Written evidence submitted by Melanie Jameson

Throughout, my comments relate only to Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia and Asperger Syndrome (all of which frequently overlap) – and refer to the normal (non-Covid) scenario).


Features of these common developmental conditions, along with a case study can be found at the end of this submission.



Structure of this submission


  1. Introduction, including my background, and Summary


  1. Submission, based on items in in your Terms of Reference


  1. Features of Specific Learning Difficulties and Accommodations


  1. Case Study on overlapping nature of Specific Learning Difficulties


  1. Checklist for Visual Stress



Two resources referred to in this submission are both to be found on the home page of http://www.dyslexia-malvern.co.uk

Meeting the Needs of People with ‘Specific’ Learning Difficulties in Prisons

Further Information to accompany MoJ guidance on LDD, 2019


Specific Learning Difficulties in Prisons – 8 BOOKLETS for staff working in prisons

Outline and Introduction, 2019

Introduction, including my background, and summary


My area of expertise is what was called Specific Learning Difficulties/Differences, namely Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia and Asperger Syndrome; they are now generally subsumed within the term ‘Neurodiversity’. However ‘Neurodivergence’ is more accurate, contrasting with the majority of us, who are ‘Neurotypical’.


I have been using the term ‘Specific Learning Difficulties/Differences’ (SpLD) in my materials because HMPPS (and NOMS before it), have been locked into the terminology: LDD or LD/LD (Learning Difficulties and/or Disabilities) which is hugely confusing since the two similarly named groups are distinct in how they present and what support pathways are required. The first population includes people whose areas of difficulty are ’specific’, leaving other areas of functioning unaffected. In the second group, the markers are intellectual and social impairment which have a profound impact on daily activities.


As you will know, prisoners with SpLD are very much over-represented in the CJS. This was confirmed in 2005 by the Learning & Skills Council research study The Incidence of Hidden Disabilities in the Prison Population, undertaken by Dyslexia Action, which covered a range of SpLD in a variety of prisons. It concluded that almost 20% had ‘a hidden disability, affecting learning and employment, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’. This will overlap with the statistics quoted by the Committee Chair, namely over 40% of adult prisoners and almost 90% of children in YOIs have been permanently excluded from school. Unaddressed SpLD also contribute to the low levels of literacy and numeracy found in prisons. Unsurprisingly, due to their negative experience of schooling, many prisoners with SpLD avoid class-based education – something I shall cover later.


From the mid-90s I became aware that information/guidance/training on this overlapping family of conditions was lacking throughout the CJS which typically covered Learning Disabilities with their comprehensive impairments but not these much more widespread ‘specific’ developmental conditions.


Having taught in prisons in the late 80s and noticed the lack of awareness, I contributed to the Home Office Prison Focus Group (late 90s) and started to produce training and resources for prison tutors. It then became apparent that there appeared to be no official guidance on SpLD anywhere in the CJS. My working life has been focused on supplying training, resources and guidance in as many sectors of the CJS as I could establish contact with, in particular the judiciary and HMCTS, then (former) Probation Trusts. More recently I have returned to my long-held aim of pushing for the identification of all prisoners with SpLD, not just those individuals who opt for Education.


Your inquiry refers to ‘the decline in prison education’ and asks: ‘what more can be done to ensure those in custody can be equipped with the skills they need to transform their lives?’. Until the Coates Review, issues relating to SpLD were barely on the prison education and resettlement radar (despite Dyslexia being flagged up in successive OLASS contracts), but this finally changed in the 2019 Prison Education Framework contracts; these mandated that ‘LDD’ prisoners be identified and supported. After a year’s delay I am delighted that HMPPS now has two tools under development which are currently being trialled: the Rapid LDD (initial) Screener and the Detailed LDD (follow-up) Screener. The later includes associated abilities and includes support strategies. Both are suitable for custodial settings. Consideration has been given to methods of presentation to get round issues of poor literacy and current lack of face-to-face contact.



