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Delivering a qualification that is adaptable to learners’ personal and environmental needs, allowing them to progress in education and life after prison

HMP Bronzefield is a women’s prison with prisoners from all over the world. Originating from over 30 different nationalities, very often these women have little to no experience of the English language and arrive at the prison with no formal education. Bronzefield chose to deliver Gateway Qualifications’ ESOL qualifications to help prisoners achieve at least Entry Level 1. With the ability to contextualise assessments to make them relevant to a prison setting, Gateway Qualifications’ ESOL provision is helping learners improve their prison lives and develop skills that will set them onto a better path once they leave.

Contextualising and delivering to a range of learner abilities

Bronzefield’s ESOL tutor, Marion Rigg, and her assistant (who is a prisoner) carry out an induction process which determines suitable group levels for each learner. The assessment process involves learners completing a basic form requesting personal details, which tests reading, writing and speaking and listening skills. Along with standalone awards in Speaking and Listening, Reading, and Writing, the qualification allows a flexible delivery to suit groups of mixed ability and individual learners.

I had one Romanian lady who spoke English well but couldn't read or write a thing. She wasn't able to cope with 3 hours of learning every morning, she was disruptive and bouncing off the walls.

Marion Rigg, Tutor, Justive Services

Rather than disciplining this learner, her timetable was adapted. She was enrolled onto lessons in the skills areas she needed help with and her learning hours were shortened so she could cope.

I reduced her timetable to an hour a day and started her on our Turning Pages Reading Programme (20 minutes a day, 1:1 tuition)... and now she is happier. She has managed to achieve Gateway Qualifications Entry 1 qualifications in Reading, Writing and Speaking and Listening. When it comes to education you don't want to keep punishing them. In my view, you want to support them in their development by looking at the individuals needs as much as possible and adapting to suit those needs.

Marion Rigg, Tutor, Justice Services

Many offender learning tutors are skilled at individualising their approach. They are good at using the prison context and everyday documentation that learner will be encountering, such as prison notices, to make the learning relevant to their situation now.

I'll often practise work in class to relate to prison. For example, learners could be asked to fill out a complaint form and send it to the complaints department. In my view, learning has to be relevant to ensure learners remain motivated. Over the years, I have also had to extend schemes of work and adapt lesson plans to provide learners with the materials necessary to achieve the qualifications. The opportunity to contextualise the Gateway Qualifications tests means my learners are engaged in far more meaningful tasks.

Marion Rigg, Tutor, Justice Services

Skills such as filling out forms, writing letters and emails are taught, while the reading element has a range of materials introduced including prison notices – the key is to have prisoners interacting and learning from what they see daily and develop skills they can transfer and continually use when they leave.

Bronzefield prisoners have several barriers to learning that are deeper routed than not knowing the English language. Reasons for slower progress include mental health issues, often resulting from being in prison for the first time in a foreign country, and having little contact with family and friends. The intention is to tackle these problems while they learn, to help them succeed.

I am able to do quite a bit of self-development in class as well as facilitate their language development. I see them as women, first and foremost, who have low self-esteem and lack in confidence, so I try and boost that as much as I can which will improve their rate of learning and ability to cope in this environment - and then the wider world when they go out.

Marion Rigg, Tutor, Justice Services

Using a personalised qualification results in a boost in confidence and employability

Achievements surpass expectations using Gateway Qualifications ESOL provision. Marion recalls learners who arrived at the prison with very little skills, but are now qualified and attending literacy classes or vocational workshops. Having assessments available on demand, accessible papers and a quick turnaround of results influenced the centre to work in partnership with Gateway Qualifications.

Being able to contextualise assessments for learners in a vocational setting plays a key part in the success of learner’s achievements. Once learners reach ESOL at Entry 3, this indicates competence in writing and means they can find work in the wider prison in a vocational area, such as the salon. There they will continue learning with a vocational-based workbook.

Recently, a couple (of learners) went and worked in the salon from ESOL once they had achieved Entry 3 in Writing with me. The salon workers did struggle a bit with the jargon that they encountered with the British women and with the vocational-based workbooks but they are really good, hard workers and therefore were able to achieve a Level 1 qualification in hairdressing.

Marion Rigg, Tutor, Justice Services

In end-of-course testimonials, some learners mentioned how they originally felt unable to do much around the prison, leaving them feeling depressed. Thanks to progress in ESOL, learners are able to take part in prison work including the kitchen.

Another learner talked about feeling quite depressed and then she got a kitchen job based on the fact that she progressed in ESOL - that gave her more confidence, she was getting more money and she was just feeling happier in herself.

Marion Rigg, Tutor, Justice Services

Personal well-being has also improved. Learners gain skills that help make their lives better once they leave the institution.

There was one learner who said when she came in she didn't have the confidence to speak in a group or to her solicitor, always needing an interpreter in meetings. However, since attending the ESOL class for a number of months, her confidence has grown and she now feels she doesn't need someone with her all the time - like when she has an appointment with the doctor or nurse, and that is the view echoed by a number of other women.

Marion Rigg, Tutor, Justice Services