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January 05, 2007

Doing Arithmetic with the Learning and Skills Council - Monthly Monitoring Returns, Work Logs, Offender Progress Forms: writer-in-residence Emily Kingham grapples with prison paperwork

Posted by Emily Kingham

When writer-in-residence Emily Kingham started working in a prison she did not bank on the paperwork that the Learning and Skills Council would impose upon her.

I am indirectly employed by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) who fund the organisation that pays me to be a writer in residence. My paymasters were very careful to explain to the LSC that the writers they put into prisons are not teachers or bureaucrats but to no avail. They reluctantly acceded to demands for paperwork in order to receive the precious funding.

The LSC is very concerned with figures. Every month I have to fill in a "Monthly Monitoring Return", in which I have to record the number of hours I spend working one-to-one with prisoners, the hours I spend in groupwork and the hours I spend with the magazine team, as well as the hours I have spent in preparation for workshops, in reading and reviewing of prisoners' work, and in meetings with prison staff.

Alongside this I have to provide a "work log" each month along with my Monthly Monitoring Return form. This is a recent innovation that the LSC has imposed on the network of writers working in prisons. I can't tell you much about it as I cannot bring myself to open the email attachment that contains the instructions on how to fulfill its demands. I can tell you though that at the beginning of January, April, July and October each year I also have to send copies of "Offender Progress" forms. I have to blank out the surnames of the men, so I am very tempted to make some prisoners up "Herbert", for instance, who went from being an armed burglar to systems analyst after helping me fill in my forms.

Anyway, the figures concerning hours worked, I am told, are very important for the prison to put towards one of their Key Performance Targets (KPTs). One of these KPTs is prisoners' "Purposeful Activity". On my Monthly Monitoring Return form I have to record the total number of Purposeful Activity hours I have generated, which equates to the sum of all the sessions/hours I have spent in "creative activity" multiplied by the number of prisoners involved in each session. I have to split these hours into 1-2-1 activity and groupwork so that:

30 minutes spent with Offender A on a 1-2-1 = 0.5 hours (1 offender x 0.5 hours);

1.5 hours spent with 6 offenders in a creative writing workshop = 15 hours
(6 offenders x 2.5 hours).

I'm not sure what all this means, so I generally make it up.

The LSC also wants to know how many offenders I actively work with. This includes 1-2-1s, workshops, magazine, rehearsals etc. I will quote in full from the instructions on how to record my monthly "Head Count":

Every individual you work with needs to be added to the tally each time you work with them (see 3 and 4, below).

1. Every time you work with an individual offender counts separately.
Therefore if you have five 1-2-1s with Offender A over a month = 5
(1 offender x 5 activities).

2. Every time you work with a group, all individuals count separately.
Therefore a magazine group with eight offenders = 8
(8 offenders x 1 activity).

3. Every time a group meets it counts separately.
Therefore if your magazine group has four sessions in the month and session 1 = 5, session 2 = 6, session 3 = 4 and session 4 = 8, the total = 23

4. Even if you see the same individual offender twice on the same day a 1-2-1 and then later a reading group session, for example it is counted separately = 2
(1 offender x 2 activities).

I hope that is clear.

This week it was reported that the LSC has spent more than 100 million on staff redundancies and restructuring. The irony is that the Council was set up to ensure people have skills to find work, yet has spent 54.4million on making its own staff redundant.

It doesn't end there: the Government's planned education Bill will launch yet another reorganisation of the LSC. A spokeswoman for Education Secretary Alan Johnson was very reassuring when challenged on money already spent that could have funded 32,300 apprenticeship places. She said:

The 54 million figure needs to be put into context. It represents less than half of one per cent of the total and must be considered alongside estimated annual savings of around 40 million which will be achieved by the current restructuring exercise.
I hope that is clear.

Emily Kingham is the pseudonym of a writer-in-residence at a Category B prison in South East England. She is a writer and journalist. To read Emily Kingham's previous columns on prison life see Notes from a Prison.

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