In order to ensure that ‘access to training and education is made a priority, aiding the rehabilitation process and giving prisoners the tools to improve their lives’ and that skills needed by employer and the economy’ are developed during time in custody, tutors, trainers, resettlement and careers staff need to acquire a practical understanding of how to address and accommodate the specific difficulties associated with SpLD – and how to build up, value and deploy the abilities that often co-occur in these individuals.

During the lockdown, there is no reason why tutors and trainers should not receive this CDP via zoom.


My submission includes concerns expressed by tutors, disability and equality issues, factors that affect prisoners with SpLDs contemplating a return to education, ways of building confidence and motivation, appreciating different learning styles and constraints, creating an SpLD-friendly learning environment and examples of projects, interventions and resources. The important issue of Visual Stress, which affects so many of these potential learners is flagged up.



2. Submission, based on items in in your Terms of Reference

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

To my knowledge, young people with SpLD rarely, if ever, gain support via SEND.


I advise the Committee to investigate whether the Additional Learning Support mechanism is still operating and is well-funded. If not, to ascertain what is proposed in its place.


A survey by the Adult Dyslexia Organisation of adult learners with dyslexia established that only classes by tutors with an understanding of dyslexia were worth attending. When the same organisation canvassed prison tutors, responses revealed that many challenges were unresolved. Tutor concerns included:


Although this was in 2007, many of these issues do not appear to have been addressed. In fact, things have got worse in some areas– for example when the careers service lost its prison contracts. Rather than this service being compulsory, via the Prison Education Framework, it now appears to be ‘extra’ via the Dynamic Purchasing System.


Please note that (as in schools) learners with SpLD should undertake courses at their intellectual level with the necessary support, rather than at their (lower) achievement level – which they tend to find boring and unmotivating. Under the heading of ‘Resources for staff on SpLD’ I shall outline my materials which are designed to help staff working in prisons in various roles to provide appropriate support.


Finally, it is important to point out that this is also an equality and disability issue. The definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010 fits many people with SpLD, namely: 'a person has a disability if he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day to day activities.'  This ‘protected characteristic’ status entitles the individual to ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ‘remove barriers’. The case study at the end of this submission gives an example of how this might be approached.


Prison staff should be made aware of the three-part duty to make reasonable adjustments as outlined in the Equality Act

a)     Changing practices, policies and procedures which place disabled people at a substantial disadvantage

b)     Overcoming barriers caused by the physical environment

c)     Making reasonable steps to provide auxiliary aids or services.


What should education and training providers do to comply with this legislation?

A useful checklist is provided in Supporting adult learners with dyslexia (NIACE e-guidelines, 9), pp.18,19. Here the role of ‘differentiated learning’ is stressed, together with useful information, for instance ensuring that tutors can change the background colours in Word and Powerpoint to the preferences expressed by their learners. Further examples of reasonable adjustments might include assistive technology (such as readback software with headphones), extra time in tests and/or the availability of test papers in alternative formats.


The situation with the Prison Service Instruction that covers disability, PSI 32/2011 Ensuring Equality, is most unsatisfactory. The numbering informs us that this PSI was designed to run from 2011-15 when it should have been renewed. Instead, nothing has happened as NOMS, then MoJ/HMPPS, place it on hold until various ‘new arrangements settle in’.  I have been following this up over the last six years and made suggestions (which were accepted by the former CEO of NOMS), as to how to include SpLD in the Appendices alongside Learning Disabilities which are, as usual, well covered. These PSIs are the standards to which the prison service should be held, so it is unacceptable that they are neglected in this way.



How can successful participation in education be incentivised in prisons?


My comments deal principally with maximising chances of participation through a better understanding of SpLD, rather than deploying incentives.


The main barrier to successful participation in education is lacking the courage to sign up for a class in the first place. This is linked to the issue of stress which is triggered when people put themselves in situations where they feel anxious (in this case joining a class, despite past humiliations associated with education). Specialists have noticed that the effects of stress appear to be more debilitating to people with SpLD. One explanation for this is that the operation of coping strategies in everyday life uses up much of their mental energy so that few reserves remain to draw on in demanding situations. Debilitating levels of stress are especially associated with Dyspraxia and Asperger Syndrome. Effort must therefore be put into identifying and trying to address possible sources of stress associated with participation in education.


