Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education

First published:
30 September 2019
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I am pleased to update you today on the collaborative work undertaken on Offender Learning since my statement in March. This is also an opportunity for me to set out our approach to enhancing the education and employment opportunities for offenders in Wales.

Fundamental to the success of any ambitions in this area is engagement across the sector, including Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), Careers Wales, the voluntary sector, Further and Higher Education institutions as well as private and public sector partners. I am committed to continuing and enhancing our engagement with all such partners to improve the educational and employment outcomes for the men in Welsh prisons and Welsh women in prisons in England.

We continue to enjoy constructive working relationships with our colleagues in HMPPS and it is through this effective collaboration, over the past 6 months, that we have successfully delivered on a number of the recommendations set out in the Hanson Review.

We established a Learning, Employment and Industries Committee earlier this year, which has provided a forum for focus on education and employment outcomes for all prisoners in Wales. This Committee also provides the opportunity for colleagues across the prisons to share information and facilitates closer working between HMPPS, Prison Governors, Heads of Learning and Skills in Prisons, Estyn, the National Probation Service and ourselves.

We are introducing a standardised learning and skills prospectus to improve the consistency and quality of information available to offenders, enabling them to maximise the learning pathways throughout their offender journey.  The new format is currently being rolled out across all the prisons in Wales and its impact will be evaluated once embedded within the system.

To underpin these learning opportunities, a standardised Personal Development, Learning and Work Plan has also been developed. This new digital initiative will allow the offenders to take their learning journey with them across the estate and into the community. It provides an opportunity for a streamlined approach to tracking, measuring and monitoring learner progress and distance travelled within education, wellbeing, care, support and guidance.

Stakeholder engagement and accountability was another recommendation within the Hanson Review and I was delighted to attend our first Offender Learning and Employability Stakeholder Workshop in July, where we launched the Learning and Skills Strategy for Prisons in Wales. The workshop provided me with the opportunity to hear from representatives from business, academia, training providers and third sector organisations, and provided an invaluable opportunity for all stakeholders to collaborate and hear about projects, strategies and initiatives taking place throughout Wales.

I look forward to more of this engagement through the establishment of the new Offender Learning and Employability Steering Group for Wales, which will be meeting later this year. This group will be remitted to facilitate our ability to learn from one another in order to address some of the barriers faced by offenders when seeking employment. The Group will be instrumental in developing our future policy on Offender Learning and will hold us to account on the delivery of those policy actions, using the views and experiences of men and women in prisons.

I intend to ask the Steering Group to consider innovative recruitment practices to create employment opportunities for ex-offenders in both the private, public and third sectors as well as exploring a strategy to increase the numbers of those offenders considering self-employment opportunities. The Steering Group will start off by looking at David Hanson MP’s recommendation on accessibility to Construction Skills Cards.

The launch of the Working Wales advice service on 1st May 2019, delivered by Careers Wales, provides opportunities to ensure that the new system is fully integrated within the existing resettlement structures and “Through the Gate” services. Careers Wales and the Probation Service have taken steps to ensure that there is now a seamless service in place that provides careers advice at various different settings.

The Hanson Review recommended that Welsh Government should work with HMPPS to improve the availability of generic skills. Digital literacy is one of the areas that HMPPS and Welsh Government have already committed to working on.

The Wales Essential Skills Toolkit (WEST), used currently in Cardiff and Swansea prisons, includes an assessment of an individual’s digital skills which will identify if further support is needed. It is anticipated that, by the end of 2020, WEST will be rolled out to all the prisons in Wales to ensure consistency, and continuity of assessment and training provided.

Partnership working is fundamental to improving offender learning outcomes. I would like to encourage more projects like the one being driven forward by HMPPS with University of Wales Trinity St David who have agreed to support the development of a digital learning offer for offenders in Wales. The pilot course will be initially accessible for offenders to study in Swansea prison and, thanks to the collaboration with the local authorities, after their release. Projects such as these are only possible through engagement and collaboration across the sector, academia and local authorities and I would like to see more of this collaboration in the future.

For those Welsh women currently in English prisons, we will be working closely with HMPPS on both sides of the border to explore realistic education and employment opportunities that reflect the needs, personal circumstances and skills of our female offenders. We will work across Government to ensure that the employability of female offenders is considered as part of an integrated approach to rehabilitation.

Going forward, I am committed to delivering an offender learning environment that works for offenders; driving collaborative working with all those across the sector to develop a prison education system that engages and inspires people and one that delivers the “hook for change” to motivate people to stay away from reoffending.