Offenders at HMP Wandsworth, HMP Holme House and HMP Kirklevington Grange prisons will help deliver to fellow offenders a “life-changing” literacy training programme developed by an award-winning Teesside company.
Middlesbrough-based Sound Training, the North East Small Business of the Year, delivered six weekly hour-long courses to small groups of offenders at HMP Wandsworth, the UK’s largest prison, along with Teesside institutions, HMP Holme House and HMP Kirklevington.
Such has been the positive impact of the initial courses that plans are now underway to train prison staff and nominated offenders to deliver the Sound Training courses to more offenders within all three HM prisons.
Talks are also underway to introduce the ground-breaking training programme to more prisons and organisations working within the criminal justice system across the UK.
Although the pilot programmes were the first time prisons had utilised the Sound Training scheme, it has already been delivered to nearly 40,000 students in more than 600 schools across the UK.
Sound Training, which has recently won public praise from Neil Carmichael, chair of the Government’s Education Select Committee, boosts literacy levels by teaching participants strategies to develop fluency and readily understand the meanings of words and phrases, whilst boosting confidence and self-belief in those taking part.
An independent evaluation of the delivery to the offenders by think tank LKM reported that Sound Training “had a considerable, positive impact on reading ability”, with learners increasing their reading age by average of 18 months.
After participating in the Sound Training course, one offender at HMP Holme House said: “I now find myself breaking down words as I read them and words that I am not familiar with I am working out the definition of without the use of a dictionary.”
Sound Training’s alternative provision coordinator Mandy Thompson, who has experience of working in restorative justice as well as mainstream teaching, led the sessions at all three of the prisons, which are all early adopters of highly visible reforms instigated by the Ministry of Justice.
She said: “Our unique programme fully engaged the learners who saw rapid progress from the outset.
“The improvements they made in reading fluency, vocabulary development and the ability to spell unfamiliar words has given many the confidence to want to learn further.
“Research shows us that such skills can make a significant impact on reducing reoffending rates, so we are delighted it has gone so well.”
The firm’s founder-director Katy Parkinson added that Sound Training aim to make the initial successes a “launch pad” into the sector.
She said: “Whilst we’ve enjoyed great success helping mainstream pupils at schools right across the UK and parts of the USA, it was always our aim to explore how the Sound Training programme would benefit those within the secure estate.
“Dame Sally Coates’ report on prison reform last year provided us with the opportunity to approach prisons with our educational offer as it gave governors more autonomy to explore alternative providers within reform prisons.
“We’re now actively seeking to take Sound Training into more reform prisons, whilst we’re also keen to work with community rehabilitation centres across the country.”
Parkinson added: “Sound Training can change lives. We give individuals the opportunity to achieve things they never believed possible.
“We are opening up opportunities to take on challenges that had they had them at a much earlier stage in their life things may have looked an awful lot different.
“We knew our training programme would prove a success within the prison system but we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive feedback from the learners themselves, many of whom are recommending it to fellow offenders.
“The participants have freely shared their feelings and emotions around how Sound Training has made them see language and learning differently.
“It will now provide them with opportunities for further learning and development, so this is reformation in the true sense of the word.”
• Pictured (above): Sound Training’s founder-director Katy Parkinson at HMP Kirklevington Grange with Nick Banfield (left), the prison’s head of residential services and safety, and Barry Coppinger, police and crime commissioner for Cleveland.