Teaching in a prison: ‘Education has the best chance of turning lives around’

 I’ve been a teacher at Feltham prison – an institution for young male offenders – for two years now. I work with 15 to 18-year-olds, but only a few of them stay with us throughout those years. The average sentence served here is about four months, so the group changes frequently. Emily Dewar-Langridge teaches young offenders and writes in The Guardian. She has won an award for the difference she’s made to students.

The actual crimes committed vary; it could be anything from shoplifting, theft or graffiti up to rape and murder. A lot of people ask me why I do my job – and say that the boys don’t deserve an education because they’ve committed crimes. But as I see it, if you’re in prison at 15 you can’t be solely to blame. These boys have been failed somewhere along the line. I believe education has the best chance of turning these young lives around, preventing more crimes being committed on release, and enabling offenders to become valuable members of the community.

Most of the boys have had negative experiences in school, too, so it’s a massive challenge to engage them in an education environment they haven’t chosen for themselves. Many are either on academic or vocational pathways. We can’t enrol pupils on a GCSE programme because we’re not going to have them for the whole of the academic year – but if they’re part way through a qualification when they enter prison, we can take over the teaching. Last year a boy took 19 GCSE exams while he was at Feltham.

The restrictions with technology and resources are tough. We don’t have internet access and can’t use USB sticks. We’re not allowed scissors or even pencils with a metal top. We have interactive whiteboards, but we can’t use PowerPoint presentations on them because they’re not linked to a computer. I enjoy it, though, because you have to be adaptable and find ways to make the lessons interesting with the resources you have.

A highlight for me is when we get to meet the parents during legal visits. I’ve had mums thank me for looking after their son when they can’t. It also gives you a boost when you’re working with a boy and you see the penny drop – when they have that realisation that they can do it. It’s not just about the English and maths, but helping them find some self-worth; that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

Read the full article Teaching in a prison: ‘Education has the best chance of turning lives around’

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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