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HM Inspectorate of Prisons: Report on HMP Peterhead


7. Learning, Skills and Employability


7.1 All aspects of learning, skills and employability ( LSE) come under the responsibility of the Unit Manager Prisoner Activities. A full time manager is employed by Motherwell College to organise the activities in the learning centre and to provide learning support to the Vocational Training ( VT) workshops. The SPS contract for the provision of LSE in Peterhead started on 1 April 2005, and is held by Motherwell College.

Staffing and Resources

7.2 All staff involved in LSE are suitably qualified, committed and enthusiastic. The learning centre employs six appropriately qualified and experienced teaching staff who are highly committed to the needs of learners. Two prison officers/instructors manage the workshops where VT in horticulture and joinery take place. They are well qualified and manage the learning in the vocational workshops extremely well.

7.3 The learning centre offers a good level of accommodation to support learning activities. It is well located and contains three teaching rooms, a library, IT facilities and an office of an adequate standard. However, the temperature of these rooms cannot be controlled sufficiently to always ensure a pleasant learning environment. The VT workshops are located to the rear of the prison but are very well resourced with polytunnels and greenhouses available for horticulture courses and a large well-organised joinery workshop for carpentry courses. The large amount of space available offers very good opportunities for working outdoors. The laundry and the textile workshops would be suitable for delivering vocational courses if they had access to a classroom environment. Both workshops are well equipped and maintain industry standard health and safety practices. However extending the vocational programme into these areas would also require additional staff training.

7.4 Prisoners and staff have access to a good range of resources to support LSE activity, well suited to the client group. The learning centre has access to an appropriate number of up to date PCs. However, in line with SPS policy, prisoners do not have access to the internet.

7.5 A library is situated in the learning centre and contains a good range of general fiction and special interest books. An organised lending system ensures records are maintained about who is taking books and which books they are taking. However, analysis of these records shows that they would benefit from being computerised. Books are donated by prisoners and the library has a section maintained by the mobile library service of Aberdeenshire Council. Prisoners make good use of the ordering system provided for specific titles. Commendably, the library also has a reference area containing learning resources for both staff and prisoners to use. Staff are developing the library to include DVD hire, and prisoners have access to a small range of audio books. Prisoners have good access to the library facility every week. Usage of the library had diminished in recent months, but staff have plans to reinvigorate its role and purpose.

7.6 Prisoners were very positive about their relationships with the staff and were very happy with the quality of the education they received. Staff were well prepared and had adequate resources for delivery of the courses. The VT workshops in particular are well resourced and provide a realistic working environment.

Access to Learning, Skills and Employability

7.7 All prisoners are introduced to LSE opportunities during induction. Learning centre staff consistently promote opportunities for learning through posters and information leaflets distributed in the halls. Staff also hold a useful welcome session for new learners. Most classes were fully subscribed, with some having a small waiting list. Each week there are twenty five class sessions with 214 learners enrolled on courses, amounting to over 40% of the prisoner population. High attendance rates of almost 90% help ensure high levels of retention on the courses.

7.8 Almost all learners were enthusiastic about the learning opportunities provided and were committed to their studies. They understood the learning centre and VT worksheds had limited capacity for courses and a few did want more access to the learning centre. They recognised the need to develop appropriate employability skills and complained of the limited opportunities for VT in the workshops. In particular learners with shorter sentences, or those coming to the end of their sentences, had limited opportunities to access VT workshops.

7.9 More than a few learners would like to see more courses offered which deal with enterprise skills and being self-employed. This was not a sufficient focus or priority for LSE provision. The learning centre has plans to offer a City and Guilds Basic Bricklaying Course but these are at an early stage of development.

7.10 Overall, the absence of a strategic plan for the provision of LSE has resulted in a curriculum that does not fully reflect the importance of developing appropriate employability skills for the majority of learners.

