Failing to teach prisoners to read is “huge missed opportunity”

Failing to teach prisoners to read leaves up to half unable to access vital rehabilitative education while in prison, according to new research by Ofsted and HMI Prisons. Without the ability to read, released prisoners will find it harder to make a successful return to society.

The joint report highlights the barriers preventing prisoners from receiving the support they need to learn how to read or improve their reading skills. It finds the reading education on offer in the prisons visited by the inspectorates was minimal at best.

Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman said:

“This research shines a light on the reading education that prisoners are getting, or in most cases, the lack of it. There are some serious systemic challenges, as well as plenty of poor practice. Little progress has been made in the priority of education since the Coates Review in 2016. I want Ofsted, with the prison service and wider government leaders, to be part of the solution to this enormous enduring and enduring problem.”

HMI Prisons Chief Inspector, Charlie Taylor said:

“The failure to teach prisoners to read or to extend the literacy of poor readers is a huge missed opportunity. It means many prisoners do not get the benefits of reading while in prison. And it means that many will fail to learn the essential skills that will help them to resettle, get work and make a success of their lives when they are released.”

Ofsted and HMI Prisons have long been concerned about the standards of education in prisons and particularly by the number of prisoners who are unable to read. Last September, the inspectorates committed to carrying out a year-long review of prison education, which included this research into reading in prisons.

For the report, inspectors carried out six research visits to prisons and conducted deep dives into reading, which included observing English classes. Inspectors also interviewed leaders, teachers and prisoners engaged in education, visited the prison library and reviewed curriculum plans and assessment data.

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