Category Archives: Secure Estate



New research finds employers generally positive about their experiences of  hiring ex-offenders


On the whole employers are positive about their experience of recruiting ex-offenders according to research released  this week  by You Gov for CfBT Education Trust. More than half of employers believe that they have an important role to play in helping ex-offenders back into the workplace  and  almost  two thirds, 58%,  rated  ex-offender  employees as either good or excellent with just 17%  giving a poor rating.

The research was carried out this September among a representative group of 1051 employers with data weighted by sector , industry and size, polling senior managers.

The survey, Employers’ perception of best practice in prison education, also found that one-third (31%) of employers questioned had employed an ex-offender.  The Voluntary sector was the most likely to employ ex-offenders. The most common reasons for employing ex-offenders were their skills and attributes, as well as a sense of social responsibility. Employing an ex-offender was seen as contributing to corporate social responsibility, especially by those organisations most likely to employ an ex-offender (larger voluntary and public sector organisations), as well as half of all private businesses.

The skills that were seen to be most important in potential applicants were a positive attitude, cited by 44% of respondents, and technical skills (43%). One-third (33%) of employers agreed that prison education makes ex-offenders more employable.

The report also compared the views of employers that had no experience of working with offenders with those that had. Clear differences between the two groups were identified. Employers that had not employed an ex-offender were:

less likely to ask for more information about a criminal record;

more likely to automatically reject a candidate with a criminal record;

more likely to be concerned about external perceptions and the reputation of the organisation; and

more likely to say that nothing would make them feel more confident to employ an ex-offender.

The biggest barrier for ex-offenders finding a job were their criminal record (66%) with employers considering the type of crime committed as the major consideration (73%) when assessing   a job application from an ex-offender. This was followed by  the lack of work experience and poor reputation.

Education in prison received mixed reviews. Employers who have employed ex-offenders in the past are split in their perception of prison education-31% are confident in its ability to prepare ex-offenders and likewise 31% are not confident in it.

Improving hard and soft skills is the area which employers think would most help them get a job once they leave prison. Nearly half, 49%, mentioned soft skills such as communication appearance attitude and time keeping.

Richard Goss, head of learning and skills at CfBT Education Trust, said: “Prison education is a vital part of the journey to make people work ready and to develop both hard and soft employability skills. We need to ensure that all prisoners have access to education, but at the same time that the qualifications achieved while in prison meet the needs of employers.

“To give employers more confidence to give offenders a second chance, perhaps through a work-trial, we need to raise awareness of what prison education is, what it offers to offenders and, ultimately, what skills and attributes ex-offenders potentially bring to the workforce

Eoin McLennan Murray, President of the Prisoner Governors Association, who has broad experience of running different types of prison, at  this weeks report  launch said that the research confirmed his views based on his experience of working with offenders and ex-offenders and seeking to create bridges between employers and ex-offenders. Ex-Offenders have the odds stacked against them because of hostile public attitudes and prejudice  toward  offenders.It is very difficult for politicians to have a rational and informed  debate about the secure establishment and to  tell the truth. Current economic conditions and the state of the job market make it even more difficult for ex-offenders to find a job. Lack of employment is a major factor in re-offending.

McLennan Murray said that we need different approaches to assisting ex-offenders to find secure employment. Very few SMEs, which make up most of the economy, take on ex-offenders,  so we must look at options for financial incentives for employers to take on ex-offenders, possibly even applying  positive discrimination, and the public sector could do more.(the Prison Service  has a poor record  in this respect) .Companies should gain some form of recognition for being socially responsible in taking on ex-offenders. And given that employers  value work experience so much, more prisoners should be allowed to work under supervision outside the prison environment and allowed to keep more of their earnings to help establish themselves when they are released back into the community.. But McLennan Murray conceded that it is a difficult political environment within which to lobby for ex-offenders employment opportunities, although it makes sound economic sense to do so.



Report says not enough being done for excluded and Careers advice must be improved


Following a series of roundtable discussions and an open consultation, the National Skills Forum and Associate Parliamentary Skills Group launched the final report of their inquiry into skills and social inclusion, in Parliament in early February. The report, Doing Things Differently: Step Changes in Skills and Inclusion focuses on the impact of skills policy on three disproportionately excluded groups: offenders and ex-offenders; people with disabilities; and black and minority ethnic learners. In bringing together both the skills and equalities agendas, this report argues that better access to skills and training can create a more inclusive labour market, bringing economic advantage as well as helping to create a fairer and more mobile society.  The report outlines recommendations on several key themes including: increasing the participation of these particular groups in vocational learning and apprenticeships, raising aspiration through careers guidance, making the allocation of skills funding more flexible, rewarding training providers who perform well on equality and diversity, and ensuring that these learners have the right skills necessary to gain employment.

