Offender learning: A day in the life of a head of learning and skills

Have you ever considered working in offender learning? What is it like to teach and train in a prison? Read this case study of a day in the life of a Head of Learning and Skills working at HMP Huntercombe for a bit of an insight.

Ged Dickinson, Head of Learning and Skills at HMP Huntercombe (South Central Prison Officer of the Year 2014/15 for partnership work).

Every day is different when you work in a prison. What you aim to do is have a full regime in operation so that people are able to attend classes and workshops. However, just like all organisations, prisons face their challenges, but with the added priority of making sure everybody is kept safe. For example, on Monday morning I arrived at work at 8am to find that the prison was in ‘lock down’ for a number of operational reasons. This meant that the men were locked in their cells and were at risk of being kept there for the whole day – something that they don’t relish. Lock down has a detrimental effect on the regime once it becomes fully operational again as it takes the men a while to settle down.

This is where our sound working relationships really helped us. I worked with the orderlies’ officer and our Head of Industries and we carried out a dynamic risk assessment to see how we might manage to get as many of the workshops up and running as possible. Then we did a ‘controlled unlock’ to make sure that as we opened up classes and workshops, nobody was put at risk. So from full lock down we managed to get a whole range of activities underway: gardening, recycling, waste management workshops and library, to name just a few.

For me, partnership working is the key to making things work and ensuring that the prison is kept calm and functioning. HMP Huntercombe is a prison for foreign nationals and so working with lots of other organisations makes sure we do our best for our learners. OLASS, NCS, St Giles Trust, Koestler Trust, Shannon Trust, Migrant Help and Bail for Immigration Detainees are just some of the organisations we work with.

Our job is to ensure that the men gain skills so that when they are returned to their country of origin, they have skills to create a purposeful life so they won’t return to prison which means we will have done our jobs.


A view from a learner - John (not his real name)

“Since coming to HMP Huntercombe I have achieved level 3 and 4 in information, advice and guidance and now work as a teaching assistant in the prison and coordinate the orderlies. I can’t praise the staff here enough and I know without them I wouldn’t have achieved what I have. They are all so positive, in fact genius! I now encourage others to attend the excellent courses here in the prison: tiling, bricklaying, painting and decorating. Lots of the men have set up their own businesses once they’ve left Huntercombe. I try to inspire the men the way that I have been inspired. Inspiration is extinguished very easily in prison, but in this establishment it works!”


Offender learning: a career of choice

Ged’s case study was taken from the Education and Training Foundations's regular Offender Learning Newsletter. It also features in the Foundation’s new guide designed to introduce people to the opportunities for teaching or training within the secure estate.

The guide includes an introduction to working in offender learning, the requirements for teaching within prisons, teaching and training career pathways and information about appropriate qualifications.