Improving Language, Improving Lives: Supporting ESOL in the Secure Estate

Research on the needs of, and provision for, speakers of English as a second or additional language (ESL) in prison, and recommendations for the future delivery of ESOL in the secure estate.

About the report

The Bell Foundation, Learning and Work Institute and De Montfort University have published a report ‘Improving Language, Improving Lives: Supporting ESOL in the Secure Estate’, which investigates the needs of, and provision for, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in prison, identifies the support these prisoners need, examines the impact of the resources created to meet those needs, and makes recommendations for the future delivery of ESOL in the secure estate.

This report is the culmination of a three-year project, delivered by Learning and Work Institute in partnership with De Montfort University.  As part of the scoping phase the project team found that there is very limited information about the nature and scale of ESOL needs in prisons.  Therefore, one of the key aims of the project was to enhance ESOL screening and delivery (through ESOL teaching and learning resources to support ESOL tutors) in prisons across England.

As a result, the ESOL Tutor Resource Pack (Finalist in the British Council ELTons Award for Local Innovation 2019) was created and is supported by a range of professional development days and training for tutors. The project also resulted in the creation of a screening tool to facilitate an effective, consistent and on-going assessment of ESOL needs, which can be used by prison officers.  With support from the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service this tool was circulated to all 25 regional Heads of Learning, Skills and Employment in England, and is currently in use in prisons across the country.

The report concludes by making a number of recommendations for policy-makers, education providers and prisons which include:

Key recommendations for policy-makers:

  • Ensure the effective and consistent collection of ESOL needs across the secure estate. Language information should be consistently collected and stored alongside key biographical information on each prisoner and should be used to support officer interactions, extra support and signposting. The Core Common Curriculum includes requirements in relation to assessing prisoners’ English and maths needs; this should include a specific focus on ESOL.

Key recommendations for education providers:

  • Work with prison staff to embed the screening tool and record outcomes for both learners and for prison staff, to help ensure that new arrivals are signposted to ESOL or other relevant support quickly.
  • Use the ‘Train the Trainer’ resources to train prison officers in the use of the ESOL screening tool, to help them identify ESOL needs. This could help with the new ‘key worker’ requirement to contribute to the development of the prisoner’s personal learning plan, helping to set and monitor educational outcomes.
  • Download and use the Improving Language, Improving Lives: Resources for ESOL Tutors, which link language learning with wider life skills such as health and civic capabilities. This aligns well with the purpose of prison education which recognises a need to build social capital, and to support the wellbeing of prisoners, as well as focus on skills for employment.
  • Work with prison governors, to highlight the ESOL needs in the prison and the resources required to respond to this.
  • Ensure that ESOL tutors have access to professional learning and development opportunities.

Key recommendations for prisons:

  • Embed early usage of the screening tool, for example on reception, to identify and record prisoners’ language needs.
  • Work with education staff to train wider prison staff on how to identify an ESOL need using the screening tool and ‘Train the Trainer’ materials.  This could be done by the Foreign National Co-ordinator or Equalities Officer for example.  This training will support prison officers in their new role contributing to the development of the prisoner’s personal learning plan.