Making the Most of Your Time in Prison – Education and Courses Available

When you read about prisons online, most reports tend to focus on the negatives – the poor living conditions, the violence, and the overcrowding, just to name a few. However, there are opportunities available to inmates when serving a sentence.

All prisons in the UK have access to some form of educational courses (though some are better than others!). Here’s a guide to what opportunities you may encounter when you’re incarcerated.

Man with book at desk


Gove, Education and Rehabilitation


It’s unsurprising that the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove; once formally the Minister of Education, should place such emphasis on educating inmates.

In an official review, he comments: “We have more than 80,000 adults in our custody. One of the most important things we can do once they are inside the prison walls is to make sure they get the literacy and numeracy skills they need to make them employable and positive contributors to society once released. For those serving longer sentences, education and training is a key part of their rehabilitation.”

It makes sense that providing education should assist with rehabilitation. Improving basic skills helps disadvantaged inmates to find work upon their release. Likewise, qualifications improve the likelihood of securing employment after their sentence is served.


Types of Courses Available


According to the Government website, meaningful activity in prison can be sub-divided into three categories:


  • Qualifications. Some courses help inmates to work towards recognised qualifications, such as GCSEs or NVQs. Others may help with basic skills, including literacy and numeracy.
  • Practical-based courses. Other courses may teach practical skills, such as running an industrial laundry, woodwork, or gardening.
  • Work. There are opportunities to work within prison, and earn a small salary for doing so. Some types of work involve an element of learning on the job.

The Standard of Education


Unfortunately, a recent Ofsted report (2013), highlighted the generally poor standards of education in prisons, stating that not one single establishment had received the ‘outstanding’ rating. Only one in three managed to achieve a ‘good’ rating.

Matthew Coffey, the national director of further education and skills at Ofsted, stated: “Every prisoner costs the taxpayer the same as sending a child to Eton, around £34,000 per year. We must now focus on improvement of prisoners’ vocational and employability skills to ensure we support them on their journey out of prison and into employment, to break the cycle of reoffending.”

However, he did add that there were some ‘outstanding examples’ of education providers in prisons, but they were ‘all too scarce’. It should be noted also that standards may have improved since this report.


Taking the Opportunities


Figures show that around 42% of inmates take part in educational courses in the UK. This is a higher percentage than other European countries, but it is a shame that the figure isn’t higher. Of course, it would be desirable to see standards of education in prisons improve, but any sort of education offers some benefits – and certainly is an improvement on sitting in a cell all day long!

We spoke to an ex-inmate recently, who spoke openly about his experiences in prison. Despite being a graduate with an academic background, he still took the opportunity to enrol in educational courses, trained as a gym orderly and gained First Aid and mentoring qualifications. All of this not only gave him something to do whilst incarcerated, but provided him with useful knowledge that he could apply in everyday life, after his release.


Staying in Touch in Prison


In addition to taking the educational opportunities offered in prison, it’s a good idea to stay in touch with loved ones back home, as this can help with the rehabilitation process. Our tariffs help cut the costs of phoning from prison – you can see our range of options here.

Prison Phone logo

Keeping prisoner’s and families connected



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