Prison Family Learning Programme

Country Profile: United Kingdom Of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


64,097,085 (2013, World Bank)

Official language


Total expenditure on education as % of GNP

5.5 (2010)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)
  • Total: 100%
  • Male: 100%
  • Female: 100%
Primary School Net Enrolment/Attendance

100% (2005 - 2010)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2005–2010)
  • Total: 99%
  • Male: 99%
  • Female: 99%

Programme Overview

Programme TitlePrison Family Learning Programme (PFLP)
Implementing OrganizationBest Start for Families (BSfF)
Language of InstructionEnglish
Programme PartnersLearning Unlimited, Big Lottery, Camden and Islington Family Learning, and National Offender Management Service through HMP Holloway & Pentonville Prisons
Date of Inception2008 (ongoing)

Context and Background

Although the UK has achieved near universal literacy rates across all age groups (see above) due, in large part, to strong State support of education over many decades (see, levels of literacy skills among prisoners are still lower than among the general population. Indeed, studies by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) and the Basic Skills Agency (BSA) have revealed that 60 per cent of all prisoners in the UK have problems with basic literacy, and 40 per cent have severe literacy problems. Similarly, the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) recently reported that 80 per cent of prisoners’ literacy skills (writing, reading and numeracy) are at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old child and 50 per cent of prisoners have no professional / vocational qualifications (Jones 2010; Clark and Dugdale 2008). The lack of basic literacy and vocational skills among prisoners – most of whom are from low socio-economic backgrounds – is a cause of great concern among stakeholders because it perpetuates the existing socio-economic inequalities in the country, prevents effective communication between prisoners and their families and slows down or even precludes the prisoners’ rehabilitation and their reintegration into society once released from prison, all of which leads to high levels of offending and re-offending.

Given the fact that the socio-economic costs of crime are extremely high and the belief that the provision of quality literacy education to prisoners is potentially one of the most effective forms of prisoner rehabilitation and crime prevention, Best Start for Families (BSfF) instituted the Prison Family Learning Programme (PFLP) in August 2011.

Prison Family Learning Programme (PFLP)

The PFLP is an integrated, intergenerational and in-prison non-formal educational programme which primarily targets imprisoned mothers and their children. The programme was previously implemented by the London Language and Literacy Unit (LLU+), based at the London South Bank University until August 2011 when the university closed down the LLU+. Following this closure, former employees of the LLU+ formed the BSfF and Learning Unlimited (LU) in order to continue implementing the PFLP. The PFLP is currently being put into practice at the HMP Holloway and Pentonville prisons by the BSfF with technical and financial support from Learning Unlimited and various organisations (see above).

The primary goal of the PFLP is to create quality family learning opportunities for imprisoned mothers and their children. Accordingly, the BSfF has designed and developed an integrated programme curriculum which covers a wide range of themes or topics that specifically address the learning needs and interests of parents and their children. The themes covered during the Mothers-only learning sessions (see below) include:

The themes or topics covered during family learning sessions (see below) vary greatly since the primary aim is to enable parents and children to interact and learn together. The themes are therefore tailored to cover the learning needs and interests of adult and child-learners and are also highly interactive and educative. Thus, as elaborated below, the common themes covered during family learning sessions include:

Aims and Objectives

As an integrated and intergenerational educational programme, the PFLP has various aims and objectives. In particular, the programme aims to:

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Institutional Arrangements and Partnerships

In order to facilitate the efficient and sustainable implementation of the PFLP, the BSfF has established functional partnerships with several institutions, including: Learning Unlimited, Big Lottery, Camden and Islington Family Learning, National Offender Management Service through HMP Holloway and HMP Pentonville Prisons. These institutions provide the BSfF with critical technical and financial support necessary for the efficient and effective implementation of the PFLP. For instance, Camden and Islington Family Learning and the National Offender Management Service are currently assisting the BSfF with all the financial support needed to implement the entire PFLP while Learning Unlimited plays a vital role in the training and mentoring of programme facilitators, in monitoring and managing the implementation of the programme and in the production of appropriate teaching-learning materials. In addition, prison officers from HMP Holloway and HMP Pentonville Prisons also assist BSfF in supervising programme facilitators during classes as well as in managing in-prison learning groups. Support from these institutions has been and continues to be fundamental for the efficient implementation of the PFLP.

Development of the Curriculum and Teaching-Learning Materials

As noted above, the PFLP curriculum and teaching-learning materials such as illustrative posters, poems, rhymes, etc. were designed and developed by BSfF and Learning Unlimited with technical support from various institutional partners. Programme beneficiaries (prisoners) were also actively consulted and involved during the process of designing and developing the programme curriculum and teaching-learning materials. For instance, imprisoned mothers are encouraged to make personalised poem and song books for their children and, in so doing they not only improve their literacy skills and play an active role in their children’s education but they also strengthen their relationships with their children. The strategy of involving mothers in the development of the curriculum and learning materials also helps to determine their learning needs and interests in order to ensure that these are appropriately addressed.

