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Have you thought about working in Offender Learning?

Teaching within a prison can be challenging but also extremely rewarding. But don’t take our word for it! We spoke to Julie, a Catering Tutor at HMP Highpoint, who told us all about what it’s like:

September 29, 2020

What do you teach?

I teach hospitality and catering to a range of aged offenders. I came from a background of being a chef and worked in the industry for over 30 years.


How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for 8 months, so really new at teaching and I am having to learn as I go. The company is putting me through my teaching level 4 qualification and the lady teaching me is very patient and supportive.


What interested you in teaching offenders?  

I was looking for a change in direction in my career, as working on your feet all day takes its toll at my age!! I trained in my chef career and loved that part of my job so wanted to pursue this in some way. I had my C.V online with a few different platforms and got a call from Boston Rose explaining the role and asked if I would be interested. At that point, I thought, “hmm probably not”, as I had never set foot in a prison before and the thought was quite scary. However, intrigue got the better of me and so I thought there is no harm in going for the interview and finding out more (at the very least it would be interesting to see how a prison looks from the inside). 

My first interview was actually outside the prison and went well. I was invited back for a second interview and had to prepare a mini teach. My second interview came and I walked through the prison through prisoners exercising in the yard. My heart raced a little but then a few of them said “morning miss how are you?” and actually speaking to them put me at ease. They were just normal people. I sat and did my second interview and taught my mini teach. I thought it would be for them and maybe a couple of the other teachers but oh no… they waked me into a class of 8 offenders and I had to do my mini teach to them. The men were polite, respectful, asked lots of questions, and tried everything I asked them to. And we actually had a bit of a laugh! At that point I thought to myself yep I can do this and if I’m going to get my teaching qualification from it too, it’s a bonus.


What is the hardest thing about teaching in a prison?

The hardest things are the prison systems and regulations. Everything you try and do takes 5 times longer than it would anywhere else. Getting things like equipment resources into and around the prison can (at times) be extremely frustrating and also the computer systems are slow and obviously the internet is virtually non-existent.


What is your daily routine like?

I start my day at 8am with time to check e-mails and set up for the morning session, which starts at 8.45. The guys arrive, chat for 5 minutes about stuff that’s happened on the wings, etc, then we move on to work. Some men arrive late because they have had other stuff going on like medical appointments or other responsibilities they have taken on like a mentoring role etc. They also sometimes have to leave mid-lesson to attend appointments. The morning lesson finishes at around 11.45 and the guys go back to wings for lunch. I have lunch and an hour on top to catch up on lesson plans or whatever else I need to do, then lessons resume at 1.30- 4.30 and I finish and go home. 

The good thing about working in the prison is that we are not allowed to take work out, so home time is definitely home time. Friday is a half-day so we all finish at 12 and one other half-day is given as time to do lesson plans, work packs, or anything else that you need to do, so someone else covers your lesson for you to be able to do this.


How often do you visit the prison to teach?

My role is full time so I am there every day (although Covid has kept us away and I’m working from home and going in once a week at the moment to send work packs to the guys in their cells to complete)


Can you describe what your students are like?

The students overall are great. Just like any other job, you get the odd one that is a nightmare but they are great. We have a laugh and they want to learn whether it is to better themselves on the outside or just take them away from their daily lives inside. They do have ups and downs and you do need to be understanding of this, as they may witness things going on that is not nice or have a rough few nights of not sleeping or hear news from home that affects their mood, concentration etc. Time and experience tells you when to leave them alone that session or day. Also, sometimes they open up as you are not a prison guard or official. So you definitely need to be understanding and patient. But also, be on guard as they can try it on and be quite manipulative, so you need to have the savvy to know when to draw the line with them. 


How many students in your class?

I have no more than 8 at any one time.


What are the resources/facilities like in your classroom?

Well, my room is an industrial kitchen with a small 4 table restaurant in. I’m very lucky as it is brand new and I did have an initial input as to what equipment that would be needed, so my setup is incredible.


What do you find most rewarding from teaching offenders?

The most rewarding thing is when you have a student that really engages and tells you “I think I have found what I want to do in life”. If I can help or guide them to be passionate about it then I will!! I did have an older student that told me he used to be a chef but gave it up. Since being with me, he has said that he has found his passion for cooking again and although he didn’t want to take it up again as a career, he cannot wait to cook for his family and friends when he is released at the end of the year. This bought a lump to my throat as it isn’t always just about the career for them, sometimes it is just gaining a life skill to improve their life value. 


Did you teach in a prison before you were placed?

No, I had never even set foot in a prison before.


How was the recruiting process of becoming a teacher in a prison?

It was quite straightforward, but don’t expect it to start the week after your interview as lots of background checks and paperwork need to be completed beforehand. It took about 8 weeks I think and a few times of taking documents in to be photocopied etc. 

If you think teaching within Offender Learning could be for you, why not speak to one of our consultants today? 

Call 0117 929 6200 or email