Education in Prisons: I need some advice … please help.

In 2014 our Trust took up the challenge to improve education outcomes for some South Auckland children through the establishment of South Auckland Middle School (SAMS) for Years 7 – 10.

This is our long term NCEA data for students who have spent at least 1 year in that  school before going into another school for years 11 – 13.

– 85% of these children achieved Level 1 NCEA. (Decile 1 & 2 school leavers average is 78% L1 or above). This result is 17% above the nearest high school.

– 76% of these children achieved Level 2 NCEA. (Decile 1 & 2 school leavers average is 64% L2 or above). This result is 25% above the nearest high school.

– 45% of these children achieved Level 3 NCEA. (Decile 1& 2 school leavers average is 34% L2 or above). This result is 20% above the nearest high school.

These numbers are going up quickly over time as there are now cohorts out there who have spent the full 4 years with us. I also expect them to actually be better when I re-check the data in April as some schools have extensions for loading 2020 credits. The NCEA results could all go up by 3 – 5 % and to trend up in the Covid year shows the exceptional effort and quality of work put in.

SAMS also had attendance at 90% (with only 4.5% coded “unjustified/truant”) – despite the Covid disruptions/uncertainty. SAMS and had only one suspension/expulsion in 2020.

The Middle School West Auckland academic data is still in process but is trending in a very similar direction. Children at both schools combine to be 90% Maori or Pasifika and decile 1.

We are currently considering proposing to Corrections and the Minister placing a version of our school model into prisons to try and provide a genuine academic/learning base that would then allow inmates to access the qualifications levels on offer. Our model is both transferable and can be scaled.

Why? Because of the data/information below.

Corrections data has:

– 70% of released Under 20s – re-imprisoned within 48 months.

– 67% of released 20 – 24 year olds re-imprisoned within 48 months.

– 62% of released 25 – 29 years olds re-imprisoned within 48 months.

“Educational and employment opportunities are hampered by literacy levels lower than the general population. As many as 70% of those in prison have significant literacy problems. There is clear evidence that participation in prison literacy and education programmes (especially those with a vocational focus), is associated with higher post-release employment and lower recidivism (7% to 46% reduction in recidivism across different meta-studies depending on study and outcome measure).

It is now well understood that prisons act as recruitment centres for gangs (especially for young offenders) and underpin the illegal drug trade. Imprisonment leaves those incarcerated with high rates of undiagnosed and untreated alcohol/drug addictions and mental illness. They have a negative impact on the next generation, given that a high percentage of people in prison are parents. These issues disproportionately affect Māori.”

[My note: Parental educational outcomes and perceptions are currently a driving determinant of many school outcomes.]

From corrections:

“Research shows that participation in education and employment can significantly reduce the risk of re-offending following release from prison. Educational achievement is also important in enabling offenders to fully participate and benefit from other rehabilitative programmes.

Many prisoners lack the necessary literacy and numeracy skills and qualifications and work experience to gain and sustain employment after their release.

We estimate that approximately 57% of prisoners do not have NCEA Level One Literacy and Numeracy Competency, and that these learners are also likely to have few or no formal qualifications.”

[My note: The Literacy and Numeracy bar is NZ’s lowest qualifications bar:
Literacy requirement

Minimum of 10 credits through either:

Numeracy requirement
Minimum of 10 credits through either:

“Early alternative environments and prosocial links (e.g., through sports, education, cultural and youth groups etc.) are recommended for children and young people, especially before age 16 to 19, when gang membership can already be entrenched. There is limited evidence for the effectiveness of gang membership ‘prevention’ programmes per se,  in the absence of dealing with social risk factors.”

My questions:

– how pervasive and effective are the educational opportunities currently available to prisoners (I have read what corrections say they offer?)

– what are the best mechanisms/people to work with to create this opportunity?

– what else should I know & who should I talk to on this topic?

Alwyn Poole (

Villa Education Trust

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