It is also important to take on board that most learners with SpLDs in custody have little experience of success, feel that they are beyond help and are held back by the fear that they will expose their weaknesses. Generating motivation and raising confidence levels are therefore essential ingredients of effective learning and training programmes. The most encouraging thing for a cautious, reluctant learner is an early taste of success.


Motivation is a very individual aspect of learning. Most learners will have their own ideas of what they want to achieve but not always know how to get there. Many dyslexic people find it hard to be motivated unless there is an element of personal interest and choice in what they study. In addition, learning based on what is meaningful to the learner is more likely to be retained. A selection of topics should therefore be offered where possible.


Confidence and motivation can be promoted in the following ways:

Two confidence-building handouts: Ten Tips and Ten Steps are available on the Dyslexia Consultancy Malvern website www.dyslexia-malvern.co.uk/resources


Different approaches to teaching/training are needed, in order to maximise chances of success by aligning with the learner's best way of acquiring skills. Preferred learning styles may be primarily auditory, visual or hands-on. Furthermore, some prisoners have said that they ‘cannot handle learning in a group’ but will engage with distance learning. Unfortunately demand outstrips availability of this type of course. Offerings from the Virtual Campus are another sort of flexible learning, but severely limited to would-be learners with access to a laptop/pc. Others find the support of peer mentors in class helps them make progress.


Given negative experiences of schooling, many prisoners are more attracted to vocational training and technology courses, if they have the (tested) skill level to access them. Poor numeracy, or even Dyscalculia, may become an unexpected barrier when, to their dismay, calculations, estimates and measurements turn out to be an inherent part of the course rather than practical skills alone. Tackling the numeracy elements in an SpLD-friendly way and through informed on-course support will make the difference between success and failure.


Due to a growing emphasis on increasing employability, studying for self-fulfilment had been decreasing, but this appears to have been temporarily reversed during lockdown.



Are current resources for prison learning meeting need?

a)     Resources for staff about Specific Learning Difficulties


Staff across departments (education and career guidance, workshops, resettlement, Key Workers and SMT) require practical information on SpLD in order to address learning and everyday needs. Unless they are knowledgeable about the range of SpLD, it is unlikely that the necessary reasonable adjustments and accommodations will be provided.


In the light of the 2019 reforms, I have approached the development of suitable resources  in two ways:

  1. Further Information for Governors and SMT to assist them in fulfilling some of the ‘Mandations’ relating to SpLD inherent in the new arrangements; this document was circulated by MoJ early in 2019.
  2. A series of 8 BOOKLETS flagging up Specific Learning Difficulties in Prisons’ to assist staff. These have been freely available on my website and disseminated in various ways since April 2019


Both resources can be freely downloaded from the home page of my website www.dyslexia-malvern.co.uk


BOOKLETS 3-8, in particular, deal with aspects of support, as listed below:

No 3. Principles of Support for Specific Learning Difficulties

No 4. Support for English/Literacy and Maths/Numeracy

No 5. Support for ICT and Virtual Campus

No 6. Support for Foreign Nationals who may have Specific Learning Difficulties

No 7 Specific Learning Difficulties in the contexts of Disability / Equality / Diversity / Accessibility

No 8. Work Preparation & Resettlement.


For example, BOOKLET 3 Issues of Support & Accessibility is broken down into: Barriers to learning, Effects of stress, Drawing on associated talents, Improving confidence and motivation, Overview of support strategies (these comprise structured multisensory approaches, frequent feedback, developing organisational skills, support for Dyspraxia, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, and the Case Study reproduced at the end of this submission).


BOOKLET 7 has a long section on Reasonable Adjustments and SpLD-friendly Approaches, laying out five features of an SpLD-friendly learning environment. These consist of staff awareness and SpLD-friendly adjustments in the following areas: giving instructions; admin & induction; support in learning; features of learning materials; forms & notices; accreditation and testing.


