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Prisons: Education

Volume 768: debated on Tuesday 19 January 2016

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to help improve education standards in United Kingdom prisons.

My Lords, I am very grateful for having obtained this short debate on education in prisons. Perhaps I should have added “in England”, but, until I heard some of the Scottish debate, I was not aware that education in prisons is devolved to Scotland and Wales. The noble Lord, Lord German, will speak later and he might tell us a bit about the Wales situation. At the moment, a review is being carried out by Dame Coates on education in prisons. It will report later this year and I hope that this short debate might have some influence. I congratulate Reading Ahead and the Prisoners’ Education Trust on all that they do to improve education in prisons. Later this week, there will be a debate in this House on the future of prisons. I hope that this short debate might influence that and that the Minister, when she responds, might be able to say that.

I think that all noble Lords are aware that I have been in prison. I will speak a bit about my experience there. As many will know, I also have lifelong experience in education. I was chairman of Essex Education Services for many years, chairman of the Council of Local Education Authorities and regional chairman for the Further Education Funding Council. After the terrible shock of being sent to prison, I thought that I had better try to do something with myself. I spent a lot of time researching and talking to fellow inmates about how they got there and their own situations. I found that many of the young people—I did not talk much to the older ones—were unable to read and write. I have since been told that the illiteracy rate in prisons is more than 50%. Many people asked me to help them. They brought me letters, particularly solicitors’ letters and legal letters, and other things, and asked me to read them to them and to help them understand what was in them, which I was only too pleased to do.

My experience of education in prison was rather ridiculous. I was initially given a 2+2=4 type test. When I was moved to an open prison, I was given the same test. I said that if possible I would like to improve my IT skills. I thought that I would try to do something. I heard nothing more at all, which was a common experience for many people. Education in prison is outsourced and, if it continues to be outsourced, it needs a different specification of what it can do. Education in prison needs to be brought up the agenda enormously. It is an opportunity missed. If only young people in prison could learn to read and do simple mathematics, that could help them to have a career when they get out.

The life of crime of many young people starts very often with an obsession with fast cars. They start with the minor example of pinching a car but graduate to much more serious crime, including burglaries et cetera. That is why I would like to couple my comments on education in prison with vocational training. A quite sensible young man in prison for a first offence had been obsessed by cars. In an open prison, people do a lot of external work and his main external work had been cutting grass and the like. However, when he was given a placement in a garage to train to repair cars, anyone would think that he had won the lottery. His excitement at going to a garage to learn more about cars for a possible career in that area was absolutely fantastic. That is why I want to couple my comments on improving education in prisons with vocational training. We know that the situation is the same in the outside world. We know that education generally has moved to more vocational training for young people. I hope that all speakers today will talk more in that vein, and about how we can improve education and vocational training in prison. It is right at the bottom of what happens in prison at the moment.

In an open prison particularly, the inmates do all sorts of things that help to run the prison. I was in a prison on the Isle of Sheppey. It was a quite well-run place and a lot of inmates did a lot of the work in running it. One could use some inmates for some of the training and education in prisons. Instead of just involving them in reception areas and so on, their talents should be used. If we cannot afford to spend more on prison education, perhaps we should rethink what we do in prisons and train a few more people to do more, which would help these young people get somewhere. Education is right at the bottom of the profile in prisons now. I hope that the contributors to the debate will talk a bit more about how we can raise the profile of education and training in prisons.

As noble Lords might imagine, I found my initial days in prison very difficult. I wish I had been able to have this debate before, but noble Lords will understand that it is quite difficult for me to talk about it. I found it extraordinary. For example, general knowledge is absent in a lot of prisoners. Hardly anyone had heard of the House of Lords. I am not really surprised at that, but so many people asked me, for example, where it is and what it does. Someone imagined that every Lord has a castle, because they asked me if they could borrow mine for a rave. It is quite an extraordinary thing.

