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The right competencies to improve prison education

Paula Hariott, User Voice's Head of Programmes, is at the forefront of the "user lead perspective" movement in the UK prison reform. In this post she discusses what prisons should be doing to improve adult education

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To rehabilitate more offenders it is necessary to improve prison education. Understanding the special situations of prisoners and prison officers are some of the core competencies that prison teachers need according to the partners of project European Induction Support for Adult Learning Professionals.

It is widely acknowledged that learning is now a continuous process that goes far beyond the formal boundaries of traditional education. This recognition of the value of “Lifelong Learning” has created a platform of new opportunity for adult learners and has opened up the concept of learning progression to adults from all social, educational and professional backgrounds.

On the way to rehabilitationNowhere is this diverse adult learner landscape more prevalent than in European prisons. Education is a key component of offender rehabilitation. It creates opportunities for prisoners to improve their skills both functional and vocational – and this is a key element in increasing the prospects of employment for an offender upon their release from custody.

However, if this opportunity is to be truly maximised then the professionals who teach and deliver learning outcomes in prison must be fully aware of the role that they play and the skills that are required in order to be successful.

EIS-ALP (European Induction Support for Adult Learning Professionals) is a dynamic and innovative partnership funded by the European Union under its Grundtvig Lifelong Learning programme. It has brought together a group of active European partners from both private and public sectors each with specific experience of the adult learning sector in custody. This two year project is focussed on improving the content and delivery of adult education in a prison setting and ultimately improving the outcomes for learners in prison across the European Union.

The right competenciesThe combined experience of the participating partner organisations has recognised that the key to delivering effective education to adults in custody is to define and shape the core competencies of those who choose to teach in this environment before they enter the criminal justice system.

This definition of a clear competency profile is crucial to driving the future direction of the work of the partnership of the EIS-ALP project. The aim is, in fact, that very shortly future work packages will manifest the development of training modules via an online platform which can be utilised to support the recruitment and induction of learning professionals and thus improve the quality of teaching that takes place in Europe’s prisons.

Among the special competencies needed for teaching prisoners that the project have identified is:

  • understanding the range of roles and responsibilities of the prison officers
  • understanding the interaction with prisoners, his/her rights and responsibilities and the confidentiality of one’s personal world in the classroom context.
  • understanding how incarceration may affect individual’s ability and willingness to learn and be involved in educational opportunities.
  • Knowledge of how to prevent threatening situations
  • Understanding the caring responsibilities and the limits of this support and the barriers of this support.

Improving prison teachingBearing in mind that this is a multi-national project, albeit within the European Union, it was important for the partners to transcend the local differences in legislation, regulations and rehabilitation practice and create a competency framework that is applicable to the wider requirements of the European criminal justice system. A final goal would be to integrate the competency profile into national and European wide qualification frameworks.

For individuals, the profile highlights self-evaluation and training opportunity to improve personal effectiveness as an adult learning professional in the criminal correctional system. This lends itself to a structured and improved format for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and allows those individuals working in this environment to self-examine their knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours pertinent to their role in delivering prison education.

The competency profile should prove invaluable when recruiting new teaching staff, training them, improving their overall effectiveness and also retaining them to perform this essential work. We would re-emphasise the link between effective education of offenders and their improved employment and social prospects. Whilst the rates of reoffending are variable between the countries of the European Union, there is no doubt that improving education in custody will only help to rehabilitate more offenders and also improve their chances of successful reintegration in our society.


Paula Hariott is User Voice's Head of Programmes, at the forefront of the "user lead perspective" movement in the UK prison reform. Her professional career is values led, built on a belief in social justice and drive to support community development.

Daiana Huber is a bids & tenders developer for CPIP Romania, working on prison education, police training and urban security projects. Her expertise is in public policy and in project management, with solid background in educational sciences.

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