News and views

Helping make informed choices

2 October 2017

A prison governor recently told us how the Reading Plan is crucial to the foreign national men in his prison. He explained how learning to read 'helps the men here make informed choices about their futures' as they deal with the complexity of their situation, their futures and their day-to-day lives.

At a recent meeting of Mentors and Learners, we heard from a Learner who was presented with a certificate for completing our fifth and final Turning Pages manual. She told us how she had struggled with spoken English but had been able to pick up the structure of English sentences as she worked through the manuals. As well as reading she's now confident in conversational English and can chat with prisoners who don't speak her language. She's achieved a qualification and has plans for more training courses so she can improve her life when she leaves prison. She told us it was deeply shaming in her community to be sent to prison. She'd kept it a secret for a long time but is now letting others know about it because she wants to tell them to try Turning Pages themselves. 

ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages)is the term used in the UK for English language provision for adults like this Learner who are learning English as a second or additional language.

Although there’s no official figure for the number of ESOL prisoners in the UK, over 11,000 (13-14%) men are foreign nationals. Some will have lived in the UK since childhood, or come from countries where English is widely spoken but many will need help learning English.

We know that the Shannon Trust Reading Plan is popular with ESOL prisoners. In our 2017 Snapshot Survey, almost one-third of the Learners who took part told us that English was not their first language. Their reasons for getting involved were largely the same as non-ESOL prisoners, for instance, being able to read their own letters and better engage with the prison regime. And the factors that encouraged them to take part in the Reading Plan were too - as being able to learn on a 1-to-1 basis and work at their own pace.  However, one crucial difference, perhaps not surprisingly, was that ESOL prisoners view the Reading Plan as a great way to improve their English; unlike UK nationals they are not embarrassed about being unable to read English so are often more willing to come forward to ask for support from one of our Mentors.

Often we get asked if the Reading Prison is suitable for ESOL Learners – the answer is emphatically yes!  ‘Turning Pages, Changing Lives’, the evaluation of our Turning Pages reading programme published in January, looked at the impact that English being an additional language had on the progress of Learners over a 6 month period. It found that language had no detrimental effect on their progression through the Reading Plan and that, on average, ESOL Learners actually made greater progress than their peers.