Gareth Evans, about 5 years ago
“The course breeds engagement. Questions or objections are encouraged and everyone is valued as having expertise. This means everyone has something to teach the rest of the group"
Learning Together is a growing network of partnerships between universities and prisons around the country. Initially established between HMP Grendon and the University of Cambridge, this ground-breaking new way of delivering quality prison education has now expanded to include DeMontfort University/HMP Leicester, Leeds-Beckett/HMP Durham and Royal Holloway/HMP Feltham, to name a few.
Its founders, Dr Ruth Armstrong and Dr Amy Ludlow, sought to provide a way of engaging people in good education whilst learning about the world and the people who occupy it. The course brings students from the university to learn alongside students who are in prison as equals. The focus on learning for learning's sake gives people a chance to focus on, often, deep and complex topics for one day a week. A typical program has eight sessions and then celebrates the achievements of all its students in a graduation ceremony. The topics and the end of course assessment are pitched at university, post-graduate, level, but they incorporate different learning styles as well as considerations for every student's experiences with education and particular circumstances.
“Before Learning Together, the only thing my family saw me stand up in a packed room for was to get a sentence. Now they've seen me get a certificate from university" - Learning Together student
The way these courses manage to encourage so many to continue studying for degrees and to consider the direction their life is going in, means it is easy to see why it is an internationally respected entity. Prisons in Australia, Mexico and Canada are trying to see how they can make this work in their respective states.
The powerful message to come from so many who have taken part in these challenging and rewarding programs is the wealth and variation of skills and talent within the ex-offender communities. People who, otherwise would be regarded as dysfunctional, are discovering that they are diligent, studious, respectful and passionate about a range of academic areas. It is a potent catalyst for change.
“I thought that, after my offence, I wasn't meant to be part of conversations like we've had on this course. Now I want to know about the world and do something right in it." - Learning Together student