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Jail is no bar to learning for Dovegate officers

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 28, 2012

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STAFF at Dovegate prison have been among the first in the country to study towards a foundation degree in offender management.

Lecturers from Stafford College took the classroom into the workplace to make it possible for the part-time students to benefit from the new qualification. They have been visiting the prison near Burton, which is operated by Serco, to teach 15 members of staff including custody officers and an assistant director.

One of those working towards the new qualification is Alex Benton. Alex, 36, joined the Category B prison after a successful career in retail sales.

“I started out in sales straight out of school and was promoted very quickly, becoming regional sales manager by the time I was 22. I was involved in insurance assessing for some years and spent a lot of time trying to help people caught up in the aftermath of the catastrophic floods in Hull in 2007.” In 2009, Alex was made redundant.

“Everything was taken away from me — my job, my pension, my company car and my whole identity. I had a house, a mortgage and two children and needed to do something quickly to get back on track.”

Alex applied for a job as a security officer at Dovegate. “I reasoned that I’d spent all my life talking to people and it must have given me some transferable skills. I was in a completely different field but, fortunately, the training was absolutely brilliant.

Within a week I’d enrolled on an NVQ in custodial care and set myself a target of completing it in the fastest ever time.”

That record under his belt, Alex was selected for the Initial Training Course to qualify for his current role as a custody officer and was invited to apply for the foundation degree.

“Graduation has always been a dream but it could never have happened in my previous life. The commitment from my employers is incredible. There is an amazing amount of help from the lecturers, too.

Although they are not physically here every day, they are in touch by email all the time and in a funny way, I think we probably get more support than full-time students on a university campus.” The foundation degree combines academic and work-based learning.

The prison workers fit their studies around their shift patterns and a classroom has been created at the jail, where lecturers visit to teach each module.

At the end of the course the students have the opportunity to graduate through Staffordshire University and may undertake further study to gain an honours degree.

“The course has accelerated my development tenfold. It’s a brilliant way for me to progress in a new career. I’m incredibly pleased with the help I’ve had from the lecturers and immensely grateful that my employers invested in this kind of opportunity,” said Alex.

Stafford College is now making the qualification available in other custodial centres across the Midlands as well as launching the course on the campus to cater for individual students with ambitions to progress within the sector.

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