Bars to study

It is seldom that you hear a teenager say they love school. And
given the rough time that many young offenders have had with their
schooling, it’s little surprise to find that they are bitter about
the education system. For those young people taken into custody,
however, it is essential that they can continue with their
learning. The question is, what sort of education provision is
available to them?

The Youth Justice Board sets the minimum standards and funds
education in the juvenile estate, but it is up to the Prison
Service to deliver it in young offender institutions. Exactly what
is on offer varies between institutions.

“There is an inconsistent educational provision throughout the
juvenile secure estate, and some juvenile prisons are better than
others,” says Chris Callender, assistant director of the Howard
League for Penal Reform. He believes that the education on offer
fails to meet the needs of individual children, and criticises the
lack of diverse courses available to study beyond GCSE maths and

His organisation recently took on a case involving a young man who
had been studying for eight GCSEs before receiving a six-month
detention and training order. Even though his secondary school was
supportive and had registered him for his exams, he could not
continue studying his GCSE subjects once in prison.

Prison Reform Trust senior policy officer Enver Solomon says: “The
resources and regimes for juveniles contrast starkly with those
that await them after their 18th birthday.” While the YJB has
worked hard in recent years to improve education and skills
provision for juveniles, this has not fed through to the older age
group of young adult offenders.

The target is to provide 25 hours a week of core curriculum
education to young offenders in YOIs, but not all of them receive
that many hours, says Robert Newman, the YJB’s head of education
and training policy. “There have been problems providing
appropriate teaching environments, such as classrooms and
workshops,” he says.

Over the past three years, the YJB has tried to address the
facilities shortage by providing £13m of funding to build and
adapt buildings. For young offenders, gaining qualifications is
vital, as they can provide the ticket into employment.

But gaps in education persist. “The internal systems are not fully
working and communications systems with outside agencies still need
further development,” says David Hawker, vice-chair of the
Association of Directors of Education and Children’s

Solomon says the “appalling” reconviction rate for this age group
will get worse if they are not provided with quality education and

He adds: “If custody can offer no more than humane containment,
there is little hope of diverting a young offender away from a life
of crime.”

This point is picked up by Callender, who says that children and
young people will be “no better equipped to avoid offending and
leading productive lives on release” if their educational needs go

More resources, more courses, and more qualified teachers – these
are the things needed to improve the education on offer to young
offenders. As Callender suggests, one alternative that doesn’t have
resource implications is for children and young people to be
temporarily released from custody so that they can attend local

This would not only enable young offenders to receive the education
that they rightly deserve, but would also allow them to maintain
links with their community. These two things combined are
fundamental if these vulnerable young people are to be prevented
from reoffending.

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