PeoplePlus Conference 2018.

Having spent time as a learner in prison with PeoplePlus it was good to be invited to attend their conference at Wyboston Lakes Resort on Friday 28th September 2018. I learned even more about the organisation that is the largest OLASS provider in the prison system; did you know that they have around 10,000 learners in prison at the moment? As I was sitting listening to the facts and figures given out, I wondered at how many lives that would change. 10,000 prisoners in learning of one form or another can lead to many more -probably countless numbers- of lives being altered. Think of it like this: each learner will talk to their cellmate, their friends in jail and their family members and friends outside of the custodial system. Countless lives being changed by the tutors that turn up to prisons to teach day in and day out.

I also heard about and witnessed education being planned and delivered at the cutting edge; innovative material like Wayout TV producing educational videos through the Way2Learn TV channel and then there are the other items in the Way2 family. I am more convinced then ever abiut the way in-cell learning can enhance what goes on inthe classroom, and aid real rehabilitation. It is encouraging to seethat the Wayout team are looking at ‘Bridging the Gap’ between learning in prison and in the community. The introduction of digital technology can only take prisoner progression further. For far too long now the Prison and Probation Service have held out on introducing real technology into their estate. What good is it to prisoners who are being released if they have now up-to-date IT and digital world skills? Access to (a controlled) internet is vital if prisoners are going to get the best out of their time in custody. There was a demonstration of a new virtual learning tool that will track the learners progress as they use this VLE digital system to study. I heard about HMP Wayland delivering courses using a 3D printer (the first closed prison in the country to allow such learning). I think all of that deserves the round of applause that was given.

During the review of the last academic year the conference was told about how each team at each jail had performed. It was amazing to hear that even with the crisis in the Prison Service with lockdowns, violence and other security issues these men and women still delivered the best quality teaching that they could. That, in the present climate of disruption, shows the commitment and passion that I saw in many of the tutors that I learned under or was employed as class mentor to.

It was an enjoyable time spent with tutors that I know, and those that I do not yet know. Over lunch, and later on, dinner, I was speaking with several teachers about the impact of their work. As I mentioned above, it goes further than they will ever know. For my journey it was truly life changing, and has even caused me to change career from chef to writer, commentator and (soon to be) motivational speaker. I hope that from my involvement at this event that I can further enhance the work I do with PeoplePlus in their prisons. I want what they want. I want to see prisoners realise that when they are released there is a pro-social life that they can lead; having a criminal conviction should be the turning point to a new crime-free way of living, and I want to help enforce that message.

After a good night’s rest, and a full English breakfast I had to catch an early train. I was due I London to take part in the Prisoner’s Education Trust’s (PET) Advisory Group. This group of ex-prisoners discuss where the focus of the Trust shoild be in the next academic year as well as other issues that face this organisation.

At this session we talked through what we thought our priorities ought to be for the Trust, and whether the they ought to be supplying funds for prisoners that simply want art and hobby materials. This topic lead to quite varied comments with some very useful suggestions being made. I cannot, at this time, share what the outcome was. This is because the Trust will deal with this topic again.

On a sad note, which is never a good way to end a blog, I want to make mention of an incident that occurred on my way home. The train in front of the one I was travelling on collided with a car at a level-crossing. The driver of the car died in that incident, and I want to pass on my thoughts and prayers to that person’s family, and to all who were caught up in the incident. While I had a much longer journey home than normal I did, at least, reach home safe and sound.

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