University….or prison?

I’ve worked in my current school for nearly twelve years, albeit in different roles. The pupils in Year Eleven when I began my career are now in their mid-twenties. It is the general rule of secondary school that your pupils leave at 16 and you never hear from most of them again.

In some ways this is a positive thing. Hopefully, our students move on to the bigger and better things that we hope we have equipped them for. Occasionally though, I do hear of former students again and not for the right reasons.

I’ve never hidden the fact when writing about my job that I work in one of the most deprived areas of the country. Our free school meals provision is over 50% of the student population and last year 78% fell into the Pupil Premium category which marks out the most impoverished and deprived children.

Children coming from this kind of background face all kinds of problems and challenges and avoiding falling into a life of crime is just one of those challenges. I recently read this article and study on literacy levels among prisoners within the UK and the impact prison libraries can have.

The study confirmed that, whilst there doesn’t appear to be a huge gap in numeracy levels between prisoners and non-prisoners, this is not the case when it comes to literacy. The ability to read is key to functioning in the adult world. It is not a stretch to say that people with low literacy levels may be more susceptible to finding crime one of the only ways to make money.

Relating this back to my own students I have now lost count of how many have been convicted and gone to prison: From driving and drug offences to assault and theft. They represent a small percentage of all the students I have worked with, but each time I read of another former pupil jailed I ask myself if I could have done anything more to help them.

As a Teaching Assistant for the first eight years of my career, I worked closely with many of these students who have found themselves in prison and they all struggled with reading. Now, as a librarian, I feel even more keenly the need to improve the literacy levels of all my students so they do not feel that crime is their only option.

I was fascinated by the idea of making links with my local prison library, particularly after reading this article on reading initiatives within prison and learning that all new prisoners at my local prison take a literacy assessment.

Given the clear link between literacy levels and levels of offending and the link between poverty and offending, I would love to visit a prison library and education department and see what I could learn.

Anything I can do to improve my students lives is worth doing and maybe there are schemes and initiatives run by the prison libraries which could also help boost the levels of my students. I have sent a letter requesting a visit, but I have the feeling that it could be a long process. Watch this space.

In the meantime I have arranged another visit to Grangetown library, this time to assess how recent government cuts have affected the service. I hope to determine whether our school library can go some way to plugging this gap in services.






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