Sarah Jones is the Operations Manager & Neurodiversity Lead for PeoplePlus, an education provider operating in 22 prisons across the East of England and North and East Midlands.
Sarah tells us about her own experiences of being a teacher and her passionate belief that creative teaching can change the hearts and minds of learners at any age.
I had the most inspirational year 6 teacher. His creative teaching style and the fact that he adapted his approach to help us all learn is imprinted on my memory. He really influenced my decision to step into the world of teaching.
After a couple of years as a Geography teacher in a secondary school in Solihull, I was promoted to become the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO).
As SENCO, it was such a privilege to collaborate with other teachers, social workers, and specialist teams to create a personalised package of support for students who had neurodiverse and inclusion needs. I am so proud that we helped so many children progress through school, and to help them work through the challenges they faced.
I didn’t know a lot about prison education before I joined the amazing team at PeoplePlus, but I was no stranger to the notion that it was perceived as being an ‘unknown’ when compared with other further education routes.
People don’t see the great work that is happening behind the prison walls, so how can we expect them to understand the incredibly positive experiences that are taking place?
Prison education provides a varied and wide curriculum, routine and structure, and the social interaction with their peers that helps prisoners to model the behaviours that will support them on release.
I’ve been fortunate to witness some incredible examples of how education in prisons is enabling access to new skills and opening up employment opportunities for the future.
Prisoners have access to a range of learning and training resources in Education facility on site. They can study vocational courses like Plumbing, Plastering, and Electrics, as well as develop core functional skills such as Maths and English.
The wing environment is often noisy, so having a designated space where people can go to learn and access education gives prisoners the drive and determination to become learners. Many say it gives them a sense of normality.
Prison education gives us the time and flexibility to tap into that potential that was perhaps not identified and nurtured in mainstream education.
We’ve worked with learners within one of our female estates on an art competition all about Dyslexia. These learners used art to share their experiences of dyslexia and the results were phenomenal. Their work helped us to understand their perspectives on living and learning with dyslexia, and it enabled them to communicate with us in a way that felt empowering and honest.
I’ve also worked with someone who had one wish; to read ‘Guess How Much I Love You’ to his daughter. It was a long journey, but step by step we taught him to read, and during Covid he had a video call with his daughter and managed to read her three pages for her bedtime story.
Those positive moments, however small they might seem, have a ripple effect on the entire family. They are worth their weight in gold.
Does it work all the time? Sometimes it doesn’t, but if you can make a difference to one prisoner, then you’re also transforming the lives of their families and hopefully making a positive impact on the community they live in too.
We might be hidden behind prison walls, but we have so many positive success stories to tell and share.
We’re all educationalists, we’re all working towards the same goals, so let’s make sure that Prison Education has a seat at the table alongside all of the other incredible teachers from other settings.
Find out more about our Together we transform initiative, and view other case studies, highlighting the transformative impact that the Further Education and Training sector has on lives across the UK.