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4 years Prison education experience - annecodotal advice

Discussion in 'Further Education' started by Chris_Mac, May 25, 2017.

  1. Chris_Mac

    Chris_Mac New commenter

    Teacher Of Information Technology Qualification


    Explanation of Work Related Stress

    20xx – 20xx

    Doctor explained that work related stress has an insidious onset meaning that it proceeds in a gradual, subtle way, but has very harmful effects. For this reason, I must start my explanation from the beginning of employment being Monday xx 20xx. It is difficult to always articulate issues chronologically so forgive me if I make jumps.

    In my first week I was asked by the Education Manager and my Strand Leader to shadow colleague xxx during afternoon ITQ lessons in Education. I can almost quote their words, we want you to shadow xxx but we don’t necessarily want you to teach like him. I later learned that xxx was not a specialist ITQ teacher as he also mainly taught another subject. This is important for two reasons:

    1. Whilst shadowing I was not shown how and why to complete various OLASS documents and ILP’s. This lead to being awarded a grade three/ needing improvement by my strand leader for my first probation lesson observation solely for the reason that ILP smart targets were not completed. Immediately after the observation I was shown how to complete the documentation and I almost begged my Strand Leader to defer the grade for a week and re-inspect ILP folders. This was not agreed to.

    2. Considering this was my first Prison teaching experience I was wondering how they wanted me to teach and thought that a good model of practice would have been an ITQ specialist.

    I was on probation for nine months and accepted the grade as I thought if I questioned it at this early stage my relations would be strained and I didn’t want to jeopardise my employment.

    At around the six to seven month period I was reminded whilst on holiday that I was overdue my second probation observation:

    “Just a reminder that it is your 6 month probationary observation on Monday xx”

    I opened this email when I returned from holiday on Sunday xx at home and thought there is no time or resources at home for me to prepare. I approached my Stand Leader on Monday xx and explained this but no I was penciled in to the diary. However, I was given another observation notification later that week but before that could be undertaken I found out that members of teaching staff had petitioned Area Manager because of various lesson observation issues. At the end of xx observations were temporarily suspended. On Monday xx I had Probation Interview with my Strand Leader and it had been decided to extend my probationary period by 2 months because of the ILP issue and an allegation that I had been groomed. The allegation could not be substantiated and was dropped. After obtaining UCU advice I decided to email HR to query the reasons behind my probation extension:

    “My main reason for writing is that I would like to suggest that an induction program be constructed including a checklist. I found it unfair that my lesson observation conducted on xx be graded (3) as needing improvement. I was told I received this grade solely because the ILP and student learning journey in students' progress files were not "satisfactory". I am unaware of any formal probation/ induction process and would have appreciated if these documents had been pointed out to me when I started. I have 5 years experience in FE setting SMART targets and performance reviews and feel this should have not been an issue.”

    I raised further issues:

    Last week my Strand Leader asked me to support a colleague, also with an improvement plan highlighting ILP weaknesses. I feel that it's inappropriate that I should be asked to support my colleague as I was assessed as needing improvement. Nevertheless, I have offered and provided some support.

    There are other issues that make it difficult to complete ILP’s:

    · Education Orderly often doesn’t bring progress folders until the last 30-45 mins. of lesson

    ·Temporary Education Orderly hasn’t always bought ILP to lesson

    · Education Orderly was fired and not immediately replaced/ temporary orderly’s

    ·Strand Leader has been trying to implement an electronic learning diary

    During meeting xx advised I could start ILP without student being present – as ILP is a student-centred activity I think this is ludicrous?

    College HR replied to Education Manager on xx “the suggestion is that it may be effective and very useful that an induction program to be constructed including a checklist for all new starters. It might be something we can discuss at the managers meeting so all establishments’ can follow suit: - I fairly sure from talking to ‘new starters’ this was never actioned.

    It was agreed to reintroduce lesson observations and xx an independent ‘inspector’ conducted an observation on Date and awarded me grade two/ good. I wasn’t advised by HR, Strand Leader or Education Manager that my probation period was officially extended. However, later new Education Manager advised that I wasn’t on probation.

