Next week, as every year, the papers will be full of stories about successful A Level students getting their exam results. These are usually illustrated with pictures of photogenic youngsters jumping for joy, weeping with relief or generally looking relieved - since the pictures are more or less the same every year, it's never quite clear whether they are all taken from a stock library or freshly photographed.
However, one group of candidates we can be certain will not appear in these photographs are the 65,000 OCR candidates who sit our qualifications each year in prison.
The Department of Justice recently announced plans to significantly improve offender access to education opportunities as the link between offender behaviour, poor educational attainment and lack of qualifications is well demonstrated. OCR qualifications offered in the prison estate cover a range of different levels, skills and subjects, including the three key priority areas of English, maths and ICT. They are also included as part of more general rehabilitation programmes for offenders with drug and alcohol problems.
Although it is difficult to break down some of the aggregate figures, the 65,000 OCR candidates each year form part of an overall prison population of around 85,000, so, on a very simple basis, more than half the prison population in any given year may end up taking an OCR qualification.
This little known element of the university's outreach activity represents a very substantial education effort and a thoroughly worthwhile fulfilment of our core objective as a not-for-profit organisation of providing valid and accessible qualifications that help improve people's life chances. In addition, the particular physical security requirements of the prison estate offer some interesting delivery challenges and an opportunity to apply innovative and imaginative solutions, using online delivery platforms for both the learning programmes and the exams.
One approach being contemplated by the Secretary of State for Justice in order to increase take up of education in the prison sector is a more rigorous monitoring of offenders’ education achievement on entry, and on release, by giving Governors more autonomy over the education provision in their prison and therefore greater accountability for education outcomes, with the best possibly being rewarded for their success. It would be interesting to see if the introduction of an accountability framework for Governors introduces some of the same distortions that we are all familiar with from the school system. Though of course, even if that were so, it wouldn’t in this case necessarily be a bad thing.
Group Chief Executive, Cambridge Assessment