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Education and Training

Volume 505: debated on Tuesday 9 February 2010

2. What education and training opportunities are available to offenders (a) on remand and (b) serving short-term custodial sentences to help them find employment following release. (316130)

We have increased spending on education and training threefold in the past few years. In prisons we provide a curriculum with a broad focus on employability, ranging from preparatory employment skills, literacy and numeracy, to higher level qualifications and skills training. A new unit-based qualifications and credit system will be particularly valuable for those serving short sentences, as it will allow learning to take place in short modules, which can be continued out in the community.

My hon. Friend would be very welcome to come before my Select Committee, which is currently examining the not in education, employment or training—NEET—population. We are finding that a large number of young people who begin short custodial sentences or spend a long time on remand break their education and find it very difficult to get back, so can we have more of these short courses and can they be well funded?

My hon. Friend rightly says that there is an issue to address in respect of ensuring that people who have not engaged in education and training at the earliest possible opportunity in their lives get a chance to do so and are helped to stick at it in whatever setting. I have been collecting Select Committees lately. If that was an invitation, I might just come along to his Select Committee to tell him what I think about this and his fellow members of the Committee—[Laughter.]I said “if” that was an invitation. I am happy to say that the number of 16 and 17-year-old NEETs in the system has been falling and now stands at 5.2 per cent., but there is clearly more to do in that respect.

Education and training opportunities, especially for young offenders, are still very poor. At Reading young offenders institution, for example, there are only five hours a week of education and training, and at Rochester only three and a half hours. Why are those figures—they are Government figures—so bad?

In the YOI estate, we aim for 25 to 30 hours of education and purposeful activity. I realise that outcomes vary across the estate, and we strive to improve that because it is something that can make a difference to the lives of these young people.

Visiting prisons and young offenders institutions in my area, one notes how variable the facilities are. Younger people often need hands-on experience with equipment to gain technical expertise. Is that something that the Government are making efforts to improve?

Yes. We have a corporate alliance of 100 employers across various sectors, many of which actually provide work-based training in prisons and young offenders institutions, which give those who take the courses not only employment while in prison but qualifications and, sometimes, the promise of a job when they leave prison. That has to be the way forward. Some 38 per cent. of those released from custody are released into education and training, and 26 per cent. into employment.

Is not the greatest impediment to training and getting a job the simple fact that all the efforts to help an offender upon release from prison are fragmented, and the first person they are likely to meet when they step through the prison gate with £40 in their pocket is the local drug dealer? What plans do the Government have to ensure that national offender management becomes genuinely local offender management, and that the ex-offender is met at the gate by someone responsible for their rehabilitation, so that over time reoffending is dramatically reduced?

While the Conservatives talk about a rehabilitation revolution, the Government have been providing it and we already have such schemes. Because of the creation of the National Offender Management Service and closer working together at a local level in education, health and local authority services such as housing, this is already happening. I am not saying that we cannot do more—we can, and we must—but the Conservatives should recognise the significant impact that has already been made on reducing reoffending.