    During the first two or three weeks of employment I was working in Strand Leaders office learning how to internally moderate students’ assessments. xx an ITQ colleague walked in and sat down and almost immediately the Strand Leader and Colleague had a fully blown heated argument/ conflict. The strand office is quite small and I started to feel quite uncomfortably claustrophobic and didn’t want to be in the middle of an argument. Eventually, I put both of my hand up and said that I felt very uncomfortable could it stop or I would leave.

    Later, I found out there seemed to be a dispute between ITQ staff and Strand Leader that I wanted no part of. I decided that I could not alienate myself from either party for 2 reasons:

    1. I wanted to learn from colleagues how to effectively teaching students in a prison environment and about other and administrative responsibilities. I wanted to earn respect from my colleagues and feel as though I had been accepted as part of the ITQ Team.

    2. I wanted my Strand Leader to recommend I passed my probation.

    One issue where I thought I could compromise and persuade colleagues would be the subject of group teaching. Group teaching is an OFSTED requirement but is very difficult to achieve when your teaching roll on roll off students, please do not confuse this with roll on roll off subjects/ units. However, I suggested of a range of group teaching subjects including health and safety and ergonomics and in a strand meeting offered to share resources including lesson plans. I was trying to bridge a gap between colleagues and Strand Leader. Also, I was asked to lead ITQ level 3 development but not all non-specialist ITQ colleagues felt they had the knowledge set to deliver this effectively.

    Towards the end of 20xx I received my contract. I emailed Strand Leader on (Date) as I had queries about calculating holiday entitlement:

    “Hi xx,

    As per our conversation before lunch I thought I would look at my contract and double check with you entitlement. It states:

    5. Holiday

    5.1 You are entitled to leave in accordance with appendix x as follows:

    a) 35 days holiday pro rata per annum.

    b) Bank and Public holidays, pro rata per annum.

    • Easter - 2 days

    • May Day - 1 day

    • Spring - 1 day

    • Late summer - 1 day

    • Christmas - 2 days

    • new Year - 1 day

    These contracts are written from a legal perspective that can be ambiguous.

    My interpretation is 35 days + Bank and Public holidays - both pro rata per annum - do you agree?”

    Strand Leader replied on (Date):

    “Hi xx

    I suggest you get confirmation of your holiday entitlement from Education Manager, as they will have the detail of your .5 contract.”

    On xxth xx Admin Manager replied to Strand Leader, Education Manager and me:

    “Hi xx,

    Bank holidays are included in the leave allowances. I will check to make sure that your only taking the banks that your working.



    On (Date) Deputy Education Manager and new (2nd) Education Manager had a meeting with me in the strand office. Neither of them knew which contract my employment was based upon . For example, previous/ current college contract holder.

    I wondered how my leave entitlement had been calculated and they explained it to me almost exactly as per my email to Strand Leader on (Date) – this email had been forwarded to 2nd Education Manager for advice. It was evident that since I started I had been offered and taken less leave than I was entitled to – I was not offered extra leave dates. I was asked to email my contract to new Education Manager to substantiate this which I did on (Date).

    On (Date) I had graded lesson observation with my Strand Leader. I was graded three/ needing improvement. I appealed this decision which was upheld by new Education Manager. The observation feedback meeting between myself, Strand Lead with new Education Manager observing was extremely contentious and emotive. My Strand Leader withdrew from observing my future lessons and I broke down. It was clear to me that I had fallen from the ‘tight rope’ I had been walking between keeping my Strand Leader happy whist having a good working relationship with my ITQ colleagues. New Education Manager agreed to start the observation process from beginning and we discussed my thoughts that previously I had been set up to fail.


    Further to out meeting today I thought I would detail the main points we discussed to check we are ‘on the same page’:

    · That a cover teacher would not be present during the observation

    · That I would be given 2 weeks to separate teaching groups in room x and xx.

    · That an observation notification letter would be issued week commencing (Date)

    · That an observation could occur in Education in either AM or PM sessions

    · That I would ask for help in terms of work overload

    I became aware of another issue this afternoon as a colleague was sick and her students were initially asked to move into room x and xx group move down from room xx – this would obviously impact upon my teaching during an observation. Room x often is used as space for induction groups, teachers with low class numbers – I didn’t want to say it but it’s used as a dumping ground.

    I want to reinforce that I am making these clarification efforts to ensure I succeed.”

    On or around (Date) I was advised that my observation had been postponed as another (3rd) new Education Manager was not aware of the emailed information detailed above.

