Fewer results, but just as much satisfaction

Better education is the key to rehabilitating young offenders - and to preventing teenagers turning to crime. Nicolas Barnard joins classes held behind bars

Schools and colleges are scenes of celebration and commiseration across the country when exam results come out. Lancaster Farms is no different.

The numbers may be lower, but inmates at the young offenders' institution are encouraged to work for qualifications: last week saw three of them claim GCSEs in maths and English. The week before, one former inmate gained a B grade in A-level government and politics. And two ex-offenders are now studying at university - all thanks to a regime that stretches inmates' abilities and tries to set them on a road that will prevent re-offending.

Lancaster and Morecambe College provides the extensive education programme, which covers everything from basic skills to A-levels, vocational training, and a host of personal development courses. Head of education, Ann Chadwick, has the challenging job of finding the right courses for inmates, some of whom may be at Lancaster Farms for only a few weeks or months. Open learning and short courses are common.

At least 15 hours per week must be provided by law for the handful of inmates under 16, but all prisoners are entitled to at least five half-days a week, and with good behaviour can "earn" up to 10.

Next year, for the first time, two A-level classes will be run in psychology and sociology, but most courses involve basic literacy, numeracy and life skills such as cooking and job-hunting.

Thursday sees a group of six inmates taking a "Dads R Us" course. All have, or are expecting, children, and as one of them says: "I want to be a better dad when I get out."

The course covers the rights and responsibilities of fathers but also looks at how successful relationships work and how others can break down.

One inmate says of the prison programme: "It gives you a better view for when you get out. When you're out, you're with your mates, nicking and that, and you don't know anything else. You're in here for a few months and it gives you a different look at different things."

One sign of the regime's success is in the relatively low-level security surrounding some courses. Two female tutors in one block run classes on catering and information technology. Between them they look after 24 students, but a guard is only needed to call in every 20 minutes.

Head of inmate activities, Jimmy Hughes, believes it is the prison's positive approach that makes the difference.

"We are opening up new avenues. A lot of places put courses on, but it's just lip service. They don't believe what they are doing," he said.

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