Most teachers want to inspire their students and make a difference, but working within the college’s Offender Learning programme gives you the chance to actually change a person’s life. Most offenders have had a negative educational journey: many are in their 30s and 40s and have been excluded from or opted out of mainstream education.
My job lets me reconnect with them and offer them an innovative, relevant curriculum to make a real difference not only in their educational attainment but also socially – building up their economic well-being, helping them reach their full potential, strengthening their family communications and enriching their lives. It’s about creating a positive foundation for rehabilitation and future employability.
There’s a strong link between the college and Gartree’s Learner Voice Forum comprising prisoners trained by the college as classroom assistants and representatives from each of the prison’s seven residential wings. We work together with the men to put on courses that meet their individual needs as well as government expectations.
The courses aren’t compulsory (although the Government recommends taking English and maths); the learners choose to do them and they are so very positive. For me at interview, it was one of those lightbulb moments - I needed to come and work here. A year in and I still feel that every day.
We take a weekly ‘education roadshow’ round all the residential wings to go through what we offer, encourage the guys to sample the courses and discuss any preconceptions they may have.
We try to ensure all our courses are interactive and innovative so in April this year we marked HMP Gartree’s 50th anniversary by holding a street party in our education corridor – we set up a long table down the middle showcasing all our courses.
Functional skills have to be relevant to everyday life so we put them into a real life context. My maths class produced some recipe ideas. They made food for the party, using their English and maths skills in a food technology lesson that included sequencing to create recipes, and using structural text, imperative verbs and everything from ratios to timing and measurements. You put all the skills into one lesson.
All the prisoners came - even those who had never considered education. We wanted them to find it wasn’t like being at school with dragon teachers but an adult college and very different. We had quite a take-up of people joining courses.
We also have a very popular awards ceremony every Christmas across the whole education section where all the men come to get their certificates.
The proudest moment of my teaching career was earlier this year after working with a completely deaf learner in an entry-level English class. He’d been unable to communicate for years and this had affected his ability to reduce his risk and thus his eligibility for early parole. I came in with basic Makaton skills and started communicating with him to get his education moving.
Almost instantly, he ‘lit up’ at being able to have a basic conversation; he progressed rapidly in English and began to achieve. Soon a fluent British Sign Language signer was employed in an Additional Learning role, and the learner just blossomed, moving quickly from entry 1 to level 1 in English.
Seeing him actually chair a formal discussion with a group of fellow learners as part of English functional skills through signing and interpretation is something I will never forget. It was just the sheer joy on his face. His ability to hold conversations with people he had lived with for years brought tears to many of his peers’ eyes.
The student did not articulate words but did it all through signing. We had to teach basic Makaton to the other learners in the class – they all wanted to communicate with him.
The absolute highlight was when he not only won the annual Milton Keynes College Learner of the Year 2015/16 Award in competition with thousands of learners across all 27 prisons but progressed in his sentence and got transferred to a specialist rehabilitation unit.Your biggest challenge over the past few months?
Preparing students for the functional skills exams - they are hard work for people who have long been out of education. It’s the responsibility of ensuring the men achieve and continuing to get people through who probably never thought they could.
You’ve got to be highly positive, confident, organised and motivated about what you are doing. You have to be innovative in finding new ways of teaching the core skills curriculum and, like most teaching jobs, inspire learners and have a sense of humour!
A PGCE teaching qualification and good basic subject knowledge. Besides maths and English functional skills, we include IT, art, a suite of GCSEs ranging from economics to sociology, and various vocational and personal development courses. You can be from any walk of life, and although life experience isn’t essential, it would benefit anyone coming into the job from a university.
We have two three-hour sessions a day (averaging around 12 students for the most popular courses) but otherwise, we operate as a normal college. I split my time between being a programme manager and teaching according to the needs of the business, staff on holiday and so on – so you have to be flexible. You also have to ensure you cover the core skills, but the creativity aspect is great as you can do things in so many different ways.
Every day! As a teacher it is the dream job, the learners have a strong desire to learn and they are motivated and engaged for the whole sessions – they are run without any issues, supported by classroom assistants (prisoners) without the need for uniformed prison officers.
It’s knowing our learners are so positive and get so much out of it. In more than any other teaching job I know, you can see it’s making a difference. My own passion for the job is met 100% by the learners in their effort and determination to succeed.
If this sounds like the perfect job for you, why not view and apply for OLASS Jobs on AoC Jobs.