Is Prison Education Working?

This is a question that’s posed in today’s Guardian, by Rachel Williams.

Jason Warr, who now works for User Voice, the rehabilitation charity, says: “Education departments are not big enough and not well funded enough to cope with the sheer numbers of people who desperately need literacy and numeracy.”

“In a lot of establishments, I found that targets were what was important. They used to get the bright lads to do the courses so they got the pass rates and didn’t get their budgets cut.”

Last year, the government published a review of offender learning, allied to the justice secretary Ken Clarke’s “rehabilitation revolution”. The system was not performing well, it admitted, while promising radical reform to make sure education inside the prison walls translated into jobs – and less reoffending – outside, via a focus on vocational and employability skills relevant to work available where prisoners were due to be released.

The rhetoric, many in the field agree, is encouraging. But with the latest round of new contracts for prison education due to be announced in the coming weeks, others fear that in reality a system already under strain is about to become even more stretched, as ever more unworkable demands are heaped on it and its staff.


3Di strongly supports the provision of classes in literacy and numeracy in prisons, and also the provision of vocational learning.

What, however, are “employability skills”?

Nowhere in this review of educational provision in prisons is there any focus on the educational deficits that normally bring about imprisonment in the first place – deficits in the personal, social, emotional and spiritual intelligences. Deficits in enjoying lifelong learning as a thing in itself. Deficits in learning how to learn, and how to be an independent learner. Deficits in personal creativity and imagination. These are the real keys to personal wellbeing and employability. These are the generic intelligences, attitudes, habits and skills that underpin successful living.

Yet again we ask the question – why do these deficits exist in the first place, and is there the slightest chance we’ll seriously address these issues in schools, colleges, universities, and yes – prisons?

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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