The quality of prison education has deteriorated sharply since the service was taken from local education authority control and put out to private tender, according to a national survey for the Prison Reform Trust.
Educational assessments are frequently not included as part of a prisoner's sentence plans. "Many prisoners miss out on education as a result," says a report on the survey.
Most prison education service providers say that their efforts play a major role in challenging offending behaviour, but there is little agreement on how successful the service is.
The service is under immense pressure to make cuts. This comes at a time when ministers are getting tough with plans set to expand the prison population by 15,000.
The Home Office recently admitted that the service was a soft target which was likely to bear the brunt of Home Secretary Michael Howard's demand for an 8.6 cut in spending on prisons over three years.
Nick Flynn, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, says: "There can be no more purposeful activity than education, yet the prison service appears content to provide little in the way of national support."