I’ve taken part in two meetings this week, each of which underlined the value but also the difficult of a longitudinal element in evaluation.
The first, organised by the Prisoners Education Trust (http://www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/) , focussed particularly on a project called Learning Matters, and particularly how to increase the voice of learners as a means of improving learning in prisons overall. The project funders naturally want to know how the effectiveness of the initiative can be evaluated. Of course it’s important to know whether learning objectives at whatever level - from basic skills to higher education - have been achieved, and the project is doing very well on this score. But it seems (to me at least) even more important to know what happens as a result once offenders leave prison - and this means tracking them over time. Hugely difficult task.
The day after I went to HMP Belmarsh to learn about the inspiring work of the Safe Ground initiative (http://www.safeground.org.uk/) on Family Men and Fathers Inside . We met 11 of the FM graduates, who have been working on a range of skills which enable them to maintain their links with their families and especially their children while they are in prison. The risk of prisoners losing touch with t heir families is great; if they do, their own chances of reoffending are increased, and their children’s life chances diminished. The project’s research officer, Adam Moll, outlined their approach to evaluation, which includes a longitudinal element, looking at whether there is an impact on their children’s behaviour. Again, very complex, but needs doing. Getting the FM graduates , once released, to report on their progress and on how the programme had helped them would be a further very valuable component. this should include the extent to which the learning had helped them develop the resilience to deal with inevitable setbacks in their path to a new life.
It struck me again how much we as a society would gain from making educational investments smarter. Many young men have some kind of criminal record in their teens and early twenties, but are perhaps ready to desist intheir mid-20s. Why do we not invest, say, the equivalent of 1year’s undergraduate expenditure on giving them serious learning opportunities? It would pay off in the long run, I bet. But we need to track excellent initiatives such as these over time to see how they really work.