    At 1pm on (Date) I was handed lesson observation notification for w/c (Date) - I was on holiday from 4.15pm on xx till (Date) and asked them if this fitted with policy of 48 hours notification of 1 weeks notice - they said it did. Nobody explained that this was not a re-observation but a new round of observations that confused me.

    I tried to my confusion by emailing new Education Manager and Admin. Manager:

    Dear x and x,

    Further to x email of (Date) timed xxxx entitled Re: Lesson observation, you advised " I have not been aware of the below" relating to email and meeting conversation between new Education Manager (EM) and myself - you might not also be aware that during the last few months I have been feeling a huge amount of stress helping my father cope with a massive operation to remove cancers and subsequent chemotherapy treatments. At the same time my elderly and frail godparents are downsizing their properties and I have been dealing with conveyancing and the physical and emotional issues involved with them moving. After discussing my previous lesson observation feedback I broke down if front of EM who was very empathetic to me in terms of these issues.

    Therefore, I ask on compassionate grounds my lesson observation be postponed for the near future.

    I had no idea that the notification had anything to do with a new round of lessons observations and having recently been informed my re-observation had been postponed until January it was not difficult to jump to a different conclusion.

    You mentioned identifying my students clearly after this afternoons class but this has been difficult to achieve as I have been working with another different cover teacher. EM did agree that I would not be observed when a cover teacher is in place and I would like to experience a period of stability whilst this takes place.

    On my return (05 Jan) I replied to 3rd EM email and asked if she was available for meeting on Tuesday xx January at 1pm - on Wednesday xx at 11.40am 3rd EM curtly replied saying she had just read my email and I should of emailed a different address - she had not notified me of a different address so what was i supposed to do - I have not replied to this as was preparing to leave - I work 0.5 fTE.

    Mid January I had a meeting with 3rd EM with Admin Manager present regarding mainly work related stress issues and I pleaded that my lesson observation week commencing xxth January be postponed as I was having medical procedure and I could benefit from having some stress reduced. This was not agreed to and I was served with observation notification which was when I had a huge stress, fight, flight or freeze reaction.

    Since early March 20xx on several occasions XX College HR have written to organise a home welfare visit and I have been advised by my Doctor that I was not fit enough to attend. However, I did feel fit enough on 14th xx and I attach Union Rep’s notes and you can find my own notes after the meeting below.

    The last three months of 20xx were difficult for me and I had to take 3.5 days off sick leave. I visited my Doctors surgery three times in this period trying to sort out a lingering sore throat. On Jan xxth 20xx my Doctor performed medical procedure and I was diagnosed with suspected Globus Pharingus - the persistent sensation of having some sort of obstruction in the throat when there is none. However, I did have inflammation in the lower Pharynx.

    I was referred to OH and found very little help was offered. My Doctor advises that my illness does amount to a disability for the purpose of the DDA 1995 – I can assure you I was not particularly stressed when I started my employment!

    I have experienced so many issues that it’s difficult to document them all. Some have been trivial but they all contributed to me feeling very stressed. Currently, almost every day I feel anxious, my fingers tremble and my feet tap, my blood pressure increased from low/ moderate to high, insomnia, nervousness and ‘gaseous stomach’. I have been taking anxiety and depression medication for 2 months now and it makes your mind feel foggy like you’re not quite your real self. I have grave doubts about how long it will take me to recover and back to teaching.

    I am not sure if I will ever be able to walk to the prison gate room and collect my keys for the purposes of paid teaching ever again but I know my colleagues do every day and some are close to being chronically stressed. This is not necessary and I hope that a stress risk assessment is conducted based upon HSE model.

  2. guernsey lily

    guernsey lily New commenter

    Thank you Chris. Your story is sadly not an isolated one. I also work in offender learning and although my situation is no where near as dire as yours, I too have recently been put through what I feel is a totally unnecessary and extremely stressful disciplinary action. The management in prisons leaves a lot to be desired. I hope that you are on the road to recovery.
  3. Chris_Mac

    Chris_Mac New commenter

    Thanks for your reply!

    I hope your situation remains improved - we both know the 'guys' can be a handful let alone managers trying to trip you up, change the goal posts, invent new hurdles to jump over. I found it to be a very hierarchical introverted destructive culture. I think many teachers work in an open, expansive way which does not suit prison culture.

