 2002b; Wong, 2013a) we develop a rough, initial general theory of prison education articulated in the form of three context-mechanism-outcome configurations (CMO). We then ‘test’ these CMOs by assessing the current evidence base through a systematic review of literature. This paper articulates three inter-related CMOs that we ground in prison sociology and desistance literature: ‘hook’, ‘safe space’ and ‘qualifications’.

Notable results

A Rapid Evidence Assessment of the effectiveness of prison education in reducing recidivism and increasing employment (2017)

Mark Ellison, Kirstine Szifris, Rachel Horan, Chris Fox

Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom, commissioned by Novus

Purpose: to review evidence on the link between education in prison and post-release outcomes. The review focuses on employment and recidivism as desirable outcomes of engaging in prison education.

Notable results


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



Overview of current approach

Through Novus’ Prison Education Framework (PEF) delivery, we support c.60,000 adult service users annually with varying complexity levels and additional learning needs, including LDD/ALN needs (16%), physical/mental impairment (35%), low educational attainment, and Foreign nationals with language barriers.

Novus has long-standing experience in supporting learners with additional learning needs in the adult prison education estate and youth custody. Our approach to supporting those with additional learning needs through the Prison Education Framework (PEF) delivery is based on the following:

A review of education in prison, 2016 (Coates Review) – investing in workforce development, e.g. ‘Hidden Disabilities’ training delivered to c.200 staff (Coates Review, 3.43) to equip staff to address learning support needs; and collaborative whole-prison approach.

In Youth Custody, we work with 75% of service users in 4 young people’s institutions. c.36% of our learners have additional learning needs, which have often not been addressed effectively in mainstream education due to permanent exclusion or family engagement. Our approach to supporting those with additional learning needs in youth custody is based on therapeutic principles, and upskilling staff to provide bespoke and individualised support to meet needs.

Effective approaches in meeting additional learning needs: Adult Estate

Through our experience of delivering prison education we have found that the following approaches have been effective in supporting learners with additional learning needs.


  1. Identification of a consistent way of identifying need

Schedule C16 LDD outlined requirements for use of a specific screening tool in custody – the ‘Do It Profiler’ screening tool. However, this was not possible to use in custody due to operational security and set-up challenges. As a result, Novus has been working in partnership with other PEF providers to develop a screening tool which meets the requirements set out in Schedule C16.

We have successfully developed a two-part process:

This tool will enable education providers in custody to effectively screen for LDD indicators and identify appropriate support strategies which can be implemented to enable them work and learn effectively. Specifically, the tool will be effective in:

Measuring the effectiveness of the tool: We have already implemented the rapid screening tool through in-cell learning packs. The in-depth screening tool will be rolled-out as covid-19 restrictions are limited. This will enable us to measure its effectiveness, e.g. through participant feedback.


  1. High quality staff

Novus employs 186 learning support staff nationally. We understand the importance of high-quality staff in supporting those with additional learning needs, and the importance of awareness training. Staff need to be appropriately trained to identify needs, and barriers, and put in place appropriate and bespoke support strategies.

As outlined by Coates, building the capacity of the workforce (leaders, teachers and prison officers) is important to support prisoners with LDD needs (Coates Review, 3.47).

In support of this, Novus has deployed a workforce model which enables us to effectively meet the needs of prisoners with additional learning needs. Our workforce model comprises:

Comprehensive Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and LDD awareness training is crucial for ensuring education effectively supports the needs of prisoners with LDD needs. Through our Strategic Advisory Board, we have access to a wide range of training and expertise from specialist partners. This includes:

To further upskill staff and improve their effectiveness of supporting prisoners with additional learning/LDD needs, education providers need to raise wider awareness, in teaching staff and prison staff. For example, in London, Novus’ SENCo has started to roll out BDA ‘Hidden Difficulties’ training to prison officers; this wider awareness training could be replicated nationally


  1. Strategic Advisory Board

Novus has implemented a Strategic Advisory Board, a collaborative working group comprised of specialist organisations, with a shared aim of supporting those with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD). The Strategic Advisory Board meets quarterly. Its purpose is to review delivery methods and provide feedback on how we can better meet the needs of prisoners with additional learning needs. Members of the group have different specialisms in supporting individuals with a wide range of additional learning needs. The Board includes:

The Strategic Advisory Board helps to ensure that our education delivery in custody is effective in meeting additional learning needs. The Board provides the following benefits:


  1. Individualised support

A tailored approach for each individual learner is important to ensure their additional learning needs are met. As specified by Coates, ‘One of the most complex challenges for Governors is to provide a learning offer that meets the needs of the wide range of individuals for whom they are responsible.’ (Coates Review, 3.4).

Education in custody is effective in providing Individualised support through:

The implementation of the new LDD screening tool will help to identify whether learners need additional support. This will enable Learner Support Workers to implement tailored support strategies to meet needs.


Key challenges and areas for improvement: Adult Estate

Despite good practice in prison education, there are ways in which provision could better meet the needs of prisoners with additional learning needs. These are outlined below:

  1. SEND/ALN language out of date in custody

Language around SEND/LDD/Additional learning needs in custody needs to reflect language used in the community. For example, there has been a shift away from language around ‘additional learning needs’ to a focus on ‘neurodiversity’ and ‘inclusion’. This has been captured fairly well in youth custody, but is not yet reflected in the language used in adult custody. For example, the Curious system requires staff to input outcomes from screening tools (e.g. if a learner is ‘dyslexic’), which contrasts with the purpose of the screening tool to avoid ‘labelling’ learners with specific needs. 

