One Page: One year on

Ian Merrill
August 14, 2023

Welcome to 'One Page'. In this monthly newsletter, I will talk about the people I have met, and the things I have read or seen relating to Shannon Trust's vision, which is a future where everyone can experience the positive impact of learning. I hope these short pieces will start conversations, generate new ideas, and help our vision become a reality.


One year on


At the end of June, Ofsted and HM’s Inspectorate of Prisons published their joint report, The quality of reading education in prisons: one year on. It is a follow up to their March 2022 review, drawing on inspections between 1 October 2022 and 31 March 2023.


Reading is a life skill. It increases opportunities for employment and further training, improves connections with others and also brings pleasure. For those in prison, it is often accepted as a critical part of rehabilitation, so we can expect more focus on reading education in the coming months and years. This can only be a good thing. Change is a process, and it takes time. Inspections encourage us all to reflect on progress and the tasks still to do.


Back in the 1960s, Prime Minister Harold Wilson coined the phrase “A week is a long time in politics”. I have been thinking back, and a year certainly is – in August 2022, Boris Johnson was still in Number 10.


Last August, we were busy bringing Shannon Trust’s 3 year strategy to life. We knew our peer to peer learning worked, and we wanted to raise our game and scale-up, recognising the growing need in prisons and post COVID strains in the criminal justice system.


Part of this scaling up, is our team of contract funded Shannon Trust prison facilitators. They help promote our work, so we can reach more people in prison. In the past year, we have more than trebled the number of learners we now work with, and more than doubled the number of mentors.

Learning to read with Shannon Trust is different to traditional classroom learning. This is partly why what we do works, especially when the adult learners who come to us have struggled with formal teaching in the past.


There are a few reasons for this:

1. Our learners and mentors work one to one, in short sessions. They go through our reading manuals at the learner’s pace, so there’s no expectation, pressure or tests. Learners can repeat something as many times as they need. Often learning is one step forward and two steps back.

2. Our learners want to learn. Getting involved with Shannon Trust is not mandatory. Most of our learners want to make a positive change in their lives, maybe to keep in touch with friends and family, or to have a better chance of a new life away from crime. This means they are motivated and enthusiastic, even when learning seems hard. This makes a real difference.


3. Our learners and mentors form a bond, a two way relationship. Most people need to trust someone to ask for help; to admit they cannot read. When our mentors and learners work together, it is an adult to adult connection, between equals who understand what it is like to be in prison. This feels very different to the traditional teacher-pupil relationship, however hard the teacher works to build a good understanding.


4. Following on from this two way connection, mentors benefit as well as learners. They can develop skills to increase their chances of finding work following the end of a sentence, or help them take up other training. More importantly, they can feel satisfaction in making a difference to someone else and having a different purpose. This makes our peer based learning unique.

The growth of our team over this past year is making a real difference, and our data supports this conclusion.

Having a Shannon Trust facilitator working alongside prison librarians, education and prison staff, demonstrates that support for learning matters to that prison. It inspires learners to take up opportunities for help with their reading, and now numeracy too. It also encourages mentors because there’s recognition and structure, and someone to support them in their role.

Our work involves building relationships, being seen, growing influence and earning trust. It takes time to agree unlock arrangements and more physical spaces to learn; to be able to contribute to prison culture, to identify opportunities, encourage participation, and arrange support for those who are ready to progress from Shannon Trust to other educational courses. Like the mentor and learner relationship, our partnerships with others working in prisons evolve and strengthen with time.

I am looking forward to seeing the difference another year makes.    

Please get in touch if anything I have written resonates with you; whether you agree, disagree or have a suggestion for how we can improve what we do.

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