Prison learning in limbo

15th April 2005 at 01:00
Prison education experts reacted with disbelief this week as a crucial announcement of who will run teaching in a third of jails was postponed until after the election.

The Learning and Skills Council had told colleges and learning providers in three regions that their contracts would expire at the end of July. It had been expected to announce the successors at the start of April. But this week it said election guidance meant names could not be revealed until next month, leaving providers in the affected areas in limbo.

"It is absolutely ridiculous," said Steve Taylor, director of Forum on Prisoner Education. "Neither the contractors nor the tutors know whether they will have the work from August. Employees do not know who their employers will be."

Mr Taylor accused the LSC of using the election as a smoke screen to hide the real causes of the delay. "It is the LSC finding a way to buy time because they have run into problems." He believes the real reason for the delay is problems sorting out contracts for prison tutors as they transfer between employers.

"Many of our members are up in arms about what is going on," said Christiane Ohsan of the lecturers' union Natfhe. "Yet again they face a period of uncertainty."

A spokeswoman for the LSC said: "As a non-departmental public body, the LSC has to ensure that it acts totally impartially during this period. We need to ensure that we do not make decisions that may have implications for an incoming administration. We are therefore postponing the award of the contracts."

The Offenders' Learning and Skills Service - which provides mainstream education to inmates - is being piloted in the North-east, North-west, and South-west with the other six regions due to adopt it in August 2006. It is the latest attempt to improve education standards and cut re-offending. In the past 15 years, responsibility for prison teaching has passed from councils to the Home Office, Department for Education and Skills and now the LSC.

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