Editor's comment

6th January 2006 at 00:00
The year has hardly started and, already, the battle has commenced. In one corner, a government with worthy objectives announces another initiative.

In the other corner, the providers of education - in this case, the lecturers themselves - argue that, while they welcome change, they need more cash to bring it about.

Natfhe, the lecturers' union, is calling for something to be done about the part-time, low-paid status of prison lecturers to make the Government's green paper on offender education work.

These comments strike a depressingly familiar tone. Can you think of one government initiative which has been welcomed without the condition attached that it will require more money to make it work?

On this occasion, though, there is some justification. Prison lecturers may, by definition, be hidden from view, but their work is surely among the most challenging faced by any teacher. FE Focus readers will know well the extent to which they have battled on, sometimes even when they have felt their own personal security has been at risk.

But there is no reason to be downhearted with the publication of the green paper. It provides, as Natfhe acknowledges, the all-important recognition that prison education deserves. This will only help the bargaining position of its members in prisons.

It has always been acknowledged that education reduces re-offending and it is to be welcomed that we have moved on from carrying out repeated research to reinforce this already obvious fact to actually using the information to improve government policy in a practical way.

No doubt, the rewards for prisoners, in the shape of better education, will come earlier than the rewards for lecturers, in the shape of better pay and conditions. But what the green paper does is to reinforce the importance of prisoner education as a benefit to wider society - most importantly, those who would be "re-offended" against!

This, in turn, can only improve the reputation of prison lecturers who are some of the most admirable members of an already heroic profession.

The green paper - Reducing Re-offending through skills and Employment - is aimed at getting offenders straight into employment after leaving prison.

It will be the skill and dedication of the prison lecturer which will determine whether this policy works.

Natfhe says many of these lecturers are paid even less than their colleagues in colleges. We will know that the Government is serious about improving prison education when this disparity no longer exists.

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