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Education in prison

This is for information only.  We are unable to provide advice on this.


Making use of your time in prison is absolutely critical. Trying to get on in life with a criminal record is by no means easy, and so you have to try and make use of your time as effectively as possible whilst you are in prison.

This page will hopefully provide you with some useful information and advice on options available whilst in prison in terms of education.

Basic Skills

Education in prison is a mixture of specialist provision and mainstream provision.

All prisons will have an OLASS provider, who primarily provide basic key skills level 1 & 2. A list of the current providers for each region and each prison within that region, can be downloaded here.

Most prisons will also have selection of NVQ’s available. These may be operated by the specific OLASS provider, or may sit within a different area of the prison. You should speak to the prison about what specific courses and qualifications they have to offer.

Careers advice

The National Careers Service launched on 5th April 2012. It offers independent and impartial information and advice on learning and work.

The new service will include provision in the prison estate and replaces its predecessor, the Careers, Information and Advice Service (CIAS).

Visit or call 0800 100 900


Open University, Higher Education and Distance Learning

The processes surrounding Open University (OU), Higher Education and Distance Learning are set out in PSI 32/2012.

This covers areas such eligibility for programmes, funding, transfers (and leaving study) as well as internal matters such as risk management and maintaining records.

There is a useful guide by the Prisoners Education Trust (designed for prison and National Careers Service staff but equally as useful for individuals directly) on Distance Learning. You can download it here.

If you are interested in studying with The Open University, ask your Education Department for a prospectus – the OU offer general and subject specific prospectuses – or you can look at the leaflet Courses for Prisoners. The OU have a specific prospectus/guide for learners in prison. The 2016/2017 version is available on their website. The ‘Offender Learning’ section more broadly contains some useful information.

Many prisons host information and advice sessions where prospective students can view course materials and prospectuses. It may also be possible to speak to an OU adviser about your future study plans. If you are new to university study you may wish to study one of the preparatory Openings courses. These courses are designed to introduce new students to study, or to act as a refresher for those who have not studied for some time. Once you have decided on an area of interest, your Education Department will advise you about the suitability and availability of courses in that area and help you complete the necessary paperwork. All study must be approved by your Prison Governor and you will be advised on your application by Education Department.

Funding your studies

If you are a new student you may be able to get funding from the Prisoners’ Education Trust or from another charity. Please note: Unlock are not able to provide financial assistance. It may also be possible for you or a third party to pay your course fees via the prison. Please discuss this with your Education Department if you would like to explore this option.

For further advice and information (including course start dates), please speak to a member of your prison’s Education Department.

Useful Organisations

Prisoners Education Trust provides access to broader learning opportunities for prisoners, to enhance their chances of building a better life after release. They do this through a grants programme which assists over 2,000 prisoners each year to study distance learning courses in subjects and levels not available in prison. They also provide advice and support, and they make the case for improving policy and practice.

Haven Distribution has been assisting prisoners since 1996 by purchasing educational books for those who wish to use their time in custody effectively, through the pursuit of lifelong learning.

Open University delivers higher education courses to people in prison.

Learning and Work Institute encourage all adults to engage in learning of all kinds.


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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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