Equipping learners with a vocational future

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Equipping learners with a vocational future

HMP Usk in Monmouthshire is equipping learners with vocational skills that are in high demand and offering industry recognised qualifications, to increase employability and encourage a stable and crime-free life both in custody and on release.


Number of learners: 150
Age range: 21 - 60+ years
Date of Estyn inspection: April - May 2013

Context and background to sector leading practice

HMP Usk was opened as a penal establishment in 1844 as a House of Correction. It is an old Victorian prison that has seen many changes of role. Since May 1990 Usk has held convicted male category C prisoners (1) . Accommodation comprises of three wings and a small ground floor unit holding around 20 older prisoners. The prison has a capacity to hold 266 prisoners. The Usk regime has been designed to reduce the risk and harm caused by any incidence of re-offending. To achieve this strategy our regime aims to address offending behaviour through our ‘cognitive and behavioural programmes’. We also provide the learning and skills outcomes to ensure these offenders have the opportunity to secure the employability that is central to achieving a safe, stable and crime free life, both in custody and on release. The age range of convicted offenders is from 21 years to over 60 years. Of these, approximately 58% take part in full time learning and skills activities from Essential Skills Wales to Open University and Construction Skills. The background of the learners at HMP Usk makes them difficult to employ on release. Students leaving the establishment therefore need to be equipped with skills that make them attractive to future employers. Vocational workshops provided by the prison, equip learners to meet the needs of local employers. As a result of the stagnant nature of the housing market, the prison has placed emphasis on tasks that take advantage of the surge in refurbishment works which is currently invigorating the construction industry in Wales.

Nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice

The prison offers learners the opportunity to expand their working knowledge gaining industry recognised qualifications. In addition, they gain diverse practical experiences not offered in the usual vocational training context. For example; Venetian polished plaster work, symmetrical brickwork and innovative uses of design in wood working are currently included in the vocational curriculum areas. The prison is planning to develop exciting future courses involving the use of silicone based coloured renders in plastering and thin bed construction technology in brickwork.

The following photographs show the quality of some of our learners’ work:

UskImg1  UskImg2  UskImg3

The use of challenging practical tasks not only raises skill levels and creativity but also develops learners’ communication and team working skills.

Learners in the brickwork shop completed a team based project and recreated Usk town square for the annual Arts Exhibition.

Impact on provision and learners’ standards

Across all three learning areas (2) retention figures are an average of 98% against a comparative national average of 73%

The workshops are demonstrating 100% attainment levels against a national comparator of 89%

Established learners contribute both to the wellbeing of their peers and their own professional development through mentoring new learners.

(1) Category C prisoners are defined as those who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who are unlikely to try to escape.

(2) In prisons there are three learning areas, vocational, essential skills and social/arts education