Some of these people in prison are fairly intelligent and they could have a much better future if only we could do more for them. We need to think about how we can do more in both education and training in prison. I hope that the contributions to the debate will add to that.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for raising this subject from a unique perspective. I first encountered prisoners en masse when I worked for the Apex Trust about a quarter of a century ago. As a severe dyslexic, it was the first time in my entire life that I had found a group where my literacy skills were higher than the average. If noble Lords look at the prison population, they will find every conceivable educational problem they can possibly imagine by the barrel load.

The average prisoner has finished his formalised education before his 14th birthday. I have one wonderful statistic: that 60% of all prisoners in 2009 were discovered to have a reading age below that of a normal five year-old, if there is such a thing. You get every single problem there. People were saying that 50% of the prison population were dyslexic. They discovered that that is wrong: it is only 30%—only three times the average. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who is sat across the Chamber from me, will say something about speech and language. Language development is incredibly bad among prisoners. If you cannot talk or do not have listening skills, you cannot access the education system properly—you base that on other problems, social problems. The fact that anybody in this group has any literacy skills would be a surprise. We also know that bad education means that you are liable to get into the prison system, and that you cannot indulge in legal economic activity. There is a cycle here that is quite obvious to everybody. We have to do something about it.

However, when we talk about education, please let us remember, having identified all these difficulties and problems, that sticking prisoners back in a classroom is not going to work. It just isn’t: you do not know it, you cannot react to it. Chalk and talk—the teacher writes something on the blackboard, you write it down —is what I failed at for the first few years of my life. I got away. Some 42% of prisoners were excluded from school permanently. You have to individualise the approach.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, mentioned the fact that prisoners should be used in education. Some of the most successful education units in prison have been those that use mentoring. I believe that I am patron—I am afraid that one acquires various titles—of the Cascade Foundation, which deals with dyslexia and head injuries. Somebody goes into the prison and talks to and interacts with the prisoners. It means that you can have a conversation with somebody who is not in authority to try to get some sort of relationship and progress. Other programmes such as Toe by Toe, or the updated version, work on a similar system. The two groups argue which one is the best. It does not matter: mentoring helps. You have an interaction with someone who is not in authority and does not represent the thing you have failed at, which has defined your life until this point.

If you do not have somebody in the education system who knows how these problems work and can relate them to an adult, you are guaranteeing failure. We have to get specialists in this field to intervene. I see that my time is up, but I have made my point: standard education practices just do not work.

My Lords, I have witnessed the transformational impact of a sophisticated education programme in a regional secure unit for mentally disordered offenders, but I also know just how difficult it was to extend the learning from that programme to other, similar units. The problems experienced in regional secure units are quite similar to those experienced in prisons.

I welcome Dame Sally Coates’ review of this area, but the problems she faces are utterly daunting. Many prisoners, as we know, spend most of their day lying on a bed—a criminal waste of human potential and a lost opportunity to improve their lives. Everyone knows that there is good work, but it is very patchy.

I suppose that my first point is to challenge the Ministry of Justice strategy documents that link education, training and work, as if education’s sole function is to enable prisoners to find work and rehabilitation. This is an admirable aim, but education is valuable for its own sake—for example, prisoners learning to read and write. As we have heard, about half of prisoners have very little, except basic, education and cannot read and write, so they cannot write a sophisticated letter, for example. It does not really matter what they are learning, as long as they are engaged in it. That is where the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about the method of engagement are so important.

My second point is that any serious review will quickly come up against the principal barrier to improvement, which, as I have said, is lack of time spent out of cell. Reduced budgets and staff shortages, coupled with a prison population that shows little sign of falling, conspire to make it difficult for many prisons to offer meaningful education or work. There is also the perennial problem that what prison management wants and what prison officers make it possible actually to deliver may be far apart. Winning the hearts and minds of prison officers is crucial to make education a reality. The Prisoners’ Education Trust and the Prisoners Learning Alliance have told us the detail of what is required, but solving this problem will require much more radical action that addresses high prison numbers.

