'Well, Miss... I was good at fraud but now I'm in prison'

The benefits of action research in offender learning

My teaching and research focuses on offender learning and offenders in custody who have experienced marginalisation from educational activities in their lives.

Specifically, I am interested in finding inspirational teaching techniques and new ideas to inspire students and tutors, to include the student voice and to inspire staff and improve morale in their daily work.

My first action-research project included a case study titled OK Miss, 1 was good at fraud but now lam in prison. The research poster was in comic-book format as many of the literacy students relate well to this format.

It reminded me that harnessing students' creative talents, often previously overlooked, is a way forward and that it could be used in all curriculum areas.

Then in October 2014 at HMP Dovegate we started an action research project involving learning support assistants (student inmates). This was carried out in collaboration with East Midlands Centre of Excellence in Teacher Training (emCETT) and with Dr Anne O'Grady, principal lecturer from the faculty of education at Nottingham Trent University.

The project studies the reasons why learning support assistants undertake this role and how it supports the rehabilitation process and future employability prospects. We hope to produce research papers on both of these collaborative projects by the end of this summer.

Having seen benefits from my research, we are now piloting a whole organisation approach to practitioner research at Dovegate with support from the Education and Training Foundation and emCETT.

It involves practitioner tutors and members of the education administrative team undertaking mini-research projects in topics related to their work. They are seeking to resolve problems and to make their working processes more efficient. Learners are involved in the research and in helping to improve systems.

We meet monthly with our emCETT adviser and each practitioner goes through an action-research learning process, the college leaders then support practitioners

Offender learning can become very insular and so I am keen to continue forging partnerships with universities and other educational establishments to broaden knowledge and expertise to improve the teaching, learning and the rehabilitation process.

My advice to practitioners in any further education setting who may be considering action research is: don't hesitate but do keep your first action project concise and manageable. The biggest challenge is finding time to fit in research. However, the rewards and benefits are tremendous.

Steph Taylor is a college leader with responsibility for the development of the North and South College at HMP Dovegate (Serco) in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. Previously, she taught literacy at HMP & YOI Swinfen Hall.



  • Encourage practitioners to problem solve with action research
  • Network with local universities and agencies
  • Ensure practitioners have their own personal support network
  • Encourage volunteers in the education department, they can bring life experience with them which is most valuable
  • Make links with local prisons in your area, arrange reciprocal visits
  • Gain support and the backing of your local senior management team
  • Access the new Excellence Gateway's offender learning website and submit articles and ideas at offender-learning.excellencegateway.org.uk
  • Go the extra mile in your offender learning work
  • Always be determined and persistent in your approach to offender learning


  • Forget students are always at the heart of our work
  • Forget the good work that you are doing in offender learning and the impact it has on students
  • Forget to support your team and colleagues when the going gets tough

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