It is now appreciated that features which make for an SpLD-friendly environment also benefit other learners. These approaches therefore increase accessibility overall, improving chances of success for many prisoners both in learning / training and in aspects of daily life.


b)     Appropriate resources for learners with Specific Learning Difficulties


In the past, there have been a number of SpLD-friendly initiatives, projects and collections of learner resources in several prisons. None of them are still available.

They included:

Touch-type, Read and Spell www.readandspell.com - a proven successful multisensory approach to learning spelling, reading, touch-typing and computing skills. First tried in Pentonville Prison, it was found to raise skills levels and self-esteem, so was taken up by other institutions. Initial training on the system was needed and daily practice was necessary to make progress. At HMYOI Rochester, prisoners found to be dyslexic were offered a place on Touch Type Read and Spell (TTRS) together with weekly individual tuition with a specialist tutor. Rochester also arranged for an OCN accredited course for a group of staff on supporting the dyslexic learner.

An initiative at HMP Maidstone included the appointment of a full-time member of the Education staff, to ensure identification of and appropriate provision for prisoners with SpLD. All education staff attended ‘in house’ dyslexia awareness training and some took the CfBT course: Supporting Dyslexic Learners which has an Offenders section (for which I was the lead writer, this now needs updating). In addition, a bank of dyslexia-friendly resources was established.

One excellent intervention is still widely available across the prison estate: Turning Pages, the Shannon Trust Reading Plan (formerly known as Toe by Toe), in which trained peer mentors work with poor/non-readers to guide them through a structured reading programme.

c)     Visual Stress


This is a frequent correlate of Dyslexia and Dyspraxia, whereby reading is impeded by characteristic symptoms – an example of the resulting distortion is reproduced below.

Symptoms can include losing the place, a perceived movement or blurring of print, glare from white paper, headaches associated with reading and difficulties reading from a computer screen. Many people with migraines and epilepsy are also affected by Visual Stress.

Once an eye test has ruled out the need for reading glasses, it is often necessary to explore further. For instance, some people benefit from using coloured overlays – which education departments should be able to supply.

My Visual Stress checklist for poor readers is reproduced at the end of this submission.


Another important factor relates to ensuring the accessibility of written materials, because Visual Stress is aggravated by certain features of text. For this reason, key principles of good practice should be followed in all learning resources, forms and notices. The following guidance is lifted from my information for Governors and SMTs and relates to Mandation 12 which states that ‘forms and digital systems must be available and/or designed with suitable adaptations to support those with dyslexia and other LDD’.

General Guidance for Written Communications & Digital Text

      clear uncluttered text, laid out in a consistent fashion

      short sentences; main points picked out in bold (not capitals)

      graphics to flag up content

      boxed summaries of key information

      any shading should be pale and only overprinted by black text

      flow-charts to explain procedures and diagrams where appropriate

      lists of ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ are more useful than continuous text

      glossary of terms & abbreviations provided at the start of each section.

The following points of good practice should help to minimise Visual Stress

Summary of Adaptations to Forms and Notices

    DO USE


  • adequate sized fonts at least size 12
  • small fonts (below size 12)
  • good spacing, gaps between paragraphs
  • cramped text
  • justify left (leave a ragged right margin)
  • justified or centred text
  • selective use of bold and bullet points
  • printing whole words / phrases in capitals
  • diagrams, charts
  • ‘fancy’ or unusual fonts and italics
  • pictograms and graphics
  • printing in either red or green

Aim for a clear uncluttered page

  Avoid  busy, over-crowded pages





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


I wish to mention just one situation that came to my notice in at least one prison. The absence of toilet facilities in the education block and lack of uniformed staff to escort learners back to the nearest toilets, led to learners being locked into Education for the whole three hour session. This was a major disincentive to anyone who thought that they might need the toilets more frequently.

Surely this barrier to participation in education could have been overcome!




Appendices follow

3.Features of Specific Learning Difficulties + Accommodations


4.Case Study on overlapping nature of Specific Learning Difficulties


5.Checklist for Visual Stress




3. Features of Specific Learning Difficulties + Accommodations 

Features of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD] 

ADHD has three major aspects:

 Inattention:  distractibility, problems remaining focused, failing to pay attention, missing the detail, not realising the consequences of their actions or taking account of feedback. They may have ‘switched off’ and appear bored or indifferent.