    I am find it very difficult to lift myself into the 'light' atm.
  4. elfinamerica

    elfinamerica New commenter

    I worked in offender learning for 3.5 years and they were really hot on that ILP nonsense (along with OLASS form filling nonsense). I didn't understand then and don't understand now how or why ILP form filling would have an effect on your lesson observation grade - I don't think this applies for FE as rigorously so perhaps its how the funding is claimed along with OLASS???

    *I remember being pulled over after a lesson observation and being told contradictory information by another member of the S.L team who really grilled me on the fact that I hadn't correctly filled in the ILP and the learner journey wasn't tracked - no one seemed to know the correct procedure for filling in the dam ILPs I think this is just offender learning!
  5. saluki

    saluki Lead commenter

    No... The college that I recently left is preparing for Ofsted and have decided to really go to town on ILPs in order to show what they are doing for each individual student, how they are setting targets for improvement and how each student has progressed by the end of the course.
    Your place of work does sound very badly organized though.
  6. Chris_Mac

    Chris_Mac New commenter

    Hi, I see HMP Birmingham (MKC) are advertising for an I.T Teacher - must have incredibly high staff turnover!!!!!
  7. Chris_Mac

    Chris_Mac New commenter

    really, it was as bad as that!
  8. johnyardley

    johnyardley New commenter

  9. Chris_Mac

    Chris_Mac New commenter

    it was worse
  10. Chris_Mac

    Chris_Mac New commenter

    and I think Prisoners have become less well behaved in the last few years and this was noticeable after the smoking ban!
  11. Chris_Mac

    Chris_Mac New commenter

    I hope my post and over 5000 reads has stopped teachers entering Prison Education without some sort of 'reality check' which I provided.

    Please DO NOT think my scenario is a one off, it's quite typical to find many teachers in Prison suffering from gross mis-management and other issues.

    I reiterate each day you will face teaching a very tough group - not only this but you will find that managers place additional ridiculously unfair expectations on you.

    Not only will you teach prisoners but you do all the admin; you enrol them on your course you complete them, or otherwise, you assess them in your normal classes, you online claim for their certificates from the awarding body, often you will go to wings and recruit prisoners, you will deliver introduction to education courses, you will run basic numeracy/ literacy tests. You might work in bespoke education classrooms OR classrooms cobbled in Wings, Factory Work Units or Health/ Prison hospitals where prisons are drugged for their, and your, safety!!
  12. Chris_Mac

    Chris_Mac New commenter

    Please advise if you had second thoughts about entering Prison Education after reading my 'report'.
  13. Chris_Mac

    Chris_Mac New commenter

    Grooming is a big issue in Prison Education - why is this important factor in teaching?

    Most teachers are empathetic by nature, they have strong social skills, they care about what they teach, how they teach it and whom they teach it to.

    This is in direct contrast to Prison environment where a certain amount of detachment is required. You will be required to inform Prison staff if you over hear conversations or see something you shouldn't have, such as a razor turned into a knife.

    I think trust is an important factor in the student/ prison and teacher relationship. This is somewhat in contradiction to detachment.

    A number of colleagues have been immediately MARCHED out of Prisons being accused of grooming and being accused of other crimes. For example, A Maths teacher had drugs planted in his jacket and reported to Prison staff. He was immediately marched out of Prison and suspended for more than 2 months. The teacher was has something of the qualities as mentioned previously.

    It's not just the Students/ Prisoners as I found Management had a introverted suspicious culture. For example, staff were accused of crimes and removed from Prisoners without evidence. Also, it seemed like an unwritten rule that every new teacher failed 6 months probation period because of some spurious/ contrived reason/s to do with teaching observations.

    Go into Prison teaching with your eyes wide open - get advice from staff that work in Prison.

    Don't believe the advertising hype!!
  14. Corvuscorax

    Corvuscorax Star commenter

    yes I certainly have changed my mind about considering this as an option
    1 person likes this.
  15. Chris_Mac

    Chris_Mac New commenter

    That's great to hear that through my harsh experience, I made a small difference thx !
    Corvuscorax likes this.
  16. bramblesarah

    bramblesarah Occasional commenter

    I have worked in prison education as cover staff. Before taking on a permanent role I would recommend being a cover teacher first. Unfortunately the management has very high turn over and with ever new manager they feel they need to 'shake things up'. I.e. creating more work.

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