The idiotic introduction of advanced learning loans has wiped out many of the advanced level 3 courses that used to be available to prisoners. It is crazy to apply a loans policy to prisoners to support parity with learners in the wider education system. Prisoners are at such a disadvantage, as we have already heard. The benefits of prisoners gaining higher-level qualifications far outweighs the cost, whether it contributes to their rehabilitation or not.

Finally, we need to change the incentives in prisons for prisoners to take learning seriously. If they are paid more to do menial work then they will take that modern option of sewing mailbags, rather than learning.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for his introduction to the debate, especially for linking education with vocation for people in prison. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, it is a very complex territory with very deep needs. A lot of research shows that the prison population represents people with multiple needs. Therefore, the task of education and vocation will be challenging.

I see the importance of formal education for literacy and numeracy to help people to get jobs. I am all in favour of that, but I want to look behind that at the informal fashioning of vocation and the development of character and confidence, which allows people to enter formal learning. I will draw on my own experience of going into prisons.

I will describe three little pictures. The first is a very moving experience of working with a group of women in a women’s prison, exploring with them how important they came to realise the value of structure and pattern was in their lives. Many had come from contexts where there was no structure or pattern at all, just a lot of chaos. The opportunity to think carefully about how people could better live together with the aid of some kind of structure, framework and pattern was very valuable.

I think of another experience that I had recently of taking services in a prison with quite a lot of girls and young women, a lot of whom are loners and have problems with drugs. Nevertheless, they have formed a choir to sing in those services. They love modern music and have become a community. Suddenly, they became confident and acquired an identity through doing something creative and good together. We need to ensure that those kind of opportunities are available.

I come to my third little picture. A number of people in my diocese, myself included, go into prisons and conduct Bible studies and discussion groups. People need space to reflect on their experiences, their stories, the value of patterns and the making of communities through informal activities such as singing in a choir.

Chaplaincy provides a very valuable space in prisons. I hope that the Minister will think about the role of the informal sector in giving people a chance to reflect, grow in a community, appreciate how to make connections and therefore gain the confidence in their vocation to tackle the formal learning that they will need for the world of work.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is to be congratulated on bringing this matter to the attention of your Lordships’ House. It cannot have been that easy for him, but it is right that it should be brought to the attention of the public through this House. My experience is not as direct as the noble Lord’s, but it is none the less extensive. I was the Prisons Minister at the end of the 1980s, for most of my professional life I have practised at the criminal Bar and, until very recently, I was a member of the independent monitoring board of a local prison.

In a debate of this kind, one has to content oneself with assertions rather than argumentation. I am sorry about that. My assertions will be brief. First, the punishment imposed on a prisoner is the deprivation of liberty and we should be very careful about heaping on prisoners loss or humiliation which is not a necessary incident of that.

Secondly, most prisoners will be released into the community, and it is in our collective interest that they do not resume their criminal ways. Unfortunately, far too many do. One reason for that is that far too many have very limited personal or educational skills. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, spoke about that and he is entirely right. Illiteracy, lack of IT skills, innumeracy, the inability to hold down long-term work—all these make a serious contribution to people’s inability to get work.

The purpose of the criminal law is in part to provide for a process of rehabilitation. We do not perform that role very well, but it is part of the purpose—namely, to provide an opportunity for prisoners to have their deficiencies addressed. Therefore, I wholly agree with the proposition that we need to be much more generous in our provision of out-of-cell engagement and education. Whether that involves developing vocational skills, numeracy, literacy or IT skills, these need to be addressed.

Finally, the Secretary of State for Justice has a strategy to reduce the number of prisoners. That is a jolly good thing, too. When I was Prisons Minister, the number was about 40,000; it is now over 80,000, and I am deeply disturbed by that. If we can reduce prisoner numbers, there will be a saving. Inevitably, the Treasury will snaffle some of that, but there might be a portion left. I think it would be the will of this House that some portion of that should go to a more generous provision of out-of-cell activity, and in particular to education.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, most warmly for introducing this debate, for talking with candour about his direct personal experience of what he encountered, and for bringing all that front-line insight into our midst in the House of Lords.

