Submission to the Education Select Committee inquiry - Education: Are prisoners being left behind?

January 2021

About the submission

The Education Select Committee inquiry 'Education: Are prisoners being left behind?' set out to examine 'how current arrangements support learners in custody and how well prison education delivers the skills needed by employers'.

Prisoners who are speakers of languages other than English face communication barriers in prison and when preparing for rehabilitation and release into society. The Bell Foundation submitted evidence to this inquiry to highlight relevant research from the Foundation’s Criminal Justice Programme.

Summary of recommendations:

  • The Ministry of Justice should introduce mechanisms which will ensure consistent data collection on prisoners with ESOL needs. The data must include ESOL needs and English proficiency, such as current pre-entry or entry levels as determined in an ESOL assessment. These data must be recorded and used to understand the level of ESOL requirements in prison and to evaluate the impact of ESOL education in prisons.
  • Introduce mechanisms to ensure that data on language support follows the offender through the criminal justice system and into prison
  • Introduce a consistent approach to ESOL screening in prisons to assess English language proficiency along with literacy and numeracy
  • Ensure the effective collection of ESOL needs across the secure estate. English language proficiency should be consistently assessed, collected and stored alongside key biographical information on each prisoner and used to provide extra support in prison education and signposting.
  • Ensure that prison staff understand the importance of ESOL education and empower offenders to participate in ESOL provision
  • Ensure ESOL prison education is relevant to the core skills required today by selecting ESOL curriculum based on day-to-day life
  • Embed English language provision within vocational courses in prisons. This can be achieved by improving language awareness of course tutors or providing language support assistants in the classes.
  • Actively seek feedback from prisoners’ experiences of education and adapt to insights to ensure good levels of engagement and retention
  • Ensure prisoners with ESOL needs have access to resettlement and offence-related programmes in the community by offering ESOL provision alongside employability and rehabilitation courses so that offenders can go into employment upon release
  • The Ministry of Justice conducts a review of all ESOL provision and resources in prisons to ensure that they meet the needs of prisoners