” I am most proud of the fact that it is constantly harder to get rid of students at the end of courses I have run than to get them on them at the start!“
Winner, FE Lecturer of the Year, 2015
Currently Cycle Maintenance Lecturer at Weston College, HMP Channings Wood
Winning the award was unexpected but delightful, a reaffirmation of what is done within prison delivery is as good, if not better, than what’s done on the ‘outside’.
I have had several incarnations throughout my life – dairyman, farm manger, quarry manager, LGV driver to name but a few – so in 2003, at 40 odd, I decided I’d better do something useful and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do a Post 16 Cert. Ed. The teaching practice for this was in HMP Channings Wood, in Devon. Once the training over I was offered a full-time role and “guest appearances” at HMPs Exeter, The Verne, Portland and Dartmoor. I’ve been delivering classes at Channings ever since. Then, 31 different courses and 12 years later I was visited by two lovely people who wanted to give me an award.
I’m still teaching the same thing but also have an Advanced Practitioner role to fulfil and am currently a member of the Society of Education and Training Practitioner Advisory group…And I still love most of it (because we never love all of it).
Offender learning is not like any other FE or mainstream provision. Career paths aren’t really relevant in the same way they would be in, say, a school. You are there to teach whatever subject you do, to the best of your ability, and once you hit the pay scale ceiling the only way to go on is to give up what you do best and enjoy, and move into management.
Weston College do have an Advance Practitioner roles within each establishment, and post award, I have slipped into this extra position. My view of the job is still the same – superb staff, doing an exceedingly challenging job behind 5 meter high fences thus unseen by anyone not in ‘the business’, let alone the general public.
It’s one of those roles you do because you can do it. I know that sounds a self-justifying contortion, but it is true. We have had demonstrably brilliant teachers try the role and it’s the rest, the non-teaching stuff, which gets to them. The delayed starts, New Psychotic Substance (SPICE) attacks, the constant need for security, the rules over resources (nothing from the internet without being scrutinised by the authorities which could take 3 months), this, and the men who can be awkward, can wear a person down. For some it is too much, and they feel happier doing something else.
THE JOB, CHANGES AND CHALLENGES
As a conscious decision I didn’t always want to be a teacher but looking back it has seemed I have always been teaching something, somewhere – training staff, teaching friends’ kids how to fix their cars or bikes, even teaching a driving colleague from my LGV days to read using the then new Harry Potter books. In fact, it was the latter that made someone ask would I like to train to teach as a job.
My teaching style changes class to class rather than over the years! Confidence and experience help you chose what is right quicker, the fact you can change to match an individual learner’s needs is almost a job requirement in multi-age, multi-level, multicultural classes.
One of the best experiences in teaching was getting a 42-year-old to pass his first ever exam and gain his first ever certificate. The most memorable was getting a gold Plato and I am most proud of the fact that it is constantly harder to get rid of students at the end of courses I have run than to get them on them at the start!
Look out for those who think they know what they are doing and constantly tell you this and ignore them, and instead watch those who are constantly engaged with, and by, their learners, and learn how they achieve this.
Those that get fed up with teaching move to management, many won’t have been good at the former and few are good at the latter.
THE TEACHING PROFESSION
Offender Learning Services (OLS) has had a very rapid progression into the 21st century. The days of money for bums on seats is long gone and the prisons, and thus government, are wanting to see results for their money. Now we are the professional body of people that the learners deserve, this wasn’t always the case.
Prison teaching is addictive. The impact can be so important that it makes everything matter.
Picture this – if something I say, do, teach, discuss, question or challenge delays one learner (not even stops, delays!) from re-engaging with the judicial system for one year more than it would have been, then the saving to the exchequer pays my wages and the total running costs of my course for 18 months. Imagine having that sort of impact, because my colleagues and I don’t have to – we do it repeatedly.
To encourage others to stay I would ensure educational staff are under the same level of care as nursing staff. If you get rowdy or rude in A&E the police come and take you away, the same should be true in school.
Also, pay FE staff like mainstream staff. Colleagues with 10/12years experience are still on less than the advertised tax-free bursary for trainee mainstream teachers.
And stop listening to all the educational advisors who say ‘this is good this is bad’, look to the systems which work, India, Singapore, China, and learn from them. (Sorry that means parental input and them supporting the teaching staff, discipline that counts, and most importantly the high value attached to the subjects that drive the economy forward).