In addition, the results of programme evaluations have also been used to review and update the curriculum and teaching-learning materials on an ongoing basis. The BSfF has also adopted and adapted teaching-learning materials that were developed by other organisations such as the LLU+ which used to implement a similar programme prior to September 2011. Essentially therefore, the development of the curriculum and teaching-learning materials is achieved through a participatory and consultative process involving all key stakeholders.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Whereas full-time programme facilitators or tutors were engaged to facilitate the practical implementation of the PFLP prior to mid-2011, currently programme facilitators and volunteers (some of whom are former prisoners) are employed on a part-time basis. All facilitators and volunteers are, nonetheless, required to possess recognisable professional qualifications and practical experience in non-formal education, especially in adult and early childhood education. In addition and in order to ensure the effective and sustainable implementation of the PFLP, the BSfF and LU also provide facilitators and volunteers with opportunities for professional advancement through regular and ongoing in-service training and mentoring in adult and early-childhood education as well as through participation in relevant conferences. The in-service training and mentoring sessions focus on a wide range of non-formal education including:

Once trained, each facilitator – with assistance from a trained senior prison officer and volunteers – is entrusted with training an average of 7 participants during mothers only sessions and up to 40 participants during mixed-group sessions comprising of mothers and their children. They are also required to assist the BSfF and LU in evaluating the learning outcomes on an ongoing basis. Facilitators are currently being paid a stipend of £35 (US$56) per hour.

Teaching-Learning Approaches and Methods

As noted above, the PFLP is an integrated and intergenerational learning programme for imprisoned mothers and their children. Accordingly, the actual learning process is divided into two categories: (1) family learning sessions or classes, which involve mothers and their children learning together, and (2) mothers-only classes. Family learning sessions are conducted during family visiting days when children are brought to the prisons by their carers. Typically, family classes are conducted once every month and involve an average of 60 to 90 children and 20 to 40 adults. During the joint family learning sessions, parents and children work together on a wide range of common, practical and interactive activities which have been specifically designed and adapted not only to address adults and children’s learning needs and interests but also to empower mothers to take an active role in the education of their children. Common family learning activities include but are not limited to:

The aim of these learning activities is to positively engage families in order to improve their literacy skills as well as to strengthen family bonds.

Mothers-only classes are conducted once every week and each learning session lasts for, on average, one and a half hours. Typically, each class has about 15 learners. The actual learning process is conducted through a variety of participatory or interactive methods (such as group discussions / dialogues; question and answer; role play, demonstrations, reading and writing of poems, rhymes for their children etc.) and is largely based on learners’ personal experiences. The rationale for employing these teaching-learning strategies is to enable facilitators to determine the prisoners’ primary needs and interests in order to effectively equip them with appropriate literacy and social skills necessary for their successful reintegration or resettlement into society once released from prison. These sessions also provide women with an opportunity to talk about the purpose of the children’s visits, the aims of the activities the facilitators will be running and how the mothers will encourage their children to join in the activities with them. As a direct result of these workshops with the mothers the percentage of mothers who engage in activities with their children during the children’s visits has increased.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Monitoring and Evaluation

Although external evaluators have not been engaged since July 2011 (when BSfF took over the implementation of the PFLP), the programme is, nonetheless, currently being evaluated on an ongoing basis by BSfF technical staff, partners, prison officials, the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (OFSTED) and learners through field-based observations, in-depth interviews and consultations. Most importantly, programme beneficiaries also evaluate (using a standardised questionnaire) the learning outcomes through a reflective process which asks them to identify and highlight what they have learnt, the impact of the programme on their lives and well-being and the challenges they faced during the entire learning process. They are also asked to make suggestions on how to improve the programme based on their learning experiences.


Existing results from the internal evaluation processes indicate that the PFLP is making an impact on the lives and well-being of female prisoners and their children. A total of 1, 264 prisoners and 1,000 children have participated in the programme during the past three years. Apart from playing a vital role in strengthening family bonds (i.e. the relationship between mothers and their children), the programme has also equipped prisoners with crucial social skills which have prevented a majority of them from re-engaging in criminal activities and thus in successfully reintegrating into their families. As such, the programme has been an essential catalyst in prisoner rehabilitation, empowerment and reintegration. More specifically, the major impacts of the PFLP include:


Despite its major impact as noted above, numerous challenges continue to plague the effective implementation of the PFLP:


Despite the challenges being faced, the long-term sustainability of in-prison family learning programmes in the UK is guaranteed due, in part, to increased State support of such activities and the changing attitudes among prison officials who now see the intrinsic value of family learning programmes in fostering the effective rehabilitation of prisoners. Similarly, the sustainability of the PFLP is guaranteed not only because of the aforesaid, but also because BSfF has trained many prison officers, volunteers, carers of prisoners’ children and civilian staff working with prisoners in order to enable them to continue implementing this or similar programmes alongside BSfF and other organisations.



Ms Foufou Savitzky
Family Learning Specialist
Best Start for Families,
8 Medora Road, London SW2 2LN, UK
Telephone: +44 794 960 39 68
Email: foufou.savitzky (at) / beststartforfamilies (at)

Last update: 9 January 2012