Letter: Chaos in prison service education

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Sir: The announcement (report, 15 January) that the contracting out of prison education is to be postponed for six months is further evidence of the confusion that now surrounds Home Office policy on competitive tendering.

As long ago as October, it was clear that the legal basis of contracting-out was in doubt. The Prison Reform Trust publicly warned that the European Directive on the Transfer of Undertakings might render the policy unlawful. It has taken the Home Office a further three months of delay and denial to postpone the contracting-out process.

The result will be chaos. In some prisons, the existing education providers may be prepared to continue to teach for a further six months. However, there will be little incentive for them to devise courses that may be summarily dispensed with in six months' time. The best of the teachers may already have found other jobs. The morale of those who are left will inevitably be very low.

However, many colleges may decide that there is little to be gained from entering into a six- month contract, where their only hope of extension may depend upon the result of a court case to test the legality of the Government's policy. The contract will go by default to other providers who will have just a few weeks to prepare teachers who may never have set foot inside a prison before. Prisoners, many facing exams crucial to their hopes of resettling into society, will be left without adequate guidance and support.

There are few aspects of our prison system that have been causes for pride and optimism. By its mismanagement of prison education, the Home Office has succeeded in devastating one of the few there was.

Yours sincerely,


Deputy Director

Prison Reform Trust

London, N1

15 January