Offender Learning Round Table: “Life in Limbo-Land”

As part of our Ambitious and Learning for All roundtable series, Learning and Work Institute Cymru held an Offender Round Table event on 31st January in Gower College Swansea. Director for Wales, David Hagendyk follows up with the blog piece below.

Our role at Learning and Work Institute Cymru is to influence policy and practice to ensure every learner can access the education they want and need.  Our Ambitious and Learning for All roundtable series, launched last year to help us achieve this goal, is looking at areas of education policy that don’t get the attention they merit.

Last Wednesday, Gower College Swansea hosted our second round table in the series. At the session, we looked at innovation, reform and opportunities for offender learning in Wales and brought together key decision-makers and practitioners in offender learning.

The statistics around offender learning may not be surprising, but they neatly illustrate the scale of the challenge: 47% of the prison population have no qualifications, 42% report having been permanently excluded from school, while two-thirds of prisoners have levels of English and Maths equivalent to or below that of the average 11-year-old.

Through our discussions, a picture was painted of a system in need of investment and reform, but with opportunities for improvement in the quality of provision and in the transition from custody to community.  There was evidence of good practice from across Wales – but not enough opportunities for these to be shared in a system that is stretched and under resourced.

The most powerful contribution of the day was undeniably from Scott Jenkinson, Director of 4:28 Training and winner of the 2015 Inspire! Tutor Award.  A former offender himself, Scott is now a one-man campaign for lifelong learning.  He spoke passionately and from personal experience about life in “limbo-land” where individuals desperately don’t want to return to prison but are not yet equipped with the skills and social capital for life in wider society. This is clearly an area where substantial opportunities exist to improve outcomes for individuals.  Providing better support before release and establishing stronger links between learning in custody and in the community, should be given far more focus by policy makers. Working Wales, the Welsh Government’s new approach to employability, will be a big opportunity to help individuals out of limbo-land, but this will mean supporting people with their multiple and complex challenges and recognising that getting a job is just a step forward and not an end in itself.  Ex-offenders in work can still be in limbo-land and support may still be needed to develop sufficient social capital.

It is also true that there is a wealth of good practice across the sector in Wales, not least from third sector organisations such as The Wallich and Llamau.  There is also great practice taking place in different prisons across Wales and countless brilliant people committed to making the system work.  However, the system is too stretched and not well enough resourced for these individuals to learn from one another and to develop consistent good practice.  Our mission at Learning and Work Cymru is to develop these opportunities and to ensure politicians and policy-makers understand their role in developing a system that helps people out of limbo-land and into society.