Assessment of Need

7.11 All prisoners attending induction complete an 'Alerting Tool' intended to highlight significant need in literacy and numeracy, and prepare Individual Learning Plans or Learning Logs as appropriate. There is a high conversion rate from recognising needs through this process into accessing courses in the learning centre. However the profile of learners in Peterhead Prison is such that many already have adequate literacy and numeracy skills on entering the prison and require a broader range of courses which provide more advanced vocational or employability skills. The SPSLSE contract was felt by staff to be too inflexible to fully meet this need.

7.12 Twenty learners had enrolled on Open Learning programmes and the learning centre manager organises adequate access to the learning centre for this group of learners.

Delivery of Learning

7.13 All staff engage well with prisoners, capturing their enthusiasm and using an appropriate range of methods. Staff prepare very well for activities and classes, making good use of pre-prepared materials which are well designed. They use a range of approaches to maintain interest and to match the needs of the group, including student led sessions, direct teaching, role play, practical work, self study and simulation. They cope extremely well with groups working at different levels and at different stages of progress, maintaining enthusiasm and commitment amongst learners. Staff build purposeful relationships quickly with prisoners which improve retention and achievement.

Prisoners' Learning Experiences

7.14 Overall prisoners were very satisfied with the relevance of their learning and the support from tutors. Learners based within the learning centre were very positive about their learning experiences. Classrooms contain good displays of learners' work, creating a positive learning environment. Learners attend the VT courses in horticulture and carpentry each day with very good support from two prison officer instructors available at all times. Learners here were also very positive about their learning experiences and this was reflected in the high achievement rates. However, learners who were about to complete their courses had not discussed progression and were unclear as to what further opportunities would be available on completion of their course.


7.15 The majority of students were achieving their coursework. Certificated courses on offer ranged from Literacy and Numeracy Access Courses, through SVQ levels 2 and 3 to Open University undergraduate courses. At the time of the inspection one prisoner was putting the final touches to his portfolio submission for his Higher art exam. However learning centre staff have not systematically updated learners ILPs to record and monitor progress on the development of softer skills such as confidence in learning. Staff make good use of certificated courses, and provide internal certificates to celebrate prisoner achievement when appropriate. However, Moray College was awaiting accreditation for the level three programme in Horticulture, and assessment had not taken place on the City and Guilds course in joinery. This resulted in a delay in learners achieving their qualifications.

7.16 The prison magazine "Peter Patter" has recently been relaunched and is now produced and edited by a group of nine prisoners. Prisoners presented their ideas for change to the Governor, and were now enthusiastically writing and preparing their next issue. The editorial group meet weekly and use the learning centre as a base. The magazine attempts to raise serious issues as well as provide entertainment and information. This is an area of good practice.

Ethos and Values

7.17 Staff enjoy a good working relationship between the LSE provider and the prison. The Unit Manager Prisoner Activities holds regular meetings to monitor progress towards targets. VT staff work collaboratively with learning centre staff in the interests of the prisoner. Relationships between staff and prisoners in LSE activity were almost universally good. Relationships amongst prisoners in workshops and classes were positive, helped by the relaxed atmosphere. Staff create a positive ethos of achievement, particularly in classes leading to a clear output or qualification.

Quality Assurance

7.18 Quality assurance and improvement strategies are mostly informal and staff do not deploy a systematic approach to ascertain what actions are necessary for improvement. Discussion between learning centre staff has led to quality improvements but these are not formally recorded or monitored. Learners have no input into formal action plans but are consulted on an informal basis through discussions in classes and workshops. Formal meetings between the Unit Manager Prisoner Activities and the Learning Centre Manager have resulted in improvements to the achievement of contract targets, including class profiles and an increase in the number of classes on offer.


7.19 The provision of LSE in Peterhead Prison is good overall. Learners are clearly enjoying their learning experiences and are well motivated and committed to their studies. The staff are well qualified and experienced and have established very good relations with their learners. Prisoners are achieving within their classes and activities. However, the provision of LSE would benefit from an overall strategic development plan integrating all current and potential delivery mechanisms. This would give a clear sense of direction and impetus to the provision of LSE and help to ensure that the LSE opportunities provided fully meet the needs of prisoners.