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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



Belfast Met’s education and skills provision in NI prisons

by David Seffen
Language: EN


Dedicated to inclusion in education and maximising opportunities for all, Belfast Met’s partnership with the NI Prison Service builds on the college’s ambition to deliver its commitment to social inclusion by embracing all learners and providing relevant and engaging programmes both in custody and upon release.


Improving the life chances of inmate students


A large banner that reads: "Hydebank Wood College: Building a safer community through learning and skills"

Belfast Met’s aim is to improve the life chances of all inmate students by building their self-confidence through learning and demonstrates how education and skills provide positive opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Approximately 1,439 accreditations were achieved in Maghaberry Prison in the period April 17 – March 18, while 446 were achieved in Hydebank Wood College. This includes both qualifications in vocational and basic literacy/numeracy skills subjects.


Belfast Met Director of Development, Damian Duffy said:

“Belfast Met was asked to come in and have a look at the education and training services as well as the curriculum being delivered in Hydebank Wood College and Maghaberry Prison.  Since May 2015 our partnership with the NI prison Service has gone from strength to strength as we’ve continued to provide education and skills training within the prisons. The response has been phenomenal and we have had numerous celebrations of achievement which are graduation style events in the prisons as students have achieved their qualifications.”




A typical classroom at Hydebank Wood College

Given the poor or low level of prior education by the students in prison (50% have no formal qualifications), this is a significant achievement at each level from introductory qualifications to those required by industry.

The range of courses available at Maghaberry Prison and Hydebank Wood College are delivered up to Level 3 and where appropriate follow the Award, Certificate and Diploma routes.

In addition, short courses, AS and A level options are available with apprenticeship pathways being developed.


Expanding the curriculum provided in prisons

Since the partnership commenced the curriculum provided in prisons has been expanded and the quality improved.  All qualifications are industry relevant including subjects such as ICT, hospitality and catering, joinery and hairdressing. The college has maximised the opportunities to delivery qualifications in a realistic work environment by utilising prison facilities.

Examples of this include the development of qualifications in the prison kitchens, hairdressing, barbering and horticulture (the fresh produce is grown and used in the kitchens).


Incarcerated learners are in a workshop learning woodworking skills


Incarcerated learners are outside planting flowers around a tree and learning gardening skills


An incarcerated learner in a kitchen chopping vegetables - she is learning catering skills







One student in Maghaberry Prison, said:

“I left school without any qualifications and within the prison I completed my entry level maths, English and ICT. I never thought I’d get my GCSE’s and plan to progress further. The teachers in here are fantastic. I’ve had a really good experience of education within the prison.”


Reducing the risk of re-offending

 The partnership ensures prisoners are able to access a range of high-quality, accredited training opportunities taught by experienced tutors that will equip them with the skills they need to enhance their employment prospects upon release and in turn make a positive contribution to both the economy and wider society resulting in the reduction of reoffending.


It has been proven that prisoners who have been given access to education have a much lower risk of re-offending upon release.

Education also helps students obtain employment and a living space upon release which creates stability not just for themselves but for their family and the wider community.


The college has strong relationships with employers which make it easier for offenders to gain work experience, earn trust and potentially gain employment upon release.

The relationship between Belfast Met and NI Prison service has created almost 40 new jobs with further expansion and a refreshed curriculum in planning.





Belfast Met: outstanding learning for successful futures


Belfast Met is the largest and longest established Further and Higher Education College in Northern Ireland. Founded in 1906, the college works at a strategic level to achieve its dual mandate of economic development and social inclusion. Within this sphere of work prison education delivers on the social inclusion agenda which is a cross cutting theme across a number of NI Government Departments. Specifically supporting the reduction of reoffending and the acquisition of learning and skills enables students to engage in work, earn a living for themselves, their families, and contribute to their own communities. In this capacity the college also builds self-esteem and promotes social mobility.

This has been an exploratory model which is further refining how learning and skills are developed within a custodial setting. This also supports the development of techniques and models to engage hard to reach learners, many of whom have had a poor experience of formal education (statistically 50% of those in a custodial setting have formal qualifications).

Follow @bfastmet on Twitter or Instagram and like Belfast Met on Facebook for updated news and information.



You may also be interested in reading:

Developing Prison Ready Teachers (blog)

Mentoring in prison has given me courage (blog)

CREATE 4 LIFE: Connections 4 Sustainable Resettlement (blog)

Prison Education: A Hard Cell, Part 1 (blog)


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