Ways in which custodial education provision could better reflect priorities in the community include:


  1. Greater integrated working and partnership between different providers

The Coates Review recommended a ‘whole-prison approach to ensuring the regime is appropriate to their needs.’ Examples in support of a whole prison approach to LDD include:


  1. Using assistive technology in prisons

Use of assistive technology in prisons is a challenge, which impacts on the ability to meet additional learning needs in custody. For example, due to challenges in accessing IT, individuals do not have the opportunity to build digital skills and become more independent through access to digital support tools (e.g. ‘read aloud’ functions). The use of predominantly paper-based resources in custody makes it more difficult to provide assistive tools and techniques to meet additional learning needs.

The challenge in using assistive technology in prisons can be addressed through:

  1. Teachers require a specific skillset to support those with additional learning needs

Many prison education teachers have not had specific training in supporting prisoners with additional learning needs.

Staff can be upskilled to effectively meet additional learning needs through:


Youth Custody strengths and challenges

Youth Custody has a unique set of challenges in meeting the needs of learners with additional learning needs. A large number of learners have an identified SEND/LDD need (36%) which often have not been addressed previously, due to difficulties in mainstream education. This means that early identification of need at the start of a young person’s sentence is crucial, as many learners do not have a diagnosis on entering custody.

There are also many examples of best practice in the youth estate in meeting additional learning needs.

Effective approaches

Education provision in youth custody is generally effective in meeting needs. Key strengths include:



The main challenges in the youth estate in effectively meeting learners’ additional support needs are:


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



Education delivery in custody

As part of the Prison Education Framework and Dynamic Purchasing System in the adult estate, Novus currently delivers services including:

In the Youth Estate, we deliver a similar curriculum, including functional skills English / maths / IT; vocational qualifications; business enterprise; advanced learning and employability. We also deliver a significant amount of engagement, enrichment and life skills such as art; fitness; healthy living; cadets; Duke of Edinburgh and animal care.

We offer accredited qualifications from entry level 1 to level 3 and facilitate degree level learning, from nationally recognised and industry standard awarding bodies such as City and Guilds, WAMITAB, OCR and Gateway. Our delivery also extends to specialist provision through subcontracting to small and medium sized enterprises, e.g. therapeutic and reflective arts provision.

The focus in the curriculum has changed recently to an increased provision of enrichment skills. For example, employability and life skills are heavily embedded into each area of the curriculum so that children develop the right interpersonal skills and behaviors needed for success during interviews and in the workplace. Novus welcomes this change, recognising the priority for re-focusing children away from crime and towards their career plans.


Curriculum development

Curriculums are developed and implemented on an annual basis in custody, with in-year changes to manage urgent and essential need. This is a collaborative process between the education provider, each local prison’s senior management team and the regional HMPPS team. Ultimately, local prison Governors have control over their budgets and commission education provision.

There are lots of successful examples of developing curriculums to meet local need, for examples construction and catering skills for the growing infrastructure and hospitality industry in London prisons. However, curriculums are often limited by a number of factors:

These factors can create issues which are sometimes prioritised above prisoner needs, labour market demand and skills which employers require. 


How Novus ensures skills are aligned

Novus employs a dedicated team of specialists under the brand of ‘Novus Works’ to engage employers with prison education, align skills needs and deliver tailored job brokerage for prisoners. The team undertakes curriculum co-design, developing Career Routeways from custody to employment and further education in the community. We specifically develop ‘Work-Ready Checks’ with employers, who sponsor these documents, outlining the requirements of job roles along with specific pace and quality measures candidates must meet. It is as part of this process where we ascertain the important ‘soft skills’ that are required to work for an employer.

Novus Works also engages local economic interest groups (e.g. local enterprise partnerships / Chambers of Commerce) to ascertain labour market information. We present this information to local prison teams, along with recognised LMI data from EMSI Analyst to inform curriculum development discussions.

The team have identified some key opportunities for better aligning skills needs of employers to provision of education in custody:

  1. Make better use of prison facilities to provide work-based learning through prison industries, embedding education within real work environments, given that employers often require the right behaviors and attitude developed through work experience
  2. Continue with the investment into enabling delivery of industry licenses which are often barriers to employment, e.g. CSCS card / Rail Track cards / Fork Lift Truck licenses
  3. Incentivise employers to contribute to social impact and specifically to support / employ ex-offenders, e.g. employers in the construction sector have been incentivised in the past through stipulations within section 106 planning agreements
  4. Invest in resource to enable delivery of skills required for major growing sectors, e.g. digital / renewable energy / green economy
  5. Use up to date technology to prepare prisoners for life in the community, e.g. job searching / CV development tools


Case Studies

Case studies are shown below to demonstrate the existing work being done to align skills delivered in custody to the needs of employers.

  1. Novus Works outcome data infographic
  2. Example of a Career Routeway in custody designed with employers
  3. Novus Works marketing content within prison in the North East
  4. Examples of Career Routeway Development with employer partners


  1. Data for the 2019/20 Academic Year

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  1. Example of a Novus Career Routeway in custody designed with employers

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  1. Novus Works marketing content within prison in the North East
  2. Catering


              Between February 2018 and February 2020, there were 936 job postings for Construction occupations in the North East.

              387 of these adverts mention the requirement for maths and or English skills in the ideal applicant.

              In the top 10 ‘hard skills’ sought after by employers, ‘Functional Skills qualifications’ came in 2nd place, following ‘Civil Engineering.’

