Job fears as prison courses cut

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 08:28 15/07/2014

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A UCOL-run prison education programme has been pulled, and teaching staff are worried their jobs will be next.

The Department of Corrections confirmed yesterday that it has canned a UCOL-run automotive course at Kaitoke Prison in Whanganui because it wasn't meeting expectations.

The decision has forced UCOL to review its automotive programme and at least four jobs are on the line.

The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) has called Corrections' decision "ridiculous" and said the rationale behind the cut was unclear.

Corrections' Lower North Island regional commissioner, Paul Tomlinson, said the course had been cancelled because "it no longer meets the needs of the prisoners".

Completion rates were poor and the credits gained did not contribute to a "significant qualification", he said. "Given that the existing course was not delivering what we needed for our learners, we decided in the meantime to put [it] on hold."

But UCOL and the union say completion rates were good and although results from the past six months were down, it was because Corrections had removed prisoners from the programme before they had the opportunity to finish, which swayed statistics.

The course, which teaches prisoners basic automotive and mechanical skills, was worth 59 credits and complemented the Certificate in Small Motors, an NZQA-approved level 2 qualification.

UCOL's executive dean of trades and technology, Kelly Gay, said the polytechnic was still willing to work with the prison.

"[We] respect the need for Corrections to review and change its education programmes and, unfortunately, this change does mean UCOL will have to adjust staffing levels to match."

It was unclear how many jobs would be affected, but staff were being consulted, he said.

TEU branch president Tina Smith said one part-time staff member had already been let go and the remaining staff feared for their jobs.

"There's staff that have been there for more than five years and they've worked really hard and had some great successes, but now the programme has been ditched. It's nonsensical."

As well as co-ordinating the automotive course, UCOL was willing to incorporate engineering sessions offering prisoners more skills, Smith said.

"We had the plans in place, the staffing, the equipment and the funding - it wasn't going to cost Corrections," she said.

"But they appear to be running a number of small, rapid-turnover programmes to make their stats look good, rather than substantive programmes which give prisoners a real chance."

The union has called for a meeting with UCOL and Corrections to talk about saving courses and jobs, but Corrections declined, Smith said.

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Corrections was in the process of refreshing its courses and looking for an alternative, Tomlinson said.

Qualifications in horticulture, timber processing and joinery, as well as literacy, numeracy and drugs treatment, are run in prisons.

- Manawatu Standard

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