Staff and students in the School of Law have been awarded the College Team Teaching Prize for their work on the Learning Together initiative in collaboration with HMP Feltham.
Dr Anita Mehay, Morwenna Bennallick, Prof. Nick Hardwick, Prof. Rosie Meek, Dr Michelle Webster and Dr Serena Wright have been awarded the College Teaching Prize for their work on the project.
Building on the growing number of successful prison-university partnerships currently operating in England and Wales, this innovative educational initiative, developed and facilitated by faculty and post-graduate members of the School of Law, was created in partnership with HMP Feltham, a local young offender institution. This brand new 8-week course, ‘Thinking Criminologically’, designed by Morwenna and Serena and incorporating guest lectures from School of Law colleagues, brought first-year undergraduate criminology students into the prison on Wednesday afternoons to learn together with young men at Feltham (aged 18-20) during the Spring 2017 term. We established this scheme because we believe such a partnership has the potential to transform the learning experience of students both inside and outside prison, and to improve the educational opportunities we (as a College) offer, both to those in custody and in the community.
This course builds on best practice established by previous Learning Together (LT) initiatives, centred on a specific relational, reflexive and transformative pedagogical approach. The team developed this by: (a) targeting first year undergraduate students with Widening Participation status; and (b) situating the course within a Young Offender Institution.. This core focus on developing the educational experience and potential of WP students - both in custody and in the community - marks out Royal Holloway’s LT course as unique. The programme has a strong study skills element, the aim of which was again twofold: to support Royal Holloway students as they make the transition into Higher Education, while also providing the young men at Feltham with valuable transferable skills, both for future study and for employability. We were also keen to develop all students’ critical reading and reflexivity skills, providing each with a Learning Log to be completed weekly to allow them to reflect on their individual learning journey, and allowing them to see the ways in which academic learning connects to wider skills development.
The expertise and professional background of the teaching team has made this a distinctively multidisciplinary initiative, as the focus on developing a teaching style based on best pedagogical practice with young people, and specifically young people in prison; a group often regarded as uniquely challenging to work with in an educational setting. Adopting an energetic and structured delivery style and teaching methods, the team embraced different learning styles (visual, audio, kinaesthetic), while recognising some of the challenges that our Widening Participation students often face as they commence their undergraduate studies.
As well as supporting students in developing their academic study skills and a deeper understanding of criminological theory, the initiative taps into the College’s employability agenda, as many of our students will seek to work in criminal justice settings after graduation. This experience represents a valuable addition to their CVs, as well as offering an insight into the day-to-day operation and challenges of living or working in a prison environment. It also offered the young men in prison a valuable connection to the wider HE world; one which we have maintained since the course has ended. Finally, and as the student testimonials below indicate, the impact of breaking down stereotypes and erroneous judgements cannot be underestimated, highlighting the transformative potential of Learning Together in breaking down social barriers.
Extracts from Royal Holloway student testimonials:
“I have found the Learning Together initiative incredibly valuable to my learning experience. The enthusiasm of the young offenders in class is so motivating and makes learning so enjoyable. I feel it has been incredibly beneficial to learn about criminology alongside the young men because hearing their first-hand opinions and experiences of the topics really gives me an insight that I would not have otherwise had. It has made me more interested in the area of prisons and the way they are run and has allowed me to break down the mental barrier between offenders and the general public as I see the young men as my peers and not as awful, scary people.”
“I have particularly enjoyed the sessions given by Serena and Morwenna as their enthusiasm makes it impossible not to engage. The excitement they each have when anyone answers a question or gives their thoughts during the lecture is so encouraging to speak out even if you are unsure of whether you are correct or not, and when you make a good point it is so rewarding to hear the encouragement in their response.”
“I would like to recognise Serena’s hard work and effort for putting the course together and with her character and personality, she made the atmosphere seem like a school library rather than a prison setting. We were all treated equally and I enjoyed the many discussions, debates and laughs. It was little things like referring to the boys as ‘Feltham students or residents” [rather than prisoners]”.
“In terms of the staff, I don’t think that there could have been a better collection of staff members to lead, help, and teach all of the sessions at Feltham. In my opinion, Morwenna’s enthusiasm about prisons really showed in group discussions and her drive to want to talk about improving prisons as much as she can really seemed to motivate the whole group to think on a new level.”
“This programme has taught me that the transition to university studies is not as daunting as it first seemed […] It has taught me that one does not have to have had a plethora of past experience to contribute and be actively involved in discussions about a new topic, and most importantly has made me aware of the importance of providing education in institutions like prisons.”
“It will be difficult for me to outline my experience in just a few lines because Learning Together has had such a strong positive impact on me. In terms of my studies, being able to discuss different topics with the boys at Feltham has helped me expand my knowledge and understand different perspectives. Their opinions have challenged my beliefs personally and has resulted in such a huge expansion of my own knowledge. The experience in general has completely changed my outlook on the prison system and I feel as if the knowledge I have acquired will benefit me not only in my degree but on my view of the Criminal Justice System in the UK in general.”
“Throughout the course I have learnt a number of skills such as developed note taking and developing a critical awareness of certain topics we have discussed. I am really sad that this experience is coming to an end but the one thing I wanted to get out of Feltham was a developed understanding of their perspective of criminals and the CJS and I believe that this has been achieved.”
Extracts from HMP Feltham student testimonials:
“Learning Together has been a great experience for me and a deciding factor in what I would like to do with my life post-release from prison […] The course has given me a chance to have an insight into something I was always interested in but due to a lack of formal education I couldn’t pursue. Learning Together has given me the chance to explore my academic abilities and see what I am capable of.”
“I really enjoyed the course as it got me back into the studying mind frame and learning environment.”
“I have always been interested in law but I never knew that law had a major part to play in criminology as well as psychology. I learned so much in this short space of time and now I can say criminology is one of my favourite subjects and I would be doing some research and studying on criminology on the outside.”
“Apart from all the educational benefit the main thing for me and my peers is that the course took us out of the prison environment. Whenever I was in class I was not in jail but in a normal classroom with boys and girls. It was like an escape for me and a chance to chat and socialise with other people in my age group.”
“I truly believe that this course has the potential to change people’s lives and put them on the right track and as there is no higher education courses available in prisons this will help a lot of people.”