 Impulsivity: poor inhibition, interrupting, blurting out comments. Chaotic. Erratic and unpredictable behaviour.

 Hyperactivity: restless, attention seeking, accident- & addiction-prone, risky behaviour

 Where there is no hyperactivity  (Attention Deficit Disorder), the individual seems dreamy, ‘spaced-out’ and lacking in concentration


Accommodating ADHD

- Allow for regular breaks to restore concentration. Ask him/her to let you know when it is no longer possible to pay attention.

- Distractibility might lessen if s/he is allowed to doodle or jot during formal interactions.

- Try and provide an environment with minimal distractions. Seat the individual away from windows.

- Do not be put off by fidgeting and signs of restlessness. S/he may manage to communicate better if allowed to move around.

- ‘Chunking’ i.e. breaking information up into smaller sections

- Medication can help – do they need an appointment with Healthcare?


Main Features of Dyscalculia   [inability to grasp number concepts]

Dyscalculia affects many areas of everyday life, these include:

      time telling

      handling money, budgeting, dealing with finances

      using pin numbers and dialling phone numbers

      remembering personal information (such as date of birth, addresses and post codes) and  recalling personal numbers such as phone numbers, postal codes

      travel (ROTL): mistakes with bus, platform or road numbers, making sense of timetables

      reading or recording appointment times and dates correctly

      number aspects of vocational training, work  preparation courses etc.


Accommodating Dyscalculia

- Where possible words should be used in place of numbers eg 9/3/19 shown as 9th March 2019. Cards should be provided showing the number as a word, next to the digit from 1-20, then 30,40 etc up to 100 and 1,000.

- Times should be written as am/pm NOT as 24 hour clock and accompanied by drawing of clock face showing the appropriate time

- A wall calendar is needed with key appointments entered in.

- Help is required to ‘decode’ timetables and other number-based listings.


- Work with concrete materials before tackling paper-based tasks

- Associate the name of the number with the symbol, practice identifying relative size of numbers

- Develop  'numerosity' by simple number sequencing activities, e.g. identifying the fifth item on a till receipt. Clarify the language of maths e.g  plus, add, more than  mean a number getting bigger.

- Link coins with numbers by looking at the number written on the coin, then sequence them according to value.


Main Features of Dyslexia

      educational under-achievement

      slow reading, hard to retain content, even if reading mastered

      inefficient processing of language-based information may affect listening and speaking skills (poor word retrieval)

      short-term and working memory problems

      organisation & time-management usually affected

      may suffer from Visual Stress


Accommodating Dyslexia

- When giving information, follow up with questions to check important points such as “So what do you need to do now?” NOT “Do you understand?”.

- Written materials/notices should conform to good practice in minimising Visual Stress

- Provide reminders in spoken and written form.

- During interviews/questioning stick to chronological order. Ask single questions rather than compound ones.

- Be aware that inconsistency in supplying routine information may be due to dyslexia. Sequencing and references to left/right may be inaccurate.

- In general terms, people with dyslexia find it helpful to be presented with an overview, before going into details


Main Features of Dyspraxia

      Inability to work at speed and process information rapidly.

      Speech and language: speech may be unclear and overloud (sounding  aggressive)

      Poor social skills: eg judging socially acceptable behaviour, taking things literally.

      Clumsiness: trip up, bump into people

      Weak short term memory: together with poor organisational skills & decision making; difficulty retrieving information 'on the spot’.

      Poor time management: poor understanding of time or the urgency of situations.

      Difficulty managing change and new routines, struggle to re-schedule

      Poor visual-spatial skills problems with charts, maps,  timetables etc.

      Poor orientation: get lost easily, struggle with directions


Accommodating Dyspraxia

- Much of  ACCOMMODATING DYSLEXIA applies, reading should be less problematic.

- Would they prefer to dictate information for forms, due to awkward handwriting?

- May struggle with over-sensitivity to light and noise. Can low watt bulbs be used in cell?

