Government should urgently review education for young people in prison says charity

Juvenile prisoners face obstacles to learning

... Image: George Redgrave

… Image: George Redgrave


The Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) urged the government to move forward with reform of the youth justice system, after the charity found that young people continue to face significant obstacles to learning while in custody.


Key Findings:

  • Urgent review: The MoJ should conduct an urgent review of the current 30-hour educational contracts in the young people’s estate as these are not being met and could be harmfully inflexible
  • Better staff recruitment: The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) should develop policies to ensure that the best people are recruited to work with young people, including better pay and conditions
  • Non-traditional teaching methods: Learning outside traditional classroom settings should become the norm
  • Early resettlement: Resettlement needs to start from early on in a sentence to ensure there are smooth transitions to the community
  • Fewer young prisoners: The MoJ should make it a clear policy goal to make further significant reductions to the number of children under 18 and young adults held in custody

In a report called Great Expectations published this week, PET makes 10 recommendations for improving education for children and young adults in secure institutions, including the greater use of non-traditional teaching methods, personalised learning plans, and better recruitment practices.




Rod Clark, Chief Executive of PET, says:

“Education is vital for every young person, but for children in custody it’s particularly essential. Giving a child or young person the chance to learn is one of the best ways we have to prevent them from committing future crimes, but at present we are simply not grasping this opportunity.”

At present, two-thirds of young people will re-offend within a year after leaving custody.

Mr Clark added:

“There is a worrying gulf between the quality of education in mainstream schools and secure institutions. This, combined with rising levels of violence, means secure institutions risk serving as conveyer belts for adult prisons, when they should be places children can learn, rehabilitate and be directed towards crime-free adulthoods.”

PET’s report notes that young people tend to come into custody with very negative experiences of education:

  • Leave school early: Over a third were aged 14 or younger when they last attended school
  • Many in care: More than a third have grown up in the care system
  • Slow learners: One-fifth have diagnosed learning difficulties

PET says secure institutions need to adapt to these complex needs by focusing on individual progress and potential. Whenever possible, they should use non-traditional methods to engage reluctant learners, including sports, arts and technology.

Other recommendations include improving recruitment practices, pay and conditions for staff, and giving more support to young people when they are resettling into their communities.

Charlie Taylor’s review of the youth justice system was expected to be published earlier this year but has been delayed. His interim report, published in February, found that education must be central to an effective youth justice system.

A government response was expected in summer but Justice Secretary Liz Truss said last week that she needed “time to think” the recommendations.


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