              ‘Numeracy’ came closely behind in 5th place.


4. Examples of Career Routeway Development with employer partners

Industry: Catering and Hospitality

Vacancies: Team Member – Bar, Restaurant & Kitchen

Novus has worked in partnership with Greene King since 2019 to support offenders in developing the skills necessary to gain employment on release and stop the cycle of re-offending. As a UK-wide employer, Greene King is able to provide career opportunities for Novus learners through its well-known brands, such as Chef & Brewer, Hungry Horse and Farmhouse Inns. So far, Greene King has engaged with a significant number of individuals as part of the scheme aimed at reducing barriers to employment, including the employment of 49 ex-offenders to date. The socially focused employer supports Novus to deliver outstanding education by providing curriculum endorsement and application support for ex and current offenders. Ahead of a pop-up recruitment events with Greene King, Novus prepared potential candidates for the interview process which included developing CV’s and disclosure letters whilst learning more about Greene King. On the day, a representative from Greene King gave a presentation outlining the company’s history, ethos, values and opportunities, followed by a question and answer session before an employer master class in the prison restaurant. One-to-one interviews then took place and each candidate received feedback. Candidates were then invited on their release or ROTL licence to a work trial at a Greene King site, followed by job offers for those who were successful.

Industry: Civil Engineering

Vacancies: Groundworkers, Plant Operatives and Banksman roles

Novus Works have been working closely with the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) and the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) to ensure that appropriate route ways for education are included within the curriculum.

Civil engineering has been identified as a skill gap within England, and with national infrastructure projects such as High Speed 2 (HS2) on the horizon, this will only increase.

All this work has led to positive outcomes within the industry and resulted in learners being successfully interviewed whilst still in prison, jobs being offered upon release and learners beginning to work in roles such as Banksman, Slinger Signaller, Groundworker, Dumper Truck Driver, 360 Digger Driver and Labourer positions.



How can successful participation in education be incentivised in prisons?



Influencing factors

Delivery of education within prisons is unique. There are significant external factors which affect each prisoner’s motivation for learning. Long-standing expertise and understanding is required to successfully incentive participation. Prisoners are best supported when there is scale and breadth in terms of teaching capability, quality and resources in place to meet the wide ranging needs of those with complex characteristics.

External factors which affect motivation can be grouped into three primary areas:

  1. Regime/system issues – education attendance is prevented due to system issues, for example security issues may prevent movement of prisoners which therefore inhibits attendance to classes
  2. Personal experience issues – previous experiences of education may have been negative and will impact upon future engagement education
  3. Personal environment issues – pay is a key driver for many prisoners as they need to support themselves / their families.  As such, they will opt for paid work over education. 

Additionally, there are many other factors which can determine engagement with education, outlined on the adjacent page.


Key points

In the sections below, we describe practical suggestions for implementation of successful strategies to incentivise prisoners with participation in education. The suggestions centre around the following primary motivators for offenders:


A partnership approach

Offenders should be engaged with education from the outset and throughout their custodial journey. Education should be normalised and embedded into the culture of each prison.  This can be achieved by education staff being present outside of traditional settings (e.g. classrooms / workshops). Engaging with prisoners at the very start of their journey can support this, e.g. being present in receptions and first night centres to induct prisoners into learning and skills provision as soon as they arrive at the establishment. 

More input from the education provider in terms of allocation and sequencing also contributes to successfully motivating prisoners. The education provider, integrated into the regime, should be responsible for informing central allocations regarding an individual’s priorities and needs.  The central allocation team should involve education providers, careers advice and employment specialists to support the Governor and his team to make best use of an individual’s time to help them rehabilitate. 

A holistic approach to resettlement is also required; education attendance and attainment should have real and tangible links to earned early release, (ROTL) and privileges for efforts.  Incentives to progress and achieve these should be fully integrated into the wider rehabilitation pathway for learners and as a regime partner, education providers will be able to effectively support integration. 

We view earned early release / ROTL, linked to education attainment and employment opportunities, as the key mechanism to incentivise prisoners to participate in education and engage in their own personal journey. The effectiveness of earned early release / ROTL as an incentive is reliant upon collective organisations facilitating the completion of sentence plans.  All partners such as Offender Management Teams should support and adhere to the plan.

Employment links and the creation of employment pathways in partnership with probation delivery / Offender Manager teams and employers is another essential area to effectively incentivising participation. Linked education and employment pathways offers prisoners who are ready to address their offending behaviour real opportunities to gain employment and integrate into society. To support this, opportunities to undertake work and work-based learning in custody should be adopted, e.g. investment into development of Career Routeways with employers to make use of workshop space in custody. Linked to this, Novus has strong links with a large base of employers and would be interested to develop work based academies that provide a wage as an incentive to prisoners. 


Integrated and holistic approach to rewards

As referenced, introducing a comprehensive incentive programme, clearly linked to achievement, rehabilitation and release would incentivise participation in learning. Within this structure, there should also be shorter term rewards in place. In particular, feedback from our youth estate delivery teams tells us that rewards for children requires immediate application for success, such as phone credit distributed through a daily points-based system. This should then be followed up with longer term rewards to recognise sustained positive behaviors, e.g. group activities.

More generally, greater use of the Earned Privileges and Reward Scheme would support increased engagement with prison education, particularly for those whom earned early release or ROTL may not be an option. A structured privileges and rewards scheme would provide prisoners with clear goals, linked to their own personal journey of progression.

