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Engaging Young Offenders with Education in a Secure Custodial Setting


12 July 2017

Youth justice has been the subject of intense political debate and current policy is beginning to focus on education as a key aspect of that debate.

Consultations by the coalition government (2010-2015) such as ‘Transforming Youth Custody: Putting education at the heart of detention’ and the more recent Ministry of Justice ‘A Review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales’ (2016) by the now Chairman of Youth Justice Charlie Taylor, firmly position education at the centre of their agenda. How and the extent to which this actually manifests remains to be seen as it is still ‘early days’. However, it suggests that it is timely to for research on the engagement of young offenders because engagement is a necessary pre-requisite for any ‘intervention’ to have a chance of success.

Young offenders are described as disengaged with education and learning. Their educational experiences consist of boredom, disengagement and dropout. Using the same mainstream model of education in a secure educational setting, albeit with a much reduced class size, does not significantly change these experiences.

This doctoral research by Adeela ahmed Shafi, provides new evidence to understand the nature of disengagement in young offenders to re-engage them with learning whilst incarcerated. The research was an ethnographic case study conducted in one secure children’s home in England with 25 participants which included 16 young offenders, 4 care staff, 3 teachers and the head teacher.

The findings of the research can be found in this research briefing here.

Adeela felt this was an important area of research as re-engaging young offenders with education whilst incarcerated was an opportunity not be missed. This is what motivated her to do this work. There were many personal challenges in working with a vulnerable group of participants and Adeela says ‘The one thing that stays with me is that I was able to get a glimpse of the potential of these young people. I feel that I showed them what ‘could be’ which was then ‘not to be’. Being unable to facilitate their potential beyond the scope of my research stung. I realised then that research can change you.’

Adeela is in the final stages of completing her thesis and can be contacted on

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