ome prisoners have had no classroom lessons for two years because leaders are taking a “cautious” approach to Covid, a damning Ofsted report said.
The number of prisoners taking part in education or work is still “a lot lower” than before the pandemic, with some prisoners not stepping foot in a classroom since March 2020.
Ofsted inspectors said the “cautious approach” to reintroducing face-to-face lessons is having a particularly negative impact on prisoners who struggled to read and those who speak English as an additional language.
Fewer prisoners can take part in face-to-face education because of the pandemic restrictions, but the report said in some cases prisoners with the greatest needs have been overlooked in favor of those who took part in remote education.
The report said: “We understand that prisons are not just a place of education…
“However the consequences of sacrificing education must also be acknowledged. Without access to education and training or adequate advice and guidance, prisoners are less likely to gain employment on release and more likely to reoffend.”
The Ministry of Justice estimated the cost of reoffending was £18.1 billion in 2019.
The report said: “After two years of missed opportunities, there will be a significant cost – both for the future life chances of individual prisoners and to society.”
It continued: “As restrictions continue to ease, leaders must urgently increase prisoners’ participation in education, skills and work by drawing on all available resources. Prison leaders and managers must show flexibility, ingenuity and focus if they are to improve prisoners’ chances of resettlement in such challenging circumstances.”
It concluded prisons overall are being too slow at reinstating a full education, work and skills curriculum.
It comes as Ofsted also issued a warning nursery staff are concerned that increasing numbers of children will not be ready for school when they turn four years old.
Some youngsters are behind with toilet training, walking, understanding facial expressions and making friends due to the pandemic.
Inspectors also found schoolchildren have lower levels of resilience and confidence since the pandemic started and more anxiety.
The education watchdog looked at how children are recovering from the pandemic and found schools, nurseries and colleges are still dealing with the aftermath of lockdown.
Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of Ofsted, said she is particularly worried about young children’s development “which, if left unaddressed, could potentially cause problems for primary schools down the line.”
In the report its report on the Early Years, Ofsted said children have missed out on having conversations or hearing stories.
One provider commented young children seem to have spent more time on screens and have started to use accents and voices from programs they have watched.
A few providers said wearing face masks is continuing to have a negative impact on young children’s language and communication skills.
“Children turning two years old will have been surrounded by adults wearing masks for their whole lives and have therefore been unable to see lip movements or mouth shapes as regularly,” Ofsted said.
Ms Spielman was asked if parents should delay sending their children to school but said “basic parenting” is more important.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program she said: “What’s more important, I think, is to make sure that these very basic things [are being done].
“Parents and families can spend time making sure they talk a lot to their children, give them those opportunities to take turns, whether there are other children to play with, [making sure] They’ve had exposure to other children and that they get out, they get out to the park, they get out for walks, they get out to go to the shops, they have exercise.
“Those really basic parenting things are probably more important than delaying their entry to school.”
She also said the income of parents “disproportionately” affects the most vulnerable children.
She said: “In the physical limitations of lockdown, the smaller your household, or if you lived in a flat and if you didn’t have a garden, those children were significantly more constrained in their opportunities to exercise than children who lived in houses with big gardens.
“We know that there have been differential effects and how important it is that we particularly put the effort into the children who’ve had the worst experience over the last few years to help them get where they need to.”
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said inadequate action has been taken to help children who have lost learning since the pandemic.
The Labor MP told Times Radio: “When schools were closed to most children, almost two years ago, that was the point at which planning should have been happening to make up for what came afterwards, to make up for that lost time and to make sure that the support was put in place – that was never properly done.
“Had I been secretary of state for education that would have been my number one priority, to make sure that we got that priority plan and the support that children would need given the time they had spent away from school.”