It seems to me that for both economic and, indeed, humanitarian reasons the overriding objective in any relevant and effective penal policy is rehabilitation—it must be. The objective is to try to ensure that as many as possible of those incarcerated can become full positive citizens. How on earth is it conceivable that people can begin to take the road to full citizenship and making a practical contribution to society if they are operating without even minimal education?

However, there is another reason that this is important. So many of those in prison—we do not talk about this honestly enough or frequently enough—are themselves victims and casualties of brutal lives. They have not begun to have the opportunities that we take for granted of being able to enjoy literature and the rest. The point made about the importance of education as an end in itself is terribly important because education is central to people being able to live any kind of full life.

I have mentioned in the House before that for some nine years I had the privilege of being the president of YMCA England. I became fascinated with the work being done with young offenders and used to try to look at it as often as I could. If any of us had experienced just a fraction of what these youngsters have often experienced in their lives, it would be a miracle if we were not in trouble and probably facing imprisonment. It is important to recognise that reality. However, the next thing I discovered was how keen so many of them were to educate themselves. Yes, practical skills matter, but so does education in its own right. They began to see this dimension of life which they had not begun to be able to see before.

I finish on this note: none of this will come cheaply. If it is to be done properly, it must be properly resourced with staff and physical resources. That is not the case at the moment. It does not begin to be the case, and we must face that.

Finally, so far as the future is concerned, I hope that we can make a commitment to rehabilitation in the culture of prison staff and operatives top of our priority lists. It is there in many places but not throughout the Prison Service. That must be our first priority.

My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for introducing this debate, and in an obviously personal manner. The holy grail in offender rehabilitation is an holistic approach which looks at both sides of the prison gate: a structure where education, housing support, skill acquisition, work and lots more issues are regarded as a single matter to be handled properly. Obviously—and unfortunately for us—the holy grail has not yet been reached and this debate offers an opportunity to look at one very specific aspect of that failure.

I welcome the Coates review and wish it well. In the past, it has been fairly difficult to fully assess the value of prison education and its impact on reducing reoffending, though we have much anecdotal evidence. However we now have the Ministry of Justice’s Data Lab analysis of reoffending, published last September, which gives an analysis of 6,000 prisoner records associated with matched comparison groups where one group had received Prisoners’ Education Trust grants. Wherever you look at that evidence, whichever subgroup of prisoners you look at, the clear overall picture was that reoffending was one quarter less among those who had had that special educational support. Reoffending rates were down in every subgroup which was measured.

With those results in mind, I would like to press the Minister to give an indication of the actual cash saving which education, in that context, would mean to the taxpayers of this country. We all know the figures for less police time spent and fewer costs to the Prison Service, but now we have some actual hard evidence of the level of reoffending reduction that occurs through giving education. It is important to understand the savings that that would generate—and has generated—for the taxpayer, because that is one way of proving that more needs to be invested in this area.

Much has been said about the need for and the nature of prison education and the potential to attract high-quality professionals, and I understand that this is one of the issues to emerge from the Coates review. I want to press the Minister on the nature of the skills and qualifications which are offered to prisoners. Many of the vocational skills require people to have on-the-job training if they are to get a qualification. For many skills, such as bricklaying, plastering, plumbing and electrical work, that cannot occur inside prison and the qualifications people get need to pass through that gate and be continued outside. This is a plea for having a system where there is continuity between outside and inside the gate.

Dame Sally Coates has said that one of her emerging outcomes is that through-the-gate progression and tracking need to be improved. That is an understatement, because the problem lies wholly in bringing those together. It is more difficult now, with devolution, because responsibility for the education process in Wales lies with the Welsh Government but processes in prison lie with the Ministry of Justice. If this is going to happen, and we are to achieve that holy grail, there has to be a radical rethink of the role and variety of the different organisations and structures which manage this process.

