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NCFE supports Novus to deliver digital skills to prison learners

Following the success of a unique pilot study, NCFE has recently partnered with prison education provider Novus to provide Essential Digital Skills qualifications to learners within prisons across England. As a social enterprise dedicated to improving lives and economic success through learning and skills, we’re proud of this collaborative effort that has seen Novus’s prison learners become some of the first in the UK to achieve these qualifications.

The right to gain digital skills

In December 2021, then Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab published the Prisons Strategy White Paper which outlined the requirement to give all UK prisoners the opportunity to gain digital skills whilst under the prison system. The Government recognised that, in order to be able to provide a true rehabilitation service, prisoners need to be able to access services such mental health support, rehab treatment, applying for jobs and upskilling online. It was therefore imperative that they received the digital skills necessary to access this support.

When NCFE created the Essential Digital Skills qualification (EDSQ), it was aimed at over 11 million adults who don’t have the basic digital skills to operate online in work, life and education. A large part of the prison community are adults who don’t have these skills and could benefit from studying this qualification.

And so, at this time of the white paper’s release, Novus – which is part of the LTE Group – approached NCFE to see if we could support in providing a solution to delivering Essential Digital Skills within a prison environment.

Providing a viable solution

A small, dedicated group of NCFE colleagues came together and visited HMP Oakwood to discuss the considerations needed to deliver this qualification.

Challenges were quickly identified, but the team were able to create a plan to overcome these and through working closely with the Novus Digital learning team, they identified the initial changes required for delivery.

We worked alongside the Novus team who would be delivering the qualification to provide subject specialist support, teaching and learning resources, and tutorials on the online assessment platform to ensure its accessibility.

Our Assessment team has also worked closely with the Novus digital learning team and tutors analysing the existing assessment questions to identify which would need to be adapted for the prison setting. This piece of work has brought some brilliant and innovative results, allowing us to have a much more accessible approach and the creation of simulated tools by the prison service to allow access to digital areas previously off-limits.

Learning a set of eye-opening skills

The EDSQ tutor at HMP New Hall is also excited at the opportunities that the project provides: “At the start of the course, the women had little experience using computers and the internet, many had avoided using IT whilst studying other courses. Through the duration of the course, I witnessed the women’s confidence grow which is an incredibly rewarding feeling.”

The EDSQ education team at HMP Buckley Hall which was involved in the pilot noted: “A lot of the men have been in prison for so long that they have not used the internet or even an Android phone; the skills taught were a huge eye-opener for some of them.”

News of the first learner successfully coming through their assessment was met with great delight by all parties and fully validated the hours of hard work put in on this pilot. Now that the pilot has finished, NCFE will be the preferred supplier for EDSQ across all of the prisons Novus works with, in order to improve prisoners’ chances of integrating safely into society upon their release.

David Redden explained: “Working with Novus has really shone a light on the impact education can have on people’s lives, especially digital education which will then allow them to access further support and learning.

“As an educational charity, this scheme has been a very real example of the charitable work we can do to support a vital area of society and really make an impact by improving social mobility for those most in need of it. I am proud of the way all parties have worked together to bring about a solution for the learner, never wavering despite the challenges that were in the way and am excited to see the full roll out and the benefit it will bring.”

You can learn more about our Essential Digital Skills qualifications and offering here.

A lot of the men have been in prison for so long that they have not used the internet or even an Android phone; the skills taught were a huge eye-opener for some of them.

The EDSQ education team at HMP Buckley Hall
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