Prison Education – A Hard Cell

Published: 7 November 2017

James King, Head of Learning & Skills in the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), presents tonight at 7pm in the Library Talk Lab (Level 3)

Image of Jim King Head of Learning and Skills in the Scottish Prison ServiceIn advance of his illustrated presentation ‘Prison Education – A Hard Cell’ to the Friends of Glasgow University Library tonight 7 November 2017 (at 7 p.m. in the Library Talk Lab on Level 3), James King, Head of Learning & Skills in the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), outlines the education policy of Scottish prisons.

To quote Colin McConnell, its Chief Executive, the SPS has sought to ensure that ‘everyone in our care has the opportunity to engage in creative and flexible learning that unlocks potential, inspires change and builds individual strength’(Learning & Skills Strategy, 2016-21, SPS, May 2016: ).

This vision is consistent with the Scottish Government’s aim in Adult Learning in Scotland: Statement of Ambition (2014) of developing learning that is lifelong, life-wide and learner-centred. Our ongoing commitment to a person-centred individual approach to engagement dovetails with the underpinning principles of the SPS Organisational Review with its vision of ‘Unlocking Potential - Transforming Lives’. This plan recognises the diversity of those taking part in learning in prison, their different backgrounds, skills mix and contrasting aspirations for future development.

The challenges of such diversity and complexity are often compounded by a significant cohort of reluctant learners with poor previous educational experiences, lack of aspiration, apathy and negative attitudes towards learning. Accordingly, we need to continue to encourage potential learners in innovative and creative ways that break down pre-conceived barriers and harness the strengths and latent talent of individuals by promoting critical education and self-reflection. In partnership with our learning service providers and other statutory and voluntary agencies (including the University of Glasgow), we have structured our approach across the following five principal themes:

• Engaging Learners;

• Strengthening Partnerships;

• Ensuring High Quality Learning Opportunities;

• Improving Our Capacity to Respond;

• Evidencing Success.

This collaborative approach to educational development has enabled us to access and introduce the particular strengths of partners working within the university and college sectors to supplement our core learning services and provide innovative and creative solutions for engagement. For example, our core college partners (Fife College) have developed a range of project-themed learning which harnesses contemporary themes (e.g. WW1 Commemoration, Indy Ref, Brexit) which are imaginatively presented to stimulate engagement, critical thinking and educational challenge.

This ‘liberal education’ approach has also been enriched by the involvement of university partners who continue to supplement our provision through introductory talks and peer support initiatives utilising post-graduate students to gain invaluable experience of teaching and research in custodial environments. These approaches have led to numerous educational awards and widespread interest in our creative approach among European partners.

Consequently, we currently produce the European Prison Education Association magazine and have recently agreed to head a review of custodial education policy across Europe on behalf of our European partners. We look forward to continuing with our innovative and creative approach to educational engagement to make as much difference as possible to the lives of those in our care. 

First published: 7 November 2017