Funding chiefs have been warned that vocational training aimed at getting prisoners straight into employment on release is an unrealistic option for many inmates.
Nacro, the crime reduction charity, has criticised Learning and Skills Council plans, published this week, that target the limited money available for offender education at skills for "stable employment".
The LSC insists the plans spelt out in a new education and training prospectus for the 80,000 prisoners and offenders in the wider community will reduce re offending.
Chris Ward, quality manager for Nacro, said: "Offenders need personalised learning and individualised learning plans around high- intensity education and support.
"For many, there is barely a remote chance of getting them into employment and there is a danger they would miss out on much else."
The LSC said it would consider the length of sentence, access to education and the offender's willingness to learn, but admitted to funding pressures.
The prospectus, titled Developing the Offenders Learning and Skills Service, says: "The budget available for the provision of learning and skills to offenders cannot meet the full demand from a sector of the population with poor levels of achievement. Once again, the LSC must prioritise."
Tough criteria will be used to ensure cash goes on employment-driven initiatives towards Government targets. To be eligible for funding, the activities must form part of an approved individual learning plan.
"Similar activities, delivered inappropriately and ad hoc, where the primary purpose is to occupy offenders' time will not attract LSC funding," says the report.
Mr Ward said the report had some excellent recommendations. "It is good that many offenders will get the same package of entitlements as people in mainstream learning." But, he said, the report failed to take account of the benefits of wider non-vocational education on crime reduction, insurance savings and costly incarceration.
Spending on such education was not solely the LSC's responsibility, he said, and so others around the youth offending and probation service needed do the "heavy- duty" work.