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Prisons: Education

Volume 717: debated on Monday 8 February 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how education in prisons will be funded after the Learning and Skills Councils are abolished in April.

My Lords, this Government will continue to fund learning and skills provision in prisons from April onwards through the Skills Funding Agency. For those in youth detention, the Government will fund education through the Young People’s Learning Agency from April, and from September this will be funded through local authorities with funds allocated to them by the Young People’s Learning Agency.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which was rather what I feared. Only in the past three years has education in prisons come together under one authority, the Learning and Skills Council, but that is now to be abolished and the responsibility is to be split between two organisations. Who will be responsible for telling the YPLA and the SFA what they have to fund so that provision is consistent for prisoners of the same type wherever they happen to be held in the United Kingdom? Who will lay down who does what on a split-site young offender establishment, which has juveniles who will be under the YPLA, and subsequently local authorities, and young offenders under the SFA? Who will control that?

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, knows, after rather extensive discussions on those issues during the passage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, there is a transition process from the Learning and Skills Council to the Young People’s Learning Agency and the Skills Funding Agency. It is done on an age criterion. We believe that that will be a more appropriate system for providing education for young people in custody, which is one of the principal concerns. The YPLA will deal with those up to the age of 18 and the Skills Funding Agency from 18 onwards. The prison authorities will be notified accordingly. An important point is that spending on education for young people in custody has increased since April 2000 more than sevenfold.

My Lords, education in prison is a proven pathway to reducing reoffending. Given that two-thirds of prison education is provided by further education, what measures are the Government taking to ensure that changes in college funding do not impose additional disadvantage on this most vulnerable group of learners?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. We will reply in detail in writing. We do not expect them to be disadvantaged. Educational provision for offenders has risen threefold from £57 million in 2001-02 to more than £175 million in 2009-10. We are not expecting any impact in that respect. I will give a more detailed reply in writing in relation to that point.

Does the Minister agree that it is not only young people’s education that one should worry about? It is the mature person who can neither read nor write and therefore has the utmost difficulty ever getting a job, which starts him on the road downhill. I hope the Minister agrees with me that education all round in prison is vital.

I agree with the noble Baroness about education all round being of prime importance. For the over-18s, the Skills Funding Agency will continue to fund a full range of courses from below level 2 through to level 4. We know from reoffending rates that those who receive education and employment help are least likely to reoffend.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that health services are now delivered in prisons by primary care trusts? Can he explain what the problem is with having local authorities deliver a consistent education service to prisoners?

My Lords, we do not see a problem with local authorities delivering an education service to prisoners. We laid down specific safeguards in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill. They are best placed to provide education. We believe they will have an incentive to ensure that young people, for example, are delivered the education they need while they are in offender establishments.

How does the Minister account for the fact that only one-third of prison education managers regularly receive prisoners’ records following transfer? How can education that is aimed at improving prisoners’ chances of getting jobs upon release be effective with such a lack of information on their needs?

My Lords, before I answer the question, I am sure the House will join me in congratulating the noble Baroness on her birthday today. I am sure she is merely a smidgeon over 21, like me. We currently have a system for adults that has learner plans following prisoners. We think that is a good system, and it is gradually being put on an electronic database. In relation to young people, education authorities have a responsibility, which we defined in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, to make sure that learning records follow young offenders around.

My Lords, has the Minister made any assessment of the impact of these new education arrangements on IPP prisoners who have served their term but are still in prison because there are already insufficient educational courses available to them?

That is beyond the scope of the answers I have here. I will write to the right reverend Prelate on this matter.

My noble friend gave figures on how much money was put into young people’s education in prison. From his answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, I was not clear how much money is put into adult prisoner education.

Our investment in education in prison for offenders has risen threefold from £57 million in 2001-02 to more than £175 million in 2009-10. Since April 2000, spending on education for young people in custody has increased more than sevenfold.

Does the Minister acknowledge the important role that prison officers play in the education of young offenders?