Functional Skills in prisons

The Institute for Learning (IfL) and the Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA) are calling for better support for prison educators. As an ex-prison educator and Functional Skills enthusiast, I was wondering how Functional Skills is working in prisons.

I was speaking to a practitioner in a prison in the North East last week who was waxing lyrical about the impact that Functional Skills has been having on student engagement. His students have responded extremely well to the real-life application of Functional Skills in English and Maths. In fact the entire conversation focused on these subjects. When I asked about ICT, he said, “Ah, that’s the real problem. We just can’t deliver it.”

Limited access to ICT makes Functional Skills ICT almost impossible to deliver in a custodial setting. Problems with access to ICT have also been highlighted in a report from the Prison Reform Trust and Prisoners’ Education Trust. Through the Gateway: How Computers can Transform Rehabilitation calls for significantly improved access to ICT. The report says this would improve rehabilitation as prisoners would be properly prepared for education, training and employment after release.

To facilitate better ICT access security issues would need to be addressed. However, providing access to e-learning resources would be one way to support teachers in prisons. With a wide range of abilities to cater for and a transient population, teaching in prison is a tough but rewarding option. Ministry of Justice research shows that learning in prison works, and that it cuts the likelihood of reoffending. And with a population that’s responding well to the Functional Skills approach for English and maths, it could be a real missed opportunity not to address ICT skills via Functional Skills too.

Adult literacy and numeracy students and practitioners – it’s time to have your say!

MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee are keen to hear the voices of both practitioners and adult learners.

If you’re an organisation they want to know:

  • If you have effective support from the government?
  • What are the best ways to help adults learn how to read, write and do maths – through formal education or in a different way?

If you have contact with adult literacy and numeracy students they are keen to hear the voice of students to find out:

  • How literacy and numeracy skills have affected them in life?
  • Do they feel supported, or do they want to increase these skills further?

The deadline for feedback is Tuesday 25 March 2014. Responses can be sent by making a video or audio file. See here for details.

The MPs on the Committee will try and watch or listen to all suitable submitted content – and this information will inform the MPs about the impact of low literacy and numeracy skills on peoples’ daily lives. The information will be used to compile a report to the government recommending how they should teach and train adults in maths, reading and writing. If you have an opinion, make sure you have your say.

How to show skill competence for Functional Skills English Reading at Level 1

At Level 1 students are expected to read and understand a range of straightforward texts. They need to:

  • Identify the main points and ideas and how they are presented
  • Read and understand texts in detail
  • Utilise the information contained in texts
  • Identify suitable responses to texts.

Most students find the first two points fairly straightforward. It’s the third bullet that is often the sticking point. In utilising the information students often have to go beyond a simple comprehension of a text. Instead they need to apply the information they’ve read in a given situation. The answer to these questions can’t simply be lifted from the text. So when you prepare students for these exams, spending more time on teaching them how to utilise information in texts is vital.

In this example students are asked for ways in which they could save money:

An adult wants to see a new band called The Publicity Machine. How could they save money on the ticket price?

Answer 1: If they book online 10 days before they visit, it is £2 cheaper than paying on the door.

In this answer the student has correctly applied the information in the text to a specific situation.

Answer 2. They could go with someone on benefits or an OAP.

Here, the student hasn’t applied the given context to the task. Instead they have found information about lower admission prices for certain types of people.

It’s often these higher order comprehension skills that prove quite tricky. You should find resources that help students read using context clues and inference. For adult learners these can be few and far between. One option is our Axis Hands On Comps – tins of graded comprehension passages from Entry 1 up to Level 1. And of course, you should make the most of the sample assessment materials provided by the awarding bodies.

Happy teaching!