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Thief breaks into prison teaching

An ex-con building society manager is helping inmates to go straight through studying. Christine Selmon reports

WAYNE McIntosh walked out of prison a free man last May. Last week he went back behind bars for his teacher-training practice.

Over the coming year Mr McIntosh, 35, will spend one day a week inside Channings Wood prison, Devon, where he spent 12 months locked up for stealing from the building society he once managed.

He is one of 16 students who this month started a unique certificate in education course which specialises in prison teaching.

"The first day I went back inside to teach, I wondered if I would be accepted by the prisoners," he said. "But it was nice knowing I could leave again at the end of the day."

As part of the University of Plymouth's course, trainees must accrue 180 hours of teaching practice at Channings Wood - a category C men-only prison with around 600 inmates. A further two days each week are spent in theory classes at the university's Seale Hayne Campus, Newton Abbot.

Course organiser Dr Phil Bayliss said the postgraduate certificate in educationcertificate in education course, now in its second year, had encouraged former students to find jobs in Channings Wood, Dartmoor and Exeter prisons.

"Most of our students are aged between 30 and 50. They feel that the prisoners have been judged already, so they just get on and teach them as normal pupils," he said.

While the majority of inmates need basic skills coaching, others study for GCSEs, A-levels and Open University degrees.

Judith Williams, chief education officer for the Prisoners' Learning and Skills Unit set up by the Government, visited the scheme earlier this year.

She said specialist courses could ease the chronic shortage of qualified prison teachers.

"One of the problems we face is recruiting enough people to teach in prisons. Often trainees simply don't consider it," she said.

Mr McIntosh said basic skills were taught by compiling a portfolio of information which will be useful to inmates on leaving prison. It might, for example, contain a CV and examples of how to fill in official forms.

He said: "I got an unbelievable reaction, everyone has been extremely welcoming. I am in a unique position having been on both sides of the fence.

"I find it an honour and a privilege to be invited back. I was worried whether I would be accepted coming back as a civvie, but I think that is fundamental to the success of the work I am doing. It's no longer a 'them-and-us' situation."

LEARNING BEHIND BARS

* The Prisoners' Learning and Skills Unit was set up last April to review prison education.

* In 2000, 9,000 prisoners gained level two literacy and numeracy.

* Young people in custody are among the most low-achieving in the country - a total of 35 per cent have the reading ability of a seven-year-old or younger.

* In August 2001, the Howard League for Penal Reform found that more than 300 children in prison were not receiving the education they needed.

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