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Sport in prisons takes centre stage at EPALE UK conference

The powerful impact of sport in prison education came under the spotlight at the third annual EPALE UK conference on adult learning, which followed the organisation’s Prison Education Week.

EPALE is the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe and practitioners from across the UK met in Birmingham on November 15 to share best practice and assess the impact of their work in a wide range of settings. 

The role of Sport for Development, education and rehabilitation in prisons was high on the conference agenda following EPALE UK’s week-long focus on the topic, during which case studies, resources, blog posts and opinions were shared across the platform. 

Practitioners were invited to use EPALE to discuss teaching strategies, examine outcomes and celebrate their success, and contributions were made by Cardiff City Football Club’s Community Foundation, the Prison Reform Trust, and Belfast Met, among others.

With reoffending costing an estimated at £15 billion per year, the initiative examined the potential for sporting opportunities to give people in prison skills, qualifications and tools to build crime-free lives after release.

A recent Cabinet Office call for evidence underlined how important adult learning is to people within the criminal justice system and ex-offenders in the community. It stated: “Over 11 million people in the UK have a criminal record and an estimated 48% of prison leavers will reoffend within 12 months of leaving custody. Research shows that employment can significantly reduce someone’s chances of reoffending, but the proportion of offenders in P45 employment one year after release stands at just 17%.”

EPALE and their partners can help ensure people stay within a supportive network and are empowered to source and choose sustainable employment options.

Aisha Smith, Stakeholder Engagement Lead at EPALE UK, explained: “The overarching aim of EPALE is to increase the quality of Adult Learning and education across Europe. 

“Our platform allows the adult education community to network and talk to like-minded people across Europe, and discuss important topics in adult learning, to share ideas and best practice to improve provision. 

“People in the adult education sector can get involved and join EPALE for free, so that they can discuss and share their experiences, practices and methodologies, and share resources and news about what is going on in the sector so that we can learn from each other.

“We originally had the EPALE monthly thematic of prison education and adult learning in July and it proved popular. We hope to see further interaction on the discussion page as a result of this.” 

Justin Coleman

The EPALE conference featured a keynote presentation by independent prison educator Jamie Grundy and Alliance of Sport Co-Founder and Secretariat, Justin Coleman, who examined ways in which sport and activity in prisons can increase the effectiveness of educational attainment and lead to outcomes including employability, sociability, connectedness and choice for inmates.  

Justin said: “The conference was a celebration of this diverse and vital platform. 

“Meeting people from all four parts of the United Kingdom with a common goal – the betterment of society – was a very stimulating, rewarding and interesting place to be. 

“It was clear that adult learning goes beyond many people’s initial expectations or initial thinking. Adult education – or lifelong learning – is an essential component in the process of removing the shackles of negative life experiences.

“Adult learning enables intergenerational empowerment, meaning adults can share, support and educate those older and younger than themselves. 

“We see examples of this among volunteers in our Sport for Development sector, such as parents obtaining sports coaching qualifications in order to support young grassroots teams, and people working towards other supportive roles within society.” 

To find out more about EPALE, visit their website here.

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