Posted in Master's blog

Two important Bills were promised in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month and are coming very soon:  the Higher Education and Research Bill, and the Prisons and Courts Bill.  And important background papers on education in both the HE and prison sectors have been published very recently.

First, the higher education White Paper – Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice .

This reflects the government’s declared determination to drive up standards and the status of teaching. No bad thing, but this endless emphasis on creating a competitive market and choice for students doesn’t sound very innovative to me. Nor is it obvious how it encourages social mobility… We have had a competitive market in HE for all the years I have worked in it.  Whether or not the Teaching Excellence Framework lives up to the Government’s expectations remains to be seen.  Widening participation in HE requires decent funding for poorer students and much better encouragement and support for them throughout their school careers.

Then there was Unlocking Potential: A review of education in prison by Dame Sally Coates on behalf of the Ministry of Justice.

This tells us that 42% of adult prisoners report having been permanently excluded from school. What a statistic. Dame Sally perfectly sensibly wants to put education at the heart of the prison regime: “education in prison should give individuals the skills they need to unlock their potential, gain employment, and become assets to their communities. It is one of the pillars of effective rehabilitation. Education should build social capital and improve the well-being of prisoners during their sentences”.  One of the most challenging parts is what is often called  ‘through the gate’ support – helping individuals continue to progress through education, training and employment through different prisons and then on release. The big idea of the moment is to give Prison Governors autonomy – but how and why would you hold them to account for the educational progress of all prisoners?  Perhaps Masters of Cambridge Colleges should be held to account for the exam results of their students?

Dame Sally wants a new ‘people’ culture in prisons to support leadership, to build routes to attract new talent into working in prison, and to ensure professional development for all staff.  How shocking that this is currently lacking. Of course the prison regime should be personalised and concerned with raising aspiration. Of course it should enable more prisoners to move into sustained employment and/or continue education on release. The idea is a “prisoner learning journey”, with a dynamic Personal Learning Plan.  Let’s see how it works out.  The evidence of recent years in prison has been fewer resources, and more fragmented services.  Reducing the prison population by half would help.

In an article published last week, Peter Dawson, one-time prison governor and now Deputy Director of the Prison Reform Trust wrote: “The condition and performance of your local prison should be as important to you as that of your local hospital or school. The people it holds have the capacity to make a significant impact on your quality of life”.

I suspect he’s right: until everyone worries more about what goes on in prisons, nothing much is likely to change.

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

Posted in Master's blog

This term is obviously a really challenging one for students…  exams and exam pressures are every where.  So it is useful to remember that there are other things going on too.

First, an illustration of a recent tandem outing: five tandems loaded with Fitzwilliam graduate and undergraduates gathering behind us on the top of a Cambridgeshire mountain (some of the hills feel big when you’re lugging your partner up the hill – funny he thinks that’s what he’s doing too!).  I love these regular wanderings just a few miles away from Cambridge, but nonetheless an eternity away, as none of the students we’ve had on these trips had any idea that there were real rural landscapes within easy reach, where the pressures of the Cambridge bubble fall away for a brief interval.  It’s a joy to listen to undergrads and grads in conversation, often apparently for the first time ever, even though the two communities intermingle physically within the College.  Too often they seem tacitly to assume that there’s no mileage trying to strike up friendships across such a massive gulf in maturity – all of 3 years, perhaps!  But sitting outside at lunchtime at a pub somewhere, eating a spartan picnic, the tethered tandems grazing peacefully close by, barriers of seniority fall away.  And we get back to Storey’s Way exhilarated by a crumb of exercise in the open air.

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The College has had many other wonderful events:  the highlight recently has to have been the debate in London, as a variant on the regular format of our “London Dinner”, between Andy Burnham (English 1988), Vince Cable (Economics 1962) and Norman Lamont (Economics 1961), on the issues of the EU referendum.  I am not sure they changed anyone’s mindset (don’t we all know how we are going to vote by now?), but the evening was terrific.  The three main speakers all showed their well-honed but nonetheless remarkable skills of oratory, and were followed from the floor by Marina Wheeler QC (Law 1983) and Professor Catherine Barnard (Law 1986) and others.  Real quality, and all home-grown Fitz!

With the speakers at the London Dinner, from left: Vince Cable (Economics 1962), Andy Burnham (English 1988), and Norman Lamont (Economics 1961).

 

As ever, my two working worlds reflect interestingly on each other.  I spent a day in HMP Altcourse last week reflecting on ‘Understanding and Preventing Suicide within the Criminal Justice System’.  Whilst it is clear (of course) that those who run the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) are deeply committed to new initiatives to support all prisons, both public and private sector, I am still depressed by the failure to join up work between different prisons, and between prison and community criminal justice agencies.  It was the prisoners there who had the best ideas – stop late evening arrivals in prison, don’t lock new arrivals behind the cell door too quickly, allow more than a two-minute phone call on your first night… The decency agenda is so basic.  It is not just a question of resources: as someone said, a smile is powerful, and free.

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.