POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Education in Youth Custody

Published Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Recent government policy emphasises putting education at the heart of youth custody. A review of the youth justice system is due to be published in summer 2016. This POSTnote looks at the literature on the provision and quality of education in youth custody in England and Wales. And it examines the challenges in providing education to a population with particular needs.

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Around 1,000 childen, aged between 10 and 17 years, are being held in youth custody at any one time. They are held in three types of establishment, and the provision of education varies across these in terms of the subjects and qualification levels offered and the amount of education time provided. 

There are mandated hours for education in youth custody, not not all children are receiving these hours. Reasons for this include children being in segregation, which prevents them from getting to classes.

Children in custody are more likely than the general population to have needs that directly inhibit their ability to engage actively with education. These include:

  • Previous educational experiences and attainment: Around 90% of children in custody have been exclused from school at any one time before entering custody (compared to 3-5% of the general population). 
  • Developmental needs: Children in custody have higher incidences of neurodisabilities (atypical neurology development). For example, 20% of children in custody have learning disabilities (compared to 2-3% of the general population) and studies estimate that between 50 and 80% of children in custody have Traumatic Brain Injury (compared to 10% of the general population).
  • Mental health: Overall prevalence rates are broadly similar to that in the general population but rates for individual disorders are higher. 

An overview of the current process of accessing mainstream education on release from custody, described as resettlement, is provided in POSTbrief 021 Children in Custody: Education Provision in Resettlement.


POST would like to thank the following interviewees for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing:

  • Gess Aird, Kinetic Youth
  • Dr Tim Bateman, Children's Commissioner for England
  • Professor Karen Bryan, Sheffield Hallam University
  • Jenny Chambers, The Howard League for Penal Reform
  • Nina Champion, Prisoners' Education Trust
  • Dr Prathiba Chitsabesan, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
  • Miriam Cohen, University of Exeter
  • Joshua Coleman, NACRO
  • John Drew, Prison Reform Trust
  • Deborah Fortescue, The Disabilities Trust
  • Alex Hewson, Prison Reform Trust
  • HM Inspectorate of Prisons
  • David Hore, Rapid English
  • Dr Nathan Hughes, University of Birmingham
  • Professor Jane Hurry, Institute of Education
  • Dr Victoria Knight, University of De Montfort
  • Dr Caroline Lansky, University of Cambridge
  • Ross Little, University of De Montfort
  • Ministry of Justice
  • National Offender Management Service
  • Dr Huw Williams, University of Exeter
  • Youth Justice Board for England and Wales

POSTnotes POST-PN-0524

Authors: Jane Tinkler; Suzannah Ravenscroft

Topics: Children's social services, Crime, Prisons, Schools, Special educational needs, Students, Training

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.