DMU leads research to help improve quality of English language provision in UK prisons

One of the first studies into the provision of English language learning in UK prisons is being carried out by academics at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

The university is working with Learning and Work Institute on the Language for Change project, which aims to find out what is available for those who do not speak English and improve approaches to assessment and provision.

Three prisons and three community rehabilitation projects will be recruited to be part of the pilot phase of the project in the first year.

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Academics will visit each prison to meet and interview prisoners who are ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) learners. The study is being funded by the Bell Foundation, an educational charity which works to change lives through language education.

Ross Little, lecturer in criminal justice, will be the lead researcher. He said: “This is a very under-researched area and we will be looking to see what can be done to improve the quality of provision.

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“Many people in prisons in this country are unable to communicate well in English and this impacts significantly on their lives inside and outside of prison. A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons found that people who do not understand spoken English are much more likely to report having felt unsafe in prison.”

Learning and Work Institute is planning to introduce a Citizens’ Curriculum for ESOL learners. The idea puts learners at the heart of deciding what is most important to help them move on.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said Learning and Work’s thinking complements current policy around prison reform: “The prison reform agenda requires new approaches to learning which we know can boost rehabilitation of offenders. The Prime Minister said that learning was central to prison reforms. I agree and our Language for Change project is a great example of how new ideas can achieve real change.

“The Citizens’ Curriculum is a tried and tested model that works because it recognises that one type of learning rarely solves the issues; our approach is about ensuring prisoners get the skills they want and need for life and work.”

It goes beyond English language and maths provision to add health, financial, and digital capabilities to help people progress onto courses and work and ultimately, it hopes, reduce re-offending. The DMU research will contribute to this by helping to address the evidence gap and find out what needs to improve with current provision.

The study follows two reports commissioned by the Bell Foundation on life for people in prison for whom English is a second language. The reports, both published in February 2015, highlighted a lack of knowledge in this area and noted its potential impact upon successful rehabilitation.

The Prison within a Prison report found there was no data available on how many people in prison had English as a second language. Researchers found not being able to speak English was a large factor in how they were able to cope with prison and life after release. The second study, Language Barrier to Rehabilitation identified literacy training and English language skills as crucial.

Posted on Thursday 10th March 2016

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