Proposed privileges and incentives may include (see appendix 1 for further suggestions):

Another key part of reward, pay structure for learning, should also be implemented to reflect that in the labour market, work pay structures mean that those using higher levels of skill receive more pay. Implementing such a structure would:




Appendix 1

Survey to ask prisoners which incentives they would value, Prisoner Policy Network: Prisoner Incentives report 2019

  1. Having the means to make own food, such as with a toaster or sandwich maker
  2. Access to buying books
  3. Free legal advice
  4. Quiet accommodation
  5. Extra gym sessions
  6. Reintroduction of certification 18 cert films (with reference to terrestrial TV showing certificate 18 films / shows)
  7. Access to a (monitored) Freeview box
  8. Access to new clothes more often than the current 6 monthly cycle
  9. Family and friends to be allowed to send in clothes
  10. Use of a controlled internet (YCG suggested “a form of restricted intranet should be designed to allow prisoners onto specific, authorised sites and/or IP restricted access”)
  11. Film or other social nights
  12. Take-away nights
  13. Skype calls using PIN only numbers
  14. MP3 players (controlled)
  15. More diverse range of sports
  16. Phone credit discounts
  17. Free calls to those with small children
  18. One session off per week for distance learners
  19. Time outside with green trees and grass not concrete yards
  20. Vending machines on the wings / be able to buy cakes
  21. Fridges on the wing
  22. Opportunity to access non-standard musical instrument like a violin
  23. Subscription to specialist magazines
  24. More time out of the cell
  25. Arts and crafts materials on the wing
  26. DVDs in possession
  27. Cooking clubs
  28. Pets in prison





How might apprenticeships work for those in custody?



Value of apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are arguably the most effective means of developing vocational skills that directly correspond to employers’ needs, and are a key learning route into employment for those in the community. Feedback from our employer engagement team (Novus Works) tells us that there is demand for apprenticeships from employers, specifically since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy (2016). However, prisoners currently have no access to start apprenticeships in custody due to the legal restrictions associated with signing contracts of employment while in custody (Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009).


Novus Prisoner Apprenticeship Pathway Pilot – North West

Novus ran a pilot to test the viability of supporting prisoners into apprenticeships on release in 2017. The pilot engaged 257 prisoners during 15 Apprenticeship engagement events managed by the Novus Works Team. The model consisted of the following six critical steps:

  1. Awareness raising and engagement of Prisoners
  2. Engagement of Employers
  3. Applications for Apprenticeship vacancies
  4. Interview/selection process
  5. Apprenticeship employment start
  6. In-apprenticeship support

The challenges the team experienced during this model include:


How apprenticeships in custody could work

The priority to enable prisoners to start apprenticeships in custody would be legislative change (e.g. allowing prisoners to sign contracts of employment) or through development of a new process which circumvents this issue. Linked to this, regulations need reviewing around drawing down funding for learners by education providers in custody, followed by apprenticeship providers in the community. We would advise joint working between MOJ, DfE and DWP to agree a funding mechanism. For example, the government might encourage mobilisation of Apprenticeship and Training Partnerships to allow employers and apprenticeship providers to come together to offer training through this vehicle.

A second priority should be to invest in the infrastructure to support prisoners in applying for apprenticeships. Key for success would be supporting the flow of information between prisoners and apprenticeship providers, e.g. via the facilitation of emails. Reviewing the operation of the learner loans system would also contribute to a fit for purpose infrastructure for operating apprenticeships.

Other practical requirements include allowing prisoners to attend work (and training) on Release on Temporary License; investing in the development of work based learning opportunities in custody in partnership with employers (e.g. prison industry workshops); and encouraging employers to hire prisoners through financial incentives or otherwise upon release.

Novus recognise this will take time to implement and would advocate introducing pre apprenticeship training in custody in the interim through traineeships, specifically in the youth estate.


Are current resources for prison learning meeting need?



As part of the current Prison Education Framework (PEF) contracts, the level of educational need throughout the adult prison estate is determined at prison level, by the local commissioner (e.g. the Governing Governor of the prison). Educational services are then commissioned accordingly. HMPPS is able to use its data management system, Curious, to ascertain the volume of need within each Establishment.

In Ofsted’s Annual Report 2019/20, it states that ‘(i)n the first year of governors’ autonomy in commissioning this provision, only a third of prisons inspected were found to deliver an appropriate curriculum to meet the needs of their prisoners’.[5] 

Novus’ experience in delivering education in prisons is extensive and long-standing, currently delivering education in 50 establishments. Consistently we see that funding, and in turn resources available to deliver education, are not enough to support the complexity of need that is presented by the prisoner cohort. Based on Authority data across 103 prisons as part of the PEF contract (from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020), approximately 24% of those assessed with a need for English and maths commence a qualification. In addition, approximately 70% of LDD screenings took place in 19/20 as access arrangements continue to be challenging in terms of movement of prisoners to the right place at the right time.

Further, we understand the impact that the environment can also have on the ability to meet need. For example, in smaller establishments with limited facilities for education it can be challenging to provide variety and choice. There is also often a smaller staffing resources which means a narrower curriculum.

In summary, it is unlikely that the level of funding available for prison education will ever fully meet the complexity and scale of need within the prison estate, however, we can be more targeted, and making sure that education is accessible to those who are furthest away from being able to improve their lives and economic success. Prison education is also underfunded compared to mainstream community provision. For example, a comparison of the current Adult Education Budget funding compared to the Prison Education Framework (PEF) shows that only one third of the funding available under AEB is available per learner in PEF. This also has a wider impact on attracting, recruiting and retaining good teachers.

