18 May 2021

Coracle Inside in-cell Digital Learning Platform opens the door to improving access to education inside prisons

Guest blog: James Tweed at Coracle as part of our #DigitalJustice2021 week

Since the Woolf report of 1991 there has been general acceptance that rehabilitation plays a central role in the battle to reduce reoffending rates, however, despite a number of education related initiatives, the challenge of reducing reoffending has not been met in the UK. Dame Sally Coates’ report in 2016 placed reoffending as a priority goal for the UK government, with improved training and education a core part of the strategy. Government research confirms that prisoners who spend time studying through distance learning are significantly more successful in securing work after release. However, even pre-Covid, 20% of prisoners are locked up for more than 22 hours a day and with access to the internet being strictly forbidden, this has made in-cell learning using digital learning platforms impractical. 

Educational activities in prison have been found to provide an effective element in providing prisoners with a focussed means of filling time as part of the approach to tackling anti-social behaviour, serious prison misconduct and violence. Whilst 81% of prisoners are motivated to learn as a means of occupying their time only 70% believed it would improve their employability. If the purpose of education is simply to fill time then the goal of tackling recidivism will fail. Challenging conventional thinking around the approach to education in prison is critical if positive economic and societal outcomes are to be achieved: formerly incarcerated people will have a better chance of contributing to society on release if they are in the workforce.  

For learning to be achieved there needs to be a culture where teachers can teach and learners can learn. This includes acknowledging the shift in society towards a digital world. EdTech has changed the landscape of teaching, training and learning. This has been highlighted as schools closed for Covid: there are lessons to be learned and applied to the prison education sector.  

Isolation, in the physical sense, may be considered a legitimate goal of incarceration. Isolation in an educational sense is a more nuanced issue and one which can only be addressed by including the concept of rehabilitation in the definition of the purpose of prison. Delivery of good quality education can assist in removing isolation, enabling time in-cell to be used more productively. Changes are required in the way education can be delivered and supported in prisons to make the experience more comparable to learning outside of prison. The importance of providing access to education to those who are isolated is as much about recognising that being included can be as important as being engaged.  

Providing the tools to support educational outcomes, to improve employability and support well-being is achieved by recognising the role of education on a prisoners’ mindset. Underpinning the approach to digital provision at Coracle is a general philosophy towards learning intervention that supports the triple goals of Detect (ability, knowledge gaps and mindset), Protect (against stigma caused by previous failings) and Correct (by providing access to content and the tools to support learning).  

We should also recognise that the prison population is diverse, with a disproportionately high level of socially disadvantaged individuals. Many have struggled accessing education in their past. There is a much higher than average occurrence of learning difficulties and special educational needs. Prisoners often refer to school in terms of their experience (generally negative) rather than outcomes or qualifications. Permanent exclusion from school is rare (0.1% of 8 million children in schools in England were permanently excluded in 2016/17 (Timpson review of school exclusion May 2019)) however studies have shown that 63% of prisoners had been temporarily excluded and 42% permanently excluded.  

Coracle Inside’s secure digital learning platform (www.coracleinside.com) has been specially designed for use in-cell to offer a safe, learner focussed digital experience, without internet access or other connectivity. With support from MoJ and HMPPS, an initial pilot was started in 2017 in partnership with the University of Cambridge led Learning Together programme. This work has been built on during the pandemic, with support from Innovate-UK, enabling Coracle to supply Chromebooks and printers to 25 prisons across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These include high security, training and open prisons as well as private sector establishments and prisons in the female estate. Coracle’s content partner programme is aimed at helping educators connect content with learners, by leveraging the assurance that Coracle has from HMPPS to provide the secure devices. 

Our mission at Coracle is to create a world where no-one is isolated from learning opportunities, recognising that in a digital world, not everyone has access to the internet.  We hope you’ll join us on the journey.  

Georgina Henley

Georgina Henley

Head of Justice and Emergency Services, techUK

Georgina Maratheftis

Georgina Maratheftis

Associate Director, Local Public Services, techUK

Raya Tsolova

Programme Manager, National Security, techUK