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for initiating this debate, and declaring my interests as co-chair of the Penal Affairs All-Party Group, which incorporated the now defunct prison education group, and as patron of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, I realise that the Secretary of State for Justice has initiated a review of prison education, as other noble Lords have said, chaired by Dame Sally Coates, which has not yet reported. She is addressing the penal affairs group on 23 February.

When I was Chief Inspector of Prisons, I quickly became aware that education was the most important ingredient of successful rehabilitation, and therefore, by implication, reduction in reoffending. However, at that time, the Prison Service funded its own education, individual prison governors being allowed to make cuts in spending without any checks or balances, resulting in the most appalling imbalance between individual prisons in what was available per prisoner per year: £406 per young offender in Brinsford, £1,750 in Werrington in the same county, and £2,500 in Thorn Cross in Cheshire, for example. I therefore campaigned for the Department for Education to become involved, and for ring-fenced funding of a national syllabus for each type of prison, including academic, vocational and social skills education, speech, language and communication training and, not least, access to the arts. There resulted the competitive awarding to individual education providers of offender learning and skills service contracts, of which there have been four exercises in the past 10 years, with a fifth postponed from last year to this. This frequency has precluded long-term investment and caused avoidable instability, and I hope that the next contract letting will be delayed for yet another year to allow advantage to be taken of whatever Dame Sally Coates recommends.

Despite the importance of education, in view of the lack in recent years of educational proficiency of too many prisoners, of all ages and both genders, in addition to the instability of the contracting process, successive Governments have tinkered and micromanaged, rather than allowing individual heads of learning and skills to concentrate on improving local delivery. This has been compounded by cutting resources, not least the numbers of prison staff, who are needed to escort prisoners to and from classes.

I hope therefore that the Minister, in answering the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, will tell the House that in his plans for giving more autonomy to prison governors, the Secretary of State intends to furnish them with long-term educational contracts, which will enable local contractors to deliver educational training that is appropriate for prisoners from a particular part of the country, biased in favour of giving them the skills that will help them obtain employment on release.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful for this debate. I also note with great pleasure a number of changes made to policy and practice in this area by Mr Gove since he became Secretary of State. I gladly thank him and the Government, particularly for allowing prisoners greater and easier access to books. But if educational standards in prisons are to be improved, as they desperately need to be, we still need much more joined-up thinking. I will give two examples.

The first I discovered on a visit I made to a prison during the coalition Government, although I suspect it could just as well have been today. I visited a very impressive unit which trained female prisoners in catering, giving them a range of skills needed for working in that sector. One prisoner told me that she was close to completing a course which would lead to a nationally recognised qualification but that she would not be able to complete it because she had just been given very short notice of being moved to another prison. I asked her if she would like me to say something to those in authority, to which she replied, “Thank you, but don’t bother. We expect this. It’s just the way the system treats us”. The system should not treat prisoners or anyone else in that way. We talk about a patient-centred NHS. What about a prisoner-centred Prison Service, not least as regards education and equipping for outside life?

My second example relates to the importance of holistic education. Surely the work done to help prisoners change wrong behaviour patterns—important programmes such as restorative justice and resettlement training—should be seen as part and parcel of the whole educational provision and aligned with it. But the funding of these programmes has been reduced and reallocated to the new community rehabilitation companies. Surely this must make the holistic approach—connecting educational provision with behavioural change and rehabilitation—much less likely.

I am grateful that Her Majesty’s Government have initiated this review. I urge them to ensure that prisoners get the life-transforming education they need—for all our sakes.

My Lords, the strongest factors in keeping an offender from reoffending after release from prison are a job, a home and a family or a stable relationship. Finding a job helps with finding a home and maintaining stable relationships.

