Action research and offender learning

Steph Taylor a College Leader in the Education Department at HMP Dovegate (SERCO) has taken part in the practitioner research support programmes run by the Education and Training Foundation in partnership with The University of Sunderland Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (SUNCETT) and the East Midlands Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (emCETT).  In this blog she discusses why it is important for staff in offender learning to have the opportunity to undertake action research to solve problems and improve their practice.


Over the last five years I have been supported firstly by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service and now by the Education and Training Foundation with my action research projects. My journey started with the University of Sunderland’s Centre of Excellence in Teacher Training (SUNCETT) and more recently being with Ian Grayling and Joss Kang from the East Midlands Centre of Excellence in Teacher Training (emCETT).

Professor Maggie Gregson and colleagues at the University of Sunderland supported me with my initial action research project work. It was the first time a prison project had been supported on their particular programme. The support I received on how to formulate action research posters and reports was paramount to moving forward in this new inspirational work.

It soon became apparent this was a new way of problem solving, taking an aspect of offender learning and improving practices.  Offender learning can become very insular and it is important to network and share and explore new practices and action research can engage practitioners in moving forward.

I am currently working with emCETT on a pilot whole organisational approach, working with a team of education practitioners who have all chosen particular issues related to their work in the prison. The projects cover areas in the prison such as special educational needs of students, making mathematics teaching more inspirational, application forms for inmates applying for work in the industries section and how the Fine Cell (charity) tapestry work the inmates undertake helps with employability skills. The culmination of these projects will be displayed at the ETF Research Conference in London on 7 July 2015.

I am also working with Dr Anne O’Grady from Nottingham Trent University on action research projects, recently completing a tutor study group project. Our latest project is looking at the role of the Learning Support Assistants (inmates) within offender education.  This collaborative work not only brings in an academic aspect to offender learning but the action research helps to shape and improve the curriculum learning offer which is a central element of our framework for improvement.

The constraints of a busy prison education regime do not allow much time for action research, however, I am extremely proud of the practitioners that have been involved in the recent research projects and it has proven that making time in a busydepartment is most worthwhile to improve the educational experience for both students and staff.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Education and Training Foundation, Professor Maggie Gregson from the University of Sunderland SUNCETT, Ian Grayling, Director of emCETT and Dr Anne O’Grady from the Faculty of Education at Nottingham Trent University who all continue to inspire and support the action research that takes place in the Education Department at HMP Dovegate (SERCO).

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