How education is delivered within prisons, the majority on a roll-on/roll-off basis also means that learner groups can continually change, with often differing sentence lengths and individual needs that often results in a high churn of learners not experienced in mainstream education. Prison population pressures often also result in prisoners being moved part way through their programme.

Areas of concern further identified by the Ofsted Annual report were:

  1. Attendance – there was found to be ‘poor attendance and punctuality at education, skills and work-related activities’
  2. Recording – ‘around half of prisoners did not have their newly gained skills and knowledge adequately recorded by teaching staff, and therefore these went unrecognised’
  3. Information, advice and guidance – ‘too many prisons did not offer appropriate information, advice and guidance to prisoners to support their resettlement’

Specifically on attendance, learner attendance is too variable in our experience. Many opportunities for learning are lost due to regime challenges, such as late movement of prisons, interruptions to learner and prison transfers. We would like to see an increase in attendance within our provision to ensure we effectively respond to the level of need as much as possible. This could be achieved through effective collaboration between the Governor and education provider, such as shared targets for education attendance and allocation. 




Education-specific resources

  1. Digital infrastructure:

As the largest provider of education within prisons, we recognise our responsibility to drive forward improved ICT capacity and the potential to transform the delivery of education through a range of innovations, including interactive resources, tablet-based learning and online assessments to support accreditation. Substantial investment to complete upgrades and bring prison technology in line with digital advancements that are present within mainstream education and modern life is essential.

As part of the Prison Education Framework, Novus has invested circa £13m and is currently modernising 43 PEF prisons to enable access to the latest hardware and software that will provide a comparable learning experience to that of mainstream education (e.g. access to Windows10).

We are also working closely with technology organisation MegaNexus who is leading on the development of Virtual Campus 2.0. Virtual Campus is a digital learning platform that can be accessed by offenders. It is currently under development and will provide a Moodle-based Virtual Learning Environment. This will provide teachers with the ability to develop interactive learning content, and will provide offenders with a digital Personal Learning Plan so significant developments are in progress. However, there still remains a number of challenges that are outlined below.


The current prison estate, ranging from Victorian buildings to modern, purpose-built facilities, inhibits increased use of technology in a number of ways. The age of prison buildings varies and some are listed sites, which means that it is often challenging to implement the required IT infrastructure to support the latest IT solutions. 

In addition to the restrictions posed by the physical prison estate, the introduction of new technologies is often met with caution, making it difficult to implement new IT solutions. Establishments can be risk averse to ICT dependent on the population of the establishment and its security category. Risk assessment for some prisoners in certain establishment can also result in a blanket policy for IT usage, which makes it easier for the establishment to monitor usage and security. 

Further, the emerging digital skills sector often commands skills of future employees that are not necessarily supported by traditional qualifications, coding for example. We must, therefore, look to address the restrictions around being able to teach in these types of areas, from both a funding and security perspective. 

There is limited understanding around the potential of ICT in education within the prison environment outside of education, which will require further development to realise the benefits and to ensure offenders are able to function digitally in society and at work. The requirement for connectivity, in particular, access to the internet for prisoners, is a pressing need particularly within open prisons. For those prisoners on ROTL, they are able to access the internet on a daily basis, however, when they return to prison this access is restricted. This ‘all or nothing’ approach could be tempered with the introduction of controlled access to the internet in the majority of prisons. We also recommend that increased use of internet is used to support the holistic needs of learners, including family links, casework, continuing education and employment. Controlled communication with families and employers will ensure that resettlement is fully supported. 

Integration with IT infrastructure outside of education

Novus recognises that there are IT infrastructure developments in progress outside of prison education and we feel that that it is essential that the IT infrastructure in place should be fit for all purposes, especially education. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an increased urgency regarding access to in-cell learning. In-cell systems allow prisoners to quickly and easily carry out daily tasks, such as ordering food or making phone calls through in-cell telephony. The development of this infrastructure could also be used to support learning, and tablets provided for use in cells would allow them to manage their timetables and access learning services.

We also see the potential in increased use of technology to support family links through video conferencing, facilitating a virtual visit. 

Facilitating regular family visits has significant positive outcomes both for the offender and their families. However, facilitating family visits continues to be challenging for HMPPS. We recommend the use of technology to help solve this, through “Virtual Visits”. We have explored this in some detail and have a clear vision on how it could be used securely to encourage family links, e.g. a virtual parents evening for the young people population and to facilitate transition and resettlement needs.

The technology for this already exists and is entirely fit for purpose and tested. While we recognise the initial set-up costs, virtual visits would lead to longer-term cost efficiencies by significantly reducing travel costs for families and external agencies.

The use of virtual visits can also be expanded to include:


  1. Facilities and environment:

Novus has experience of working in a large number of prisons and has a significant understanding of the overall standard in prison education facilities. A significant proportion of the prison estate has physical infrastructure that is not fit for purpose and this extends to education facilities. Novus recommends that improvement and updating of education facilities becomes a core priority of the renewal of the national prison estate and that learning delivery needs should be a key factor in the design requirements under the new Prison Estates Transformation Programme. 

The prison population is diverse and has a diverse range of learning needs, which in turn need to be met through a wide range of delivery techniques. Some learners will always require a classroom-based learning environment where a dedicated learning environment is required, for example, functional skills delivery or basic ICT training. However, many offenders have learning needs that do not require classroom-based delivery.