Education in prison can help offenders find employment. It is completely clear that many prisoners have very little formal education before going to prison, as my noble friend Lord Addington said. It equips them with skills but at the same time it improves self-esteem and self-discipline. So it is tragic that December’s Ofsted report painted such a bleak picture, with a marked decline in educational outcomes over a year and a rating of “inadequate” or “requires improvement” for 72% of prisons.

Dame Sally Coates’ review is therefore extremely welcome. I hope her report will be innovative and adventurous and that she will pay particular attention to diversity of educational opportunities, greater access to distance learning, development of IT skills and part-time release to pursue education where security allows. However, to improve prison education, the Government must find the resources to fund it and the Treasury presently puts far too little effort into evaluating savings later to justify extra spending now. Every offender who finds a job because of education in prison brings savings not only to the prison system but to future potential victims, to the criminal justice system, to social security and the social services, and to HMRC. Why will the Treasury make no realistic attempt to quantify these savings?

Before closing, perhaps I may make one brief point on the youth estate. We opposed the large 320-bed secure college at Glen Parva. We were right to do so and the present Secretary of State was right to scrap it, but the general aim—better education for children and young people in custody, who are now below 1,000 in number—was right. However, they need to be in institutions that are human in size, that meet the difficult health and social needs of troubled young people and that offer genuine and diverse education at a very personal level. Secure children’s homes do great work and young offender institutions can learn a lot from them about good educational experiences, albeit in the context of larger institutions. This may be expensive but my point about resources for adult prisoners is just as true, or perhaps even truer, for young people. Every £1 invested in helping a young offender avoid a life of crime earns for us all a generous return in financial and human savings.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, not least because the position in relation to the subject of this debate is clearly serious in many respects.

The last Ofsted report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred, made it clear that outcomes were very poor and markedly worse compared with the previous year. The Chief Inspector of Prisons reported that,

“purposeful activity outcomes were only good or reasonably good in 25% of the … male prisons … inspected”,

the worst position since 2005. He also said that the overall standard of teaching required improvement or was inadequate in two-thirds of prisons inspected, with the leadership and management of learning and skills falling short in 74% of prisons.

The Prison Reform Trust proposes greater emphasis on employment outcomes. It argues for a presumption that education should be delivered outside the prison, where this could be done safely and the prisoner would benefit. I hope that these matters can be looked at. It also called for “vastly better” access to IT for learning and communication, surely a requisite in these days. The Prisoners’ Education Trust has called for greater incentives for pursuing learning, for example by better-paid work, with non-financial incentives also provided and distance learning encouraged.

The University and College Union has pointed to evidence from the United States that prison education yields a 20:1 return for every dollar—I suppose it would be a pound in our case—invested in adult basic, general and post-secondary education. It calls for an urgent reassessment of the funding cap for students, which impacts most on those serving longer sentences or pursuing vocational qualifications. Importantly, it also calls for flexibility so that personal and social development and informal adult learning can be provided, with funding in general set for longer periods to ensure stability. Can the Minister comment on the application of advanced learning loans to prisoners, which the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, referred to, as applying that loans policy has caused that significant reduction in level 3 learning?

The University and College Union also points to a large difference of £15,000 a year between the salaries of FE college teachers and those teaching in prisons, where only half are on full-time contracts. Worryingly, 50% of those responding to a survey thought it likely that they would look for a new job in the next 12 months. There appears to be the potential for a pending crisis, or at any rate difficulties, in that key area of provision.

Can the Minister give an indication, not necessarily across the Dispatch Box tonight, of the extent to which peer review is practised in the area of prison education? That has proved a useful tool in other areas, notably local government. How much are external agencies such as probation involved in the planning and oversight of prison education and how much collaboration takes place between institutions? What is the involvement, for example, of the employment service with the process, from helping to design programmes to engaging with prisoners before release?