Careers Education and Guidance was widely criticized by participants in the inquiry and these groups of learners are steered into low skills stereotypical work sectors serving to perpetuate the cycle of inequality.  Participants argued that careers guidance must be learner centred. Greater professional development of those involved in delivering Careers guidance is critical, particularly the use of specialized training to ensure that guidance is tailored to the needs of different learner groups. This was similarly identified by the Skills Commission Inquiry into information advice and guidance which noted that high quality careers guidance increases equality of opportunity.  Looking at the offenders group the report noted that 52% of male offenders and 71% of female offenders have no qualifications whatsoever. 48% of prisoners have literacy skills at or below Level 1 and 65% have numeracy skills at or below Level 1.

The report estimated that £ 30 million is wasted each year on prisoners being transferred before they complete education courses,   and so urgent improvements to the system are needed. It uncovered evidence that not enough is being done to tackle the issue of ex offenders unable to secure work because of inadequate or irrelevant training leading to poor skills and a lack of qualifications.  Improving education and skills alone could help cut re-offending and save up to £ 325 million a year in the process.  The report looked at each group in turn making recommendations:

For Black & Minority Ethnic Learners

  • Government communicating more effectively to parents of BME learners the learning options and careers choices available;
  • Government (DCSF) and Training & Development Agency to address negative aspirations of BME learners by providing enhanced career guidance;
  • Office for Fair Access should encourage Russell Group universities to participate in careers guidance at institutions with a high BME student intake

For Offenders

  • Greater use of release on temporary licence for work experience and work trials to boost ex-offenders employability;
  • Employer network to be set-up to share knowledge and best practice on employing exoffenders;
  • Government to include education & training as inherent part of sentencing process, especially for those on short-term sentences;
  • Participation in education & training should be made integral to the daily prison regime
  • Government must raise investment in IT learning resources, such as the ‘Virtual Campus’ e-learning initiative to help offenders continue their education despite transfer between prisons

For people with disabilities

  • Employers and government should partner to encourage employers to promote equality and diversity and to target underrepresented groups within their sector;
  • Government needs to simplify funding mechanisms to support disabled learners and reduce the bureaucratic burden on disabled learners, their families and employers wishing to access training;
  • Learners with disabilities should be given greater access to training in a job related     environment to help better prepare them for the world of work.

The inquiry is sponsored by the TEC Trust Fund, a charitable fund established to further the pursuit of skills excellence in the UK.




Just three years ago, education in prisons was put under one authority, the Learning and Skills Council.

But now that the LSC is being abolished, the responsibility is to be split between two organizations. In the wake of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act, from this April onwards ,prisoners education and learning will be funded  through the Skills Funding Agency. However, for those in youth detention, the Government will fund education through the Young People’s Learning Agency from April, and then from September this will be funded through local authorities with funds allocated to them by the Young People’s Learning Agency. The YPLA will deal with those up to the age of 18 and the Skills Funding Agency from 18 onwards. Still with me?

The Government trumpets its investment in education in prison which has risen threefold from £57 million in 2001-02, to more than £175 million in 2009-10. So, since April 2000, spending on education for young people in custody has increased more than sevenfold. But there are clearly some worries over this new restructuring and who will have responsibility for what. Pity the poor contractors who have to deliver education in prisons having to cope with all this. Having dealt with one principal contractor they will have to deal now with a  number of different agencies, including different local authorities, for the same contract.

Lord Ramsbotham, the respected former chief prisons inspector,  wonders who  will be responsible for telling the YPLA and the SFA what they have to fund, so that provision is consistent for prisoners of the same type wherever they happen to be held in the United Kingdom  There is scope for considerable confusion here, he believes .For starters, who  will lay down who does what on a split-site young offender establishment, which has juveniles who will be under the YPLA, and subsequently local authorities, and young offenders under the SFA?. Recipe for confusion?  Is the Pope Catholic?

Meanwhile, Manchester College which won a number of the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) contracts awarded by the Learning and Skills Council, in summer 2009 is busy making employees redundant, which is  raising some eyebrows. The College has received upwards of £2 million from the LSC to cover the costs of redundancies in OLASS contracts. These costs were ‘unforseen’ by the College during the tendering round. One wonders if these   costs had been  ‘foreseen’ and taken into account in the original bid whether   the Colleges  bid would have looked quite so competitive? A question no doubt its fellow bidders are now asking.  The Government publicly expresses its confidence in the Colleges ability to deliver its contractual responsibilities.