Maximising the potential of the full prison estate for education and increasing access to technology will drive improvement in prison education. Underpinning this is the ongoing necessity to deliver learning that is relevant to the modern world and critically the modern labour market and needs of employers. By utilising the facilities available within the prison for education, this will offer valuable opportunities in vocational training and real work environments.

We also advocate for better use of libraries. Libraries offer valuable resources for learning, but in most instances continue to be run with local authority resources and offer dated or insufficient resources. Consequently, libraries do not always directly support learning delivered by Prison Education. The current reach and use of libraries could easily be extended. For example, libraries should be used as venues for drop-in sessions for learning support. They should offer resources so offenders can work independently (especially for Higher Level Learning and OU provision), and offer controlled use of ICT equipment.


  1. People:

Teachers are the most important resource within prison education.  Novus is the largest and most experienced employer of teachers within a prison education setting in the UK, employing approximately 1,400 teachers and trainers nationally.

Within the current PEF contract, Novus recognises and responds to the critical importance of teachers and their ability to teach to a high standard. We prioritise frontline delivery resources and ensure that contact time with learners sufficiently meets the needs of the learner and awarding organisations.

We have invested significantly (2% of overall payroll costs) in specialist Continuous Professional Development for teachers as part of the new PEF contract. Key successes to date include:


For future improvements to further drive the standard of teaching within prisons, we recommend:


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



If education provision is assessed as not meeting standards, it is first most important to explore why it is not meeting standards. Prison education is delivered in a complex and often chaotic environment. It is essential to understand the environment and the challenging factors that can affect the standards of education delivered.

For example, there are currently no targets around attendance in education, nor targets for allocating offenders to learning. If offenders are unable to attend education, there is wider impact on the quality of education that is delivered. This impact extends beyond the individual in terms of learning missed, but on their class peers and maintaining good class dynamics.  Good attendance is linked to better achievement and progress.

There are a wide range of environmental factors that can impact education. Some examples are included below:

Given the complex nature of prison education delivery, dynamic measures and mechanisms are required to ensure that environmental challenges, such as non-attendance and low allocation are a key consideration in how we monitor the quality of education on a day-to-day basis. Within current prison education contracts, we would welcome the introduction of additional measures to support participation through shared targets for Governors and providers to drive participation and attendance. 

Contractual mechanisms

Under the Prison Education Framework (PEF) and Dynamic Procurement System (DPS) (for outsourced education delivery), there are a number of contractual mechanisms which seek to monitor and improve standards where required. 

Ofsted grades

The contractual mechanisms require that education provision is at least an Ofsted Grade 2 (Good) when inspected as part of the HMIP Inspection process. In previous contracts, such as the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS), Ofsted awarded a grade for the Learning and Skills provider within the establishment. Now, under the new contract there is one single grade awarded to the establishment for the overall effectiveness of purposeful activity. It is no longer possible for the outsourced education provider to understand their grade or performance. This means that it is now more difficult for the provider to identify clear areas for improvement and where responsibility lies. It can also be demotivating for the provider and their teachers, as the opportunity to understand strengths and improvements is no longer there explicitly. 

As a result of this, Novus has developed its own internal quality metrics to protect and support the quality of education delivery. This includes completing an Annual Support Review to support colleagues within each establishment to continue to maintain and improve Ofsted good quality standards. 

Within the young people’s estate, Novus delivers within three out of four of the YOIs at HMYOIs Cookham Wood, Wetherby and Werrington. Within these establishments, Novus is responsible for delivering all aspects of education and receives an Ofsted grade, which is attributable to us as an organisation and reflects our performance.

Performance management

Within the PEF and DPS contracts, there are also more traditional contractual mechanisms, such as Service Levels (which drive a quality performance payment each quarter), and Key Performance Indicators linked to learner attainment and completion. 

There is also a formal improvement process, which is triggered by the Ministry of Justice issuing a Notice to Improve to the provider where under performance has been identified. An action plan is then required to drive improvement in a timely manner to return the service to the acceptable standard. Progress against the action plan must be accepted by the Ministry of Justice.

Improving standards

Where quality standards are identified as not meeting education standards, we recommend the immediate course of action could be to respond in a multi-disciplinary manner, bringing together all interested parties, such as HMPPS and education providers. The purpose would be to assess areas of concern and support. Continuity and consistency are key to rapid improvement. Enhanced support teams could be identified and deployed (from both HMPPS and the education provider) to assist with improvement plans. 

This joined-up collaborative approach may be more effective than more typical contractual measures. For example, within the current PEF contract, the Ministry of Justice is able to withhold up to 5% of the contract value if Service Levels are not met. This may be counter-intuitive to improving quality, whereby more resources may be needed to make the required improvement and, therefore, funding is required more than ever to bring about important change.

Good education cultures that exist within schools, colleges and universities are underpinned by collaboration and partnership, which could also be reflected as part of the structures which support prison education. 


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



Context – varying infrastructure


We understand the need for improvements in the prison estate and infrastructure, in line with the Government’s Prison Estate Transformation agenda to improve and modernise and improve the prison estate, to ensure prisons are fit for purpose, provide value for money, and meet the needs of prisoners.

Novus is the largest Prison Education Framework (PEF) provider, delivering across 43 prisons in 7 PEF regions; 3 Youth Offending Institutions, 1 Secure Training Centre and HMP Berwyn in Wales. The prisons we deliver in vary significantly in terms of size and infrastructure, including a large number of older establishments (e.g. HMP Pentonville), and new, purpose-built prisons (e.g. HMP Berwyn).

Delivering education in a wide range of prison environments has provided an understanding of how the variability impacts on learning. We outline our key thinking below.


