Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pride and shame

It was our lifelong learning presentation evening tonight for a whole series of awards other than full degrees. It was a lovely occasion once more. Though we do get dressed up, it is less stiff than the depressing formality of full graduation. We have wine, food and laughs. It is a real celebration of achievement.

Selected students give little speeches; the bus driver with her award in trade union representation, the creative writing student who had fulfilled a dream, the youth and community worker now qualified, and so many more. I was able to fit in a reference to Patrick Geddes in my short speech, an implicit criticism of current adult education policy. The most telling moment was with a group of students who could not be there to collect their awards, they are in prison. Their tutor accepted the certificates on their behalf and said that of two hundred offenders that had been through the programme only two had re-offended, when the national rate for recidivism is 70%. That is the power of adult education.

So where does the shame come in? It is because of the fact that instead of cherishing something so wonderful, instead of investing in it, it is all under threat and being attacked by the erosion of funding. In England, one million four hundred thousand funded places have been lost outside the universities. Inside higher education, part time learning, already at a disadvantage, is being hit by the removal of funding for people studying for an equivalent or lower level qualification to one they hold already. Departments are closing and provision is being lost. This is indeed something to be ashamed of.


DorsetDipper said...

"of two hundred offenders that had been through the programme only two had re-offended, when the national rate for recidivism is 70%. That is the power of adult education."

err ... whilst these figures are impressive, your conclusion is unsafe as the group of prisoner students did not have a control group.

Properly the group of offenders attending the adult education course should have a control group identical except they don't do adult education, and you'd have to show that the group not doing education had a significantly higher rate of recidivism?

The Plump said...

DD - eh?

First, what conclusion? This was simply a statement of fact. Only two out of 200 have re-offended. As you say pretty impressive and certainly points to education as having a beneficial effect.

Now, as to the stuff about control groups, I think that you need to look more closely at methods of research in the social sciences. This is not a drugs trial with measurable effects. Something as complex as human behaviour cannot be understood the way you describe and what you are suggesting is something that would be unethical and meaningless.

Qualitative methods would make much more sense and I have linked to an article previously in this post.

This wasn't just an off-the-cuff remark. There is a wide literature on the subject. The Home Office has sponsored a great deal of quantitative as well as qualitative research that does show a strong positive correlation between education and reduced re-offending.

What we do is more unusual, delivering HE programmes rather than basic skills, which is where the government wants to put the emphasis. For arguments in favour of a broader approach see, Bayliss, P. Learning Behind Bars: Time to Liberate Prison Education. Studies in the Education of Adults, Volume 35, Number 2, 1 September 2003 , pp. 157-172(16). This is a nice critique of the government's approach too.

Students who have done our courses identify the engagement with education as one of the most important factors in giving them the hope and self-belief to change their lives. And you know what, I believe them.

And it is not just offenders - adult education is a life-changing and life-enhancing experience. As a former mature student myself, I wouldn't be a lecturer if it hadn't existed. The whole thing is so damn emotional and at times emotionally draining. That is why all of us, students, tutors and even administrators are so wrapped up in it, so committed and, at the current time, are so distressed, hurt and are grieving.

DorsetDipper said...

well ... I'm not trying to denigrate the value of adult education in any way, and agree with you that there should be more of it, but ... and I did put a question mark on as I thought you would have the answers.

you did say "that is the power of adult education", so I thought there was an implicit claim of cause and effect.

I was just saying that the group of prisoners who choose to do adult education is probably quite different from those who don't, and hence its impossible to say that their low rate of recidivism is due to the education they receive; it might be that there is a strong correlation between those prisoners who choose to do adult education and those who wouldn't have reoffended anyway.

I guess that a number of prisoner students may have a record of several offenses and sentences, in which case there would be more evidence for the decision to do adult education and/or the education they then receive as being a contributory factor in not reoffending.

I wasn't saying that their adult education wasn't worth doing.

DorsetDipper said...

... this business of comparison in social science is something I'd like to know more about.

Many claims about effectiveness, typically in education in selective schools, seem to be difficult to substantiate because of a prior filtering that takes place at the selection stage.

So just how do social scientists go about compensating for a selection effect when comparing different groups?

The Plump said...

So just how do social scientists go about compensating for a selection effect when comparing different groups?

Questions like that explain why I am an historian :-)

I think someone more competent in social science research methods will have to answer that. It is a complex question and there is a load published on it. Here are just a few random recent books:

Geoffrey Payne, Key Concepts in Social Research SAGE, 2004.

Judith Green and John Browne.
Principles of social research Open University 2005

Keith Punch,Introduction to social research : quantitative and qualitative approaches Sage, 2005.

On the other points I can only answer anecdotally, and this is part of a process of qualitative research, using interview and being open about the different variables.

The point at which people seriously engage in adult education, regardless of whether they are offenders or not, is often down to a range of significant events. The most common thing that has been said to me is that a person gets a sense that "there has to be something else".

However, what is crucial is that the first engagement with education is the right one. It has to be intellectually engaging, not patronising, enlightening and has to come from a position of respect for the learner. This might sound a bit preachy, but it may be the first time that an offender has been treated with respect for some time. Try having self-respect when others will not give it to you.

Some of the people we have worked with actually have been long-term recidivists but the determination to change may come from elsewhere, in which case education is a facilitator rather than an instigator. Sometimes it is education itself.

So perhaps what I am really saying is that our success is based on what we do and how we do it and that the partnership the Prison Service has with us in Hull is crucial to convert that inkling into a sense of the real possibilities that are open to them. There are no automatic triggers, this isn't a conditioned reflex. The basis is skilled people who can engage with them and help them learn and change. Every student is different, but they share a range of common experiences. But if you don't get it right, you compound the damage. And if you do that, you have failed the offender, in the same way they have been failed all their life, and they stay locked in the same self-destructive behaviour.