Barred from learning?

There is
a striking discrepancy in the amounts of money spent on education
for children held in secure units and those in juvenile units at
young offenders’ institutions. Anabel Unity Sale asks

was 15 when he was sentenced to three years in a young offenders’
institution. At the time he was studying for GCSEs in English,
geography, maths and science and an IT vocational qualification at
secondary school.

But his
academic progress stopped when he was sent to a YOI juvenile unit
80 miles away. Despite his requests, no one from the juvenile unit
or the youth offending team contacted his school to send him work.
He missed the registration date for his exams and had to be
enrolled in the next sitting.

three weeks before he was due to take his GCSE exams, Colin was
moved without warning to another juvenile unit for 15- to
17-year-olds. The new unit was not aware he was doing exams so he
could not register with the examination board because he had not
given it advance notice.

He has
enrolled in classes at the juvenile unit and is still waiting to
take his GCSE exams. He says his teachers are not stretching him
enough, have low expectations of him and complains that his English
class is “repeating stuff”.

It might
have been a different story if Colin had been serving his sentence
in a local authority secure unit. While education in secure units
is highly regarded, similar services in YOIs often struggle to meet
offenders’ most basic needs – and the difference may be to do with
resources. While secure units spend £16,079 a year on
education per child, YOIs spend a barely comparable

So why
the difference? Secure units tend to be smaller and cater for far
fewer young people: there are currently 2,697 young men and 156
young women in YOIs, and just 248 children in secure units across
England and Wales. Yet education funding both for local authority
secure units and for 15 to 17 year olds in YOIs juvenile units
comes from the Youth Justice Board.

YOIs are
legally required to offer a minimum of 15 hours’ education per week
to school age offenders, and their education services are run by
local education providers. When a young person goes into a YOI they
are offered a basic skills and literacy test, which 90 per cent of
young offenders choose to complete. The results form the basis of
their education programme, which includes basic reading, writing,
communication skills and physical education, as well as GCSEs and
vocational qualifications.

class sizes are around 10-12, and the hours of education offered
vary from establishment to establishment. Their education is often
combined with vocational training, for example basing it around
their work in the institution’s kitchen or garden. All young people
in YOIs must also attend classes to address their offending

contrast, local authority secure units have a statutory duty to
provide school age children with 25 hours of education per week.
Education services in secure units are outsourced to private
agencies working in conjunction with the local council. Classes
have four pupils per teacher and broadly follow the national
curriculum up to GCSE level. Individual education programmes based
on child offenders’ needs are offered along with offending
behaviour classes.

detailed breakdowns of the educational attainment of children and
young people in secure units and YOIs are kept by the government.
However, the YJB and prison service are planning to amend the
situation with a view to keeping more detailed records.

So why
is there such a large a disparity between the amount spent on
education for younger offenders in the different estates? Robert
Newman, the YJB’s policy adviser on education in the secure estate,
says the situation arose from the way juveniles were incorporated
into the adult prison system. “Historically the prison service was
never geared up to working with juveniles and they have been
introduced into the system by default.”

Hood is head teacher at Orchard Lodge secure unit in south London.
He says the extra funding for education in secure units reflects
their additional staffing, training and advice costs. Education
helps raise the self-esteem of the unit’s 24 boys aged 11 to 17
years old, he says, and its curriculum moves younger offenders away
from high-risk offending behaviour and a high dependence on
professionals to low risk behaviour and greater independence. “Our
concentrated education programme gives the young men the
opportunity to have their abilities recognised by others and to
recognise these themselves.”

difference in funding between the two regimes “cannot fail” to have
a negative impact on the quality of education young offenders
receive, says Fiona Reddick, the Prison Reform Trust’s young
parents in prison project manager. Howard League for Penal Reform
policy officer Lorraine Atkinson says the marked difference in
resources means the curriculum in YOIs can be more limited than in
secure units. She says: “If children and younger offenders are
doing GCSEs there should be an equality of provision across the
prison service.”

Owers, chief inspector of prisons, is well aware of the problem. At
last November’s launch of A Second Chance,1 a
report on the education inspections carried out in juvenile units
during the first year of the new youth justice system, she said
education provision needed to be improved.

report suggests that effective teaching is difficult if not
impossible in some establishments because of the constantly
changing prison population, staff shortages, unpredictable
attendance patterns and varying degrees of learner motivation.

problem facing YOI education services is the difficulty in
recruiting teachers with the appropriate training and

says secure unit teachers earn more than their colleagues in
mainstream schools and YOIs: “You have good working conditions,
rewarding pay and the opportunity to get more support in secure
units than in other establishments.”

admits there are few financial incentives for teachers to work in
YOIs and says teachers in secure units are better paid and have
more contact with the profession. “One improvement which would make
the biggest difference is to see more qualified and experienced
teachers coming into YOIs,” he says.

also believes more needs to be done for children with statements of
special educational needs in YOIs. “If a SEN child is in the
community the local authority is obligated to fund them. If they go
into a YOI the authority has no obligation,” she says. “Children in
prison should have the same rights as a child in the community. If
a child has special needs they should be met regardless of where
they are.”

wants the 1994 SEN code of practice to apply to children serving
custodial sentences and says the 1993 and 1996 Education Acts
should also apply to children in secure units and YOIs.

says the YJB is well aware of the education disparity between the
different estates. Last November it announced an additional
£40m would be spent on improving education and training
provision in YOIs over the next three years. It has also developed
national specifications for learning and skills to implement the
improvements. More significantly, its main aim is to increase the
education provision in YOIs to 30 hours per week by March 2004.

in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills’
prisoners learning and skills unit and Ofsted, Newman says the
specifications provide a detailed template of what the 30 hours of
education should contain. Alongside traditional education it
includes personal development activities such as parenting and
citizenship classes.

prisoners learning and skills unit will help secure establishments
implement the specifications and is hosting a conference for both
regimes to share good practice in September.

argues that providing appropriate education to children and young
people while they serve time in a secure unit or YOI is essential.
She says: “Education is so important because so many young people
who end up in custody have missed out on it at school. The prison
system has to catch up and give young offenders a chance.”

1 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Prisons in
England and Wales, and The Office for Standards in Education, A
Second Chance
, HMIP, 2001, see

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