Impact on learning


Prison infrastructure has a significant impact on learning, both directly and indirectly.

Direct impact

Environments need to be conducive to learning, to keep prisoners engaged in education. Older establishments with outdated education departments are less welcoming and engaging, therefore this is likely to have a negative impact on learners’ motivations to learn.

Infrastructure also has a significant impact on accessibility to education. Larger prisons (e.g. HMP Lindholme) often have education departments situated separately from accommodation blocks, with considerable distance between. This can have a negative impact on ability to access education, e.g. if movement is restricted due to prison officer shortage. Having to travel between education and the wings can be distracting and have a negative impact on learners’ motivation.  As highlighted by Dame Sally Coates in the 2016 Prison Education Review, the ‘design’ of the prison needs to be addressed ‘in terms of the way its lay-out facilitates learning, and the way in which time is allocated for lessons’ (Coates Review, 3.11).

Establishment location also has an impact on learning. Education curriculums are informed by local labour market information, and may vary across the estate in terms of wider courses offered. For example, HMP Northumberland has an Engineering focused curriculum, which reflects job growth in resettlement areas.


Indirect impact

An indirect consequence of outdated infrastructure is staff recruitment and retention. If the infrastructure is particularly outdated (e.g. HMP Pentonville), the prison is likely to struggle to recruit and retain high calibre teaching staff.

“Although evidence indicates that education can constitute a distinct space in the context of a prison, how positive this space is depends on the tutor and the atmosphere they cultivate; a different space does not automatically imply a positive, pro-social space for all prisoners.” (A Realist Model of Prison Education, Growth, and Desistance: A New Theory – by Kirstine Szifris, Chris Fox, Andrew Bradbury, Manchester Metropolitan University, June 2018). 

Whilst the environment in which learning takes place is important, i.e. a positive environment will engage and motivate prisoners, the quality of the teacher, and the learner/Teacher relationship is one of the most important aspects in motivating prisoners. A good teacher can engage learners even if the environment is outdated, or not conducive to learning. Therefore, outdated infrastructure may have an indirect impact on learning due to the challenges with recruiting good teachers to work in such environments.

The infrastructure of a prison, particularly within the older estate (e.g. HMP Hindley), can make it challenging to set up IT facilities for staff and learners. As a result, this impacts on quality of education and learning. Access to IT (both for staff and learners) has an impact on education delivery. For learners, access to IT is important to support education delivery (e.g. access to online courses, and opportunities to build digital skills for the workplace). For staff, IT access is important to support training & development opportunities (e.g. e-learning modules), and to access prison/HMPPS data systems, e.g. to input learner data. Limited IT access may impact on effective information sharing about learners, e.g. support requirements/additional needs, which impacts on quality of learning.


Case study: HMP Berwyn

Novus supported the design and set up of a new purpose-built education department at HMP Berwyn in 2017. The education department was designed to have a ‘college’ like feel and provide a warm and welcoming environment so that learners would not feel like they were in a prison, and would be motivated to learn. This was recognised by Estyn as part of the inspection which was graded ‘Good’.

Case study: HMP Hindley transformation

Novus undertook a transformation of the education department at HMP Hindley in response to a number of issues with learner behaviour, class disruptions, and non-attendance. Novus designed new engaging displays (shown overleaf), e.g. quotes on the walls from inspirational celebrities (e.g. Stormzy); classroom displays using bright Novus colours; learning walkways with bright coloured paths directing learners to their classroom; redesigning the library as a ‘learning hub’. 

This transformation of the environment, supported by further changes (e.g. delivering part of induction in the library), improved engagement. For example, staff provided feedback on noticeable differences in learners’ behaviour in classrooms; and the withdrawal/drop-out rate decreased from 30 to 6 in July 2018.




HMP Hindley transformation





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



Delivery in public and privately run prisons

Novus is an experienced provider across public sector and privately run prisons. We deliver education across the different types of custodial establishments, including:


Similarities and common challenges

Public sector prisons and both Group 1 and Group 2 private prisons have a number of similarities and shared challenges.



Local autonomy and ownership

Across both public and private prisons, prison Governors (public sector), and Directors (private sector) have ownership and are able to make decisions on how education is run in their prisons, and what courses are delivered (outside of core education, e.g. literacy and numeracy).

In public sector prisons (and private prisons with PEF contracts), Governors can choose which education courses to commission (e.g. vocational, art, and personal/social development courses) via the PEDPS Framework. This enables Governors to design a needs-led curriculum (e.g. introducing new courses which fit with LMI, or in response to a changing population) and engage smaller, local providers to deliver education.

Private prisons with privately operated education contracts also have control over what courses are delivered, and work closely with the education provider to request and implement new courses, and adapt delivery methods (e.g. roll-on, roll-off delivery).


Differences between public sector and Group 1 private prisons

There are no significant differences in education provision in public sector prisons, and private prisons with PEF contracts.

The curriculum and delivery processes are similar, as Common Awarding Bodies (CAB) are in place for core education subjects; and additional courses are commissioned via the PEDPS. Therefore, differences in education curriculums at different prisons are due to differing needs (e.g. prison category/function), or local labour market drives. Prison workshops/industries may also be different in private prisons as these are separate to PEF delivery.

Quality assurance processes for education are also very similar, with PEF KPIs set and monitored with HMPPS.

One of the key differences in private prisons is that the relationship between the education provider and the onsite HMPPS Controller is key – as they have ownership of education. As there is not a direct equivalent role in public sector prisons, education providers will liaise directly with the Head of Learning and Skills in public sector prisons.