- Easily distracted, breaks may be needed during any sessions.

- Great difficulty with navigation and finding your way around.  Information about venues should contain landmarks as well as directions. It may help to talk through the route or, ideally, accompany them, pointing out landmarks.


Although part of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Asperger Syndrome is included here, due to its frequent overlap with both Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.

Main Features of Asperger Syndrome

People with Autism, including Asperger Syndrome, have difficulty in three key areas:

1. Poor communication skills, leading to difficulty understanding instructions or retelling an incident; taking words or phrases literally.

2. Impaired social skills: difficulty understanding socially acceptable behaviour and taking account of the needs of others; inability to 'read' body language.

3. Inflexible thinking: difficulty following procedures and coping with unplanned change; over-reliance on routines. High levels of stress & anxiety.

This is often accompanied by unusual behaviours and sensory over-sensitivity which might affect their sense of touch, smell, vision, hearing or posture.  They may find it hard to maintain eye contact. 

An obsessive interest may have got them into trouble.

Despite adequate intelligence, speed of information processing is slow, together with a panic reaction when pushed - which may include verbal or physical abuse.

Personal space is important.

Accommodating Asperger Syndrome

- Formal interviews would be easier to manage if questions were written and submitted in advance. Answers can then consider and written down.

- Ask direct questions rather than open questions. Avoid abstract concepts

- Provide a set of rules, carefully explaining any exceptions.

- In restorative processes showing empathy / seeing things from someone else’s point of view may not be possible.

People often show signs of more than one condition, as the following case study illustrates

4. CASE STUDY:   Maggie

Maggie left school at 14 without taking any GCSEs. She was a persistent truant; this soon led to petty offending. Cautions followed, then short sentences as her offending escalated.

While under the YOT, Maggie was assessed as dyslexic but there appears to be something going on in addition to this. She shows a complete lack of awareness of others and often panics in social situations, becoming violent and uncontrollable.  On one occasion she was convicted for criminal damage and assault when challenged at the Job Centre. 

In prison, Maggie is a loner and has not engaged with any activities. She has lost privileges after verbally abusing her Offender Manager after a meeting was changed without notice.

Though clearly intelligent, Maggie always takes everything literally. She recently disclosed that, despite her dyslexia, she would love to be able to read better and pursue her all-absorbing interest in animals.

Ways Forward and Reasonable Adjustments could include:


Visual Stress is linked with dyslexia, dyspraxia, migraines and epilepsy. It may be due to undiagnosed or unresolved eye problems.

Solutions include spectacles, eye exercises, a coloured overlay or tinted spectacle lenses.

Where options are limited, a good quality coloured overlay may be helpful (see NOTE 3)













1.   Have you ever been prescribed glasses? [If YES, why?]



2.   Do you often lose your place when reading?



3.   Do you use a marker / your finger to keep the place?



4.   Do you ever read numbers / words back to front?



5.   Do you get headaches when you read?



6.  Do your eyes become sore or water?



7.   Do you screw your eyes up when reading?



8.   Do you rub or close one eye when reading?



9.   Do you read close to the page?



10.  Do you push the page away?



11.  Do you prefer dim light to bright light for reading?



12.  Does white paper seem to glare?



13.  Does print become distorted as you read? (how?)



14.  Do your difficulties increase the longer you read?



15.  Do you have difficulties reading from a computer screen?








This CHECKLIST will flag up difficulties associated with Visual Stress.

The completed checklist should become the property of the individual.


1. Check out whether the individual is simply in need of reading glasses.

2. Overlays may be available in Education departments.  By experimenting with a selection of good quality coloured overlays the reader can select the most ‘comfortable’ shade. These are better supplied cut in half, A5 size, to fit in books or over handouts.

3. If problems have been identified, opticians specialising in Visual Stress can be located on release via www.ceriumoptical.com or at www.s4clp.org

4. Those who find that a screen ‘glares’ will need to dim the brightness and should be helped to customise the background colour on their monitor / screen to a shade that is easier to read from.

5. Visual stress is exacerbated by features of text; this is addressed by good practice.

January 2021