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3rd May, 2023

Lewis Paterson
Lewis Paterson
Job Title
Executive Area Manager

When you think about teaching in a prison, you might imagine your workplace being a cell, or trying to tame a group of violent prisoners. However, the reality can be different and a surprising, positive change for some lecturers.

The reality of prison tutoring

The education department is usually separate from the prison itself and depending on the facility, is often well-funded and modern, with robust security, as you’d expect.

The nature of the secure environment means you don’t take your work home with you at the end of the day. Therefore, it’s easier to achieve a good work-life balance, which is more difficult as a primary school or college teacher who will plan lessons and mark books in their own time. Prison tutors are physically not allowed to bring their work home with them.

Within prisons, there is an inclusive and tight-knit community among the education team. It’s an environment that nurtures professional development and offers many opportunities to progress. Due to the general shortage of prison tutors, line managers are much more open to accommodating their existing employees’ needs and will do their best to provide the best possible environment for you and your team. There are usually around five-ten teachers in any given prison, which cultivates strong camaraderie and support amongst teams.

In the classroom

Similarly, class sizes rarely exceed eight people, which makes it easy to tailor your lessons to the needs of each learner, as opposed to a class of 30+ children in a school environment.

The system works just as it does in colleges, with many of the same subjects and a similar application process, whereby prisoners apply and are chosen for certain subjects based on suitability. Whatever subjects you get in a college, you can get in a prison. For instance, you could be an IT trainer, art tutor, painting and decorating trainer, carpentry and joinery trainer, a functional skills tutor, or English teacher.

Some prisoners are learning how to read and write for the first time, some will choose to develop a trade such as industrial cleaning or catering, and others might be learning more than one subject – for example, horticulture taken in conjunction with English for speakers of other languages (ESOL).

Within prison classrooms, tutors rarely need to be informed of the prisoners’ criminal histories, as it’s not necessarily relevant. It’s the same as any other learning environment – learners are just learners. The main difference is there is heightened security, such as a panic button, which is rarely needed.

Primary and secondary school teachers are more likely to face resistance from students than prison tutors because, in compulsory education, the students don’t necessarily want to be in a classroom and or see education as something that is improving their lives. Contrary to the popular misconception, each prisoner in the classroom wants to be there and wants to learn.

Only prisoners who have shown exceptional behaviour are given the privilege of education and they don’t take it for granted. For them, it’s about rehabilitation and learning a trade, or other life skills, in preparation for their release – each of them just wants to be employable and better their lives.

The Reed difference…

Prison leaders are dedicated to tutor retention as they tend to run on a minimum capacity – this means if one tutor leaves, they will need to recruit again. With such a small number of teachers in the talent pool willing to work in a prison, this can be difficult.

To help showcase the reality of prison tutoring and get people through the door, Reed runs multiple open days for potential prison tutors. This significantly reduces the number of prospective tutors rejecting the idea entirely based on stereotypes. In fact, many people discover the environment completely different to what they’d expected.

We want to show people what a great opportunity it is to work in prison education. Those interested in making a positive difference, who have industrial experience – not necessarily a teaching qualification but a desire to teach – or previous teaching experience, can come to Reed for more information.

Overall, prisons are highly secure, well-funded, inclusive working environments that promote a healthy work-life balance and provide the same rewarding experience as teaching children and young people elsewhere. It is well worth leaving your misconceptions at the door and discovering a new fulfilling career.

To find a talented professional to fill your vacancy, or your next further education role, contact one of our specialists today.