I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s appointment of a review body. We look forward to receiving its report and reviewing progress, perhaps in a year or so’s time. Around the House, there is clear support for the initiative and a willingness to debate a way forward.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for securing this debate and talking about his experience, and all other noble Lords for their contributions. I welcome the opportunity to highlight the progress that has already been made and to outline the Government’s plans for further reform.

The Secretary of State for Justice is clear that education must be at the heart of our prison system if it is to rehabilitate effectively. That way, we stand a better chance of reducing our intolerably high reoffending rates. I agree as well with the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that education is valuable in itself.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, prisons in Scotland and Northern Ireland are devolved, while in Wales the responsibility for prison education rests with the Welsh Assembly Government. This evening, therefore, I will speak specifically on prison education in England and focus particularly on the adult system.

As we have already heard, the current prison system works to punish prisoners by denying them their liberty, and protects the public by detaining them, but there is no doubt more could be done to rehabilitate offenders. Our prisons must offer them the opportunity to turn their lives around. Much of the current prison estate and the conditions staff have to work in, particularly in older prisons with high levels of crowding, are not conducive to developing a positive rehabilitative environment, which is why we will invest £1.3 billion in prisons to ensure they are places of rehabilitation and not just incarceration.

Education is critical to enable prisoners to change their lives and contribute positively to society. There have been significant improvements in prisoner education over recent years, with participation now at its highest level since we began publishing data. But we absolutely agree that we must go further and ensure that education is at the heart of the prison regime.

As the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Beecham, said, it is of great concern that Ofsted’s inspection of prison education confirms that one in five prisons is inadequate in terms of its leadership, management and delivery of education, and that another two-fifths require improvement. Ofsted has long been critical of the standard of prison education, which is one of the worst-performing areas of further education. But at the same time, we should not forget that great work is taking place, and I commend—as I am sure other noble Lords would too—Her Majesty’s Prisons Hollesley Bay, New Hall, Askham Grange and Hatfield in particular on receiving outstanding Ofsted reports.

To drive forward reform, as noble Lords have said, the Secretary of State for Justice has asked Dame Sally Coates to lead a review of education in prisons. The review is examining the scope and quality of current provision in adult prisons and in young offender institutions for 18 to 20 year-olds. By way of reassurance for the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, it will also look at how we can best support learning at level 3. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, asked about the future of offender learning and skills provision. Dame Sally will be providing independent advice on new contracts, and we will consider that carefully. In parallel, Charlie Taylor is leading a review of the youth justice system which will also include looking at education.

The adult prisoner population has specific educational challenges, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and my noble friend Lord Hailsham identified. In 2014-15, only 9% of adult prisoners assessed at reception were at GCSE standard A* to C in maths and only 13% at that standard in English. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, almost a third of adult prisoners assessed had a learning difficulty and/or a disability.

Dame Sally has a wealth of experience and is being assisted by a panel of expert members including representatives from further and higher education and from the voluntary and community sector, employers, senior government officials and experienced front-line prison staff. As part of the review, Dame Sally and the panel have conducted a wide range of prison visits, where they have witnessed some excellent practice. They were particularly impressed, for example, with the open academy at Her Majesty’s Prison Swaleside, where prisoners—mostly those serving long sentences—live, work and study together in support of their learning.

However, as noble Lords have said, it is clear that substantial barriers remain for many prisoners in progressing their learning and skills and ensuring they receive the right support to continue in education or into employment on release. We have received more than 400 responses to our public call for evidence, and initial findings from an evaluation of the current prison education contracts by Ipsos MORI have also been recently presented to the review panel.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked about the cash savings that improved education in prison could deliver from reduced reoffending. We expect to have more detail on the impact of outcomes of prison education from the Ipsos MORI work that I just mentioned, which will be published in the spring. The Justice Data Lab will continue to provide powerful evidence in its report.

