News and views

The Big Picture - October 2021

Ian Merrill
1 October 2021

Every month, our CEO Ian Merrill shares updates on Shannon Trust's work and future developments.

We have spent time as a team during the spring and summer of 2021 thinking about our future as an organisation and the array of challenges and opportunities that we can see in front of us. One such important factor on the horizon is the new Prison Education Service (PES), which we think will supersede current arrangements that include the Prison Education Framework (PEF). Clearly, central government and its various arms are now giving serious thought to what the new PES will look like, and so it was interesting to see the recent joint communication from OFSTED and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) (here you if didn't see it) about the ‘poor state of prison education’.   

In the piece, the Chief Inspectors of OFSTED and HMIP comment upon the impact of COVID-19 on prison education and announce the launch of a new prison education review.  Of particular note for Shannon Trust, is the news that reading will be the initial focus of the review, and form a central feature of forthcoming inspections. 

Having spoken to senior leaders at both OFSTED and HMIP and explained the operational challenges Shannon Trust faces, we will now have the opportunity to contribute to the inspection of individual establishments, most likely through our network of regional managers.  I also stressed the important role of volunteers in the Shannon Trust model, and with that in mind, individual volunteers may have the opportunity to speak with visiting inspectors over the next 12 months – and this should be an excellent chance to discuss ‘what good looks like’ when it comes to addressing illiteracy amongst people in prison, and to highlight what would improve conditions on the ground, allowing us to extend our reach and impact.

I welcome this renewed focus on prison education by OFSTED and HMIP, and its initial focus on literacy; there is now a clear sense that the future of prison education is being re-written and within that a real opportunity for Shannon Trust to continue to raise the profile and importance of investing in helping people in prison to learn to read.  We have good evidence of what works and our approach to the re-design of prison education should be to share that knowledge and prison know-how, to best influence the provision of education for people in prison in future, specifically basic skills like reading.