Blogging is new to me. I was trying to figure out how I might go about it and so was browsing some of my colleagues’ fantastic efforts (Design and Society, The Social Brain, Arts and Ecology). The RSA Education blog immediately offered me food for thought, especially a recent contribution on the fragile balance between risk and reward in the classroom. Changing the way in which education is traditionally delivered and thought about will always bring about challenges especially in an Opening Minds context where capabilities take a central role and less tangible results might be considered alongside traditional examinations.
The balance between risk and reward could probably not be more fragile than in the criminal justice arena. Crime statistics, re-offending rates, sentencing and punishment have become staples in the electoral diet, often engendering a culture of risk aversion that acts as a barrier to improving the consistency and quality of learning and skills across the criminal justice system.
In an environment where a large percentage of the population have had a negative experience of learning through traditional classroom methods, where literacy and numeracy levels are alarmingly low and where most have had little to no experience of achieving qualifications or success in learning or work, it is increasingly important that any intervention is given the necessary innovative slant needed to engage this unique group of learners.
The voluntary and community sector (VCS) have traditionally been the drivers of innovation often on the periphery of the system and there are some excellent examples of independent organisations working in and around prisons and in the community tackling the causes and drivers of crime and criminal behaviour. But increasingly they are being invited to and taking up opportunities to work in partnership with the MoJ which is unsurprising given the MoJ's efficiency drives, not to mention what the VCS have to offer. A key question is whether this comes with compromises and of what nature?
Tez and I attended the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies annual lecture last week which focussed on this question. Some people are obviously sceptical about who will bend most and the potential impact of greater collaboration on quality, content and ethos. It seems to me that, done sensibly, this is a move in the right direction.
If risks are such a determinate factor then surely, at the simplest level, greater voluntary and community involvement will act as a buffer to voters (and media) reproach and open up the possibility for greater innovation, knowledge sharing and development especially across the offender learning and skills departments.>
One of the things that the RSA’s Prison Learning Network is exploring is what part we can play in trying to overcome the problem of providing compelling evidence of the impact of offender learning. I believe that doing so is a critical precursor for a more sensible debate about what goes on in prisons. But because offender learning is provided by such a high number of small NGOs often working in isolation from each other, collating national evidence of impact is a major challenge. Is there a way of finding methods of aggregating evidence of what works and making this accessible to practitioners, government and the public?