Of course, I cannot prejudge Dame Sally’s review, which is due to report in March, but I can say a little more about the areas being explored. Every prison should foster a culture with learning at its heart. With figures showing that more than 100,000 prisoners participated in education in England in the 2014-15 academic year, we have a good base to build on.

However, education must meet the needs of prisoners and lead to real jobs on release. On top of this, prisoners must be motivated and encouraged to participate and engage in their own learning. To achieve this, prison governors, with the right tools, need to be more demanding and creative about the range of education provided in the prisons that they run. This can be done. The panel was particularly impressed by the cohesive relationship between the governor, senior staff and education provider at HMP Drake Hall, where an education offer has been tailored to meet the needs of the establishment’s female population, to which the right reverend Prelate referred.

All governors should be freer to engage with a wider variety of partners who can help improve education, building on the work that people such as James Timpson and employers such as Halfords are undertaking via their academies in prisons. Several noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Hanningfield and Lord German, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and my noble friend Lord Hailsham—mentioned vocational education. Vocational training that meets the needs of employers in the areas to which prisoners will be released is a keen aim for the Offenders’ Learning and Skills Service. In the past three years, more than 230,000 vocational qualifications were achieved each year by those serving sentences in England.

There is also clearly an important role for the many innovative charitable partners, such as the Prisoners’ Education Trust, the Shannon Trust and the Reading Agency, which are so successful in supporting and encouraging prisoners to read—and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby said, the chaplaincy. A range of education is delivered by National Prison Radio, with a popular book club airing daily. The Prince’s Trust provides support to young offenders to raise awareness and encourage self-employment on release, while the Learning and Work Institute has used its government funding to pilot a personal development course to engage female prisoners who are resistant to learning at Drake Hall, Eastwood Park and Low Newton prisons.

Building on the good practice already happening, the review will give fresh thought to routes into prisoner education. Of course, we need excellent teachers. Last year, Jerry Nightingale, a course tutor for a cycle maintenance and repair course at HMP Channings Wood, was awarded Further Education Lecturer of the Year. We want more teachers to consider teaching in prison as part of a rewarding career.

While we await the recommendations of the review, I reassure noble Lords that the Government continue to work hard to improve the quality of teaching and learning in prisons. A good grounding in maths and English is essential if ex-offenders are to find employment on release, which is why we introduced maths and English assessment for all newly received prisoners in August 2014. Where learners are assessed at below GCSE standard—that is, below level 2—and a need is clearly evident, they are strongly encouraged to enrol on an appropriate course, and their sentence plan reflects that. In the academic year 2014-15, 74,700 prisoners were assessed for their levels of maths and English on reception. In the same year, 39,300 prisoners participated in an English or maths course.

Within schools and universities, IT has revolutionised teaching practices. To reflect this, education in prisons does not take place only in classrooms, which I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will be pleased to hear. The Virtual Campus, a secure web-based system, offers a broad range of skills, education and employment-focused material equivalent to provision outside prison. City & Guilds assessment tools are currently being piloted, giving teachers much more information about the maths and English skills of prisoners. This will allow sound choices to be made about the right teaching and learning approaches.

High-quality education is vital for the rehabilitation of young people who have offended, which is why we have doubled the amount of education in public sector young offender institutions for under-18s, agreed in new education contracts since March 2015.

The National Offender Management Service and BIS have jointly commissioned the Education and Training Foundation to deliver a programme of workforce development for teachers and those with responsibility for managing education in prisons. This is a considerable investment, showing the Government’s commitment to driving innovation and standards in the sector. I hope that I have managed to cover most of the points raised by noble Lords; those that I have not covered, I shall to get at with further information.

I shall end by returning to Hatfield, the prison that was last week awarded an outstanding Ofsted report; this shows how much can be done when the right approach is taken. I am confident that the Secretary of State, in light of Dame Sally’s recommendations, will move quickly to ensure that prison education is excellent not just at Hatfield, Hollesley Bay and other outstanding prisons but across the entire estate.

Sitting suspended.