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Prisons (Literacy)

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2012

The basic skills of English and mathematics underpin almost all other learning. Assessing prisoners’ learning needs, and then meeting them, is at the heart of the reforms set out in “Making Prisons Work: Skills for Rehabilitation”, the new offender learning strategy published jointly last year with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Given that a large number of prisoners do not accept the formal education system within the prison, what measures can the Minister use to encourage the Shannon trust’s “toe-by-toe” mentoring scheme?

I recently met David Ahern, the chief executive of the Shannon Trust, and I assured him that we will continue to support his excellent scheme. I would be surprised if the new arrangements we have put in place for getting the commissioning of offender learning much closer to prisons and the institutions themselves did not see a much greater take-up of schemes such as toe-by-toe.

In view of the very poor performance in Ofsted inspections of provision by A4e, which provides much of the education in prisons, what conversations has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about how, when the contract is re-let, the quality of provision and the achievements of the prisoners will be at the fore of decision making about who should provide it?

I understand that a written ministerial statement has been made today by the Department for Work and Pensions in respect of A4e, which will be of interest to the hon. Lady and the House. In addition, a review of offender learning has been undertaken by the Skills Funding Agency. It was organised by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and I am happy to say that its findings have been positive as far as A4e is concerned—I know that will be of interest to the House. As for the future provision of offender learning, we are going through a re-tendering process, whereby prison governors involved in clusters of prisons that represent the offender’s journey through the system are able to ensure that they are satisfied with what is being commissioned into their prisons. That will mean a much more satisfactory state of affairs than we have had before.