Differences between public sector and Group 2 private prisons

Staff and relationships

The key relationship for the education provider in Group 2 private prisons, is with the private contractor’s Head of Learning and Skills. Novus liaises directly with the contractor on a day-to-day basis rather than with HMPPS as is the case in the public sector and Group 1 private prisons. 

The wider staff structure is also different between public and private prisons. For example, Hub Managers are in place in the public sector, whereas Senior Team Leaders are in place in private prisons. In public prisons, there is a central HMPPS team responsible for national management and oversight, whereas prisons are managed locally in the private estate.

Contracts and funding

Whilst PEF (previously OLASS) education contracts are re-commissioned by HMPPS every 4-7 years, education contracts in the private estate run for much longer. Both Altcourse and Rye Hill education contracts have been in place for 20+ years, which helps to create a positive sense of partnership between Novus and G4S.

KPIs and targets are set differently in Group 2 private prisons. Targets in each prison for qualifications and attendance efficiency are negotiated for between the HMPPS Controller, G4S and the education provider (Novus). Private education contracts also have 12 service delivery ‘mandations’ set by G4S that apply to all establishments.


Funding in Group 2 private prisons is agreed between G4S and education provider at the beginning of each contract year, with a set amount of ‘hours’ purchased for education delivery.

Whilst overall funding in the private estate may be higher (budget is set by the contractor), there can be disparities between funding and delivery requirements/expectations where private prisons are required to align with PEF requirements (e.g. introduction of Curious system) as changes need to be incorporated in previously determined budgets.



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



Provision effectiveness in managing different sentence lengths

The prison estate and Prison Education Framework contract is structured to support movement of prisoners across the estate, and provide a tailored curriculum which reflects length of sentence. For example:

This structure is largely effective at managing different sentence lengths for a number of learners. However, tailored curriculums based on establishment function are not a fit-for-all solution. Short courses delivered at Cat B Local establishments often have poorer outcomes than other establishments, e.g. Womens Estate, or Category C prisons due to increased withdrawal rates.

Furthermore, where learners’ are not in the appropriate establishment based on sentence length, their education will be affected.

Case study: HMP Durham designed a specific curriculum to meet the needs of the high-churn remand population, e.g. introduction of short, non-accredited roll-on/roll-off courses. However, in practice the population changed significantly over time, which meant the curriculum did not meet the needs of the changing population, e.g. a high number of longer stay prisoners.


Annual delivery plans: Each prison is able to design a bespoke curriculum which meets the needs of the learner population. Curriculums are set out in Annual Delivery Plans (PEF C4 Schedule) and can be adapted to reflect changing need. For example, the PEDPS enables Governors to commission additional education courses, e.g. in response to LMI or a change in the population. This enables curriculums to be tailored to fit sentence length, as Governors can specify course length and delivery style, e.g. 3 month art course commissioned at HMP Moorland in January 2020.


Provision effectiveness in managing prisoner movement


Continuation of learning can be disrupted from prisoners moving/transferring between different prisons. The use of Common Awarding Bodies (CAB) – designated examining bodies for specific subjects – supports a seamless transfer as it ensures that learners can easily continue qualifications at another prison. This is particularly important when prisoners transfer to prisons in a different PEF Lot (region), as there may be a different education provider in place. However, although the CAB framework provides consistency, the curriculums vary between different establishments. This impacts on continuation of learning, and may disadvantage learners moving to a smaller establishment with less courses on offer.



Digital information sharing

Effective digital information sharing is important to ensure that staff at a transferring prison are aware of a learners’ background and can allocate them to an appropriate education pathway. Digital Personal Learning Plans (PLPs) are in place in a small number of establishments, however these are not used widely.

The Curious data system is now in place nationally (at all prisons with PEF education contracts), which provides a consistent information sharing process and enables all staff to access the same data systems at every establishment. However, challenges at site level can often impact on the quality and accuracy of data, e.g. reduced staff impacting on data input.


Performance data

Movement between different prisons also impacts on accurate data capture. For example, in PEF education delivery, success rates are impacted by withdrawal/drop-out rates, which are often high (averaging c.30%). This means success rates at specific establishments may be negatively impacted if there is a particularly high churn, e.g. success rates at Category B Local establishments are often lower.  


Youth Custody

Learners in the youth estate are disproportionately impacted by movement between prisons, when transferring from a Youth Offending Institution (15 – 18 years) to the adult estate (18+). Adult estate has less budget and resources, which mean learners often do not receive the same level of support (e.g. less one-to-one support due to less staffing) when they transfer to the adult estate; and often cannot continue the same courses as the curriculum is different.


Case study: HMYOI Cookham Wood

An example of good practice in Youth Custody is HMYOI Cookham Wood. To support the increasing remand population, the establishment has introduced more non-accredited specific courses including Citizenship. This is focused on maximizing learners’ length of time in custody through non-accredited skills development, and minimizing disruption when transferring to another establishment, e.g. adult estate.


In summary, all prisons, across adult and youth estate, need to ensure curriculums are tailored to reflect the prisoner population. This includes tailored curriculums which meet the needs of learners with varying sentence lengths, and flexible delivery methods which are suitable for prisoners moving between establishments (e.g. roll-on/roll-off delivery).

January 2021










[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/633198/pnc-ilr.pdf

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/217412/impact-employment-reoffending.pdf

[3] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/642244/farmer-review-report.pdf



[5] 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#further-education-and-skills