Frequently Asked Questions
Why have you decided to use a mobile to access learning and qualifications?
M-learning enables us to take a ground-breaking approach to learning and challenge the statutory environment which has failed ex-offenders in the past. The functionality of the phone provides solutions to the barriers faced by ex-offenders in education and training. We can use up-to-the minute technology to create an entirely different educational experience. The experience is however within a familiar world i.e. is a reflection of what learners are already doing on a daily basis to operate in the world of today.
M-learning is available on an anytime, anywhere and for however long basis. We are using it to remove the need for ex-offenders to present themselves at a given time and place and be exposed to teachers, other learners and assessors. The functionality of the phone makes it possible for an ex-offender to visit learning when it is suitable for them. They are able to gather evidence for qualifications simply by pointing the mobile at themselves and recording what they are doing.
Why are you restricting the target beneficiaries to ex-offenders?
Despite the many initiatives around reducing re-offending, it remains an enduring challenge. We believe that the answers lie with the end user. The App is being developed by ex-offenders for ex-offenders to ensure that every aspect has been influenced by lived experience. It may be that others can benefit but we feel that this has to be a tailor-made solution if it is to be ground-breaking.
How will ex-offenders access the App?
We do not assume that ex-offenders will be aware that this kind of opportunity exists. Our experience and that of people we consult with in our network is that many ex-offenders only access the support they need through support agencies and support workers. We will be targeting these as our customers. The App will be a tool for them to use with their clients.
How can ex-offenders use the App if they don’t have a smartphone?
They can’t. We are not developing this as a total solution but as an alternative to other options. The App will of course be available through tablets and PCs that have the capability to use Apps. We recognise that some people will want to do their learning this way. However, this is not what is leading the design. We are making two assumptions that support the development of an App. The first is that all support workers will have a smartphone and they will be able to login their clients. The second is that once ex-offenders are past crisis point they are likely to get a smartphone on the basis that this is an everyday commodity.
What measures are in place to protect the end-users data allowance?
Data is cached. Video is streamed in the most efficient form. The App will be set so that by default it only works in a wifi zone. The user will be able to pro-actively override the default. It will automatically reset every day.
What does the App do?
It offers a range of short courses around different vocational areas. The purpose of these is to promote accessible learning and motivate ex-offenders to do more. As they do courses, a dashboard shows their progress and achievements. Alerts suggest qualifications for which they have already done some learning. They can choose a qualification and this automatically sets up an e-portfolio which links them virtually to an assessor. From there they are guided into gathering evidence through video, audio and photos.
If this is an App to access learning and qualifications why does it need the other areas?
Ex-offenders have complex needs and often their long-term success in not re-offending depends on ongoing support and a safety net. The App reflects how organisations like GMCC work in wrapping support around a person and making this available as and when and for as long as is necessary. The information zone enables a learner to quickly get information they need and the functionality of the phone ensures this is relevant. The support zone helps remove the difficulties a person faces on a day-to-day basis such as benefits, no food, no accommodation etc. Without these being resolved learning is not possible. It links the person to their support worker. The fun zone is a break from the learning or the everyday difficulties. A chance to wind down with a game-like distraction.
What sort of courses are available?
There are 3 vocational subject areas: Business Administration; Hospitality and Catering; Health and Social Care. The courses cover all the knowledge relating to the qualifications available. In addition there are courses to focus on some of the wider needs of ex-offenders looking for work. These are grouped under Life Skills and Work Skills.
Are the courses accredited?
Learners get an internal certificate for each course completed. The next stage is to work with Gateway Qualifications to accredit each of these formally.
How long does it take to do a course?
This depends entirely on how often the learner replays parts of the course, re-does quizzes or plays back content. It is possible to complete in an hour but equally it could take somebody 3 hours. The amount of content is the same for each course.
Does it cost anything to do the courses?
It does not cost anything to do the courses. These are designed to motivate engagement in learning.
What if learners have additional needs such as ESOL, Literacy, Dyslexia? All courses have been designed with these needs in mind as they are prevalent in the ex-offender population. Fonts and backgrounds are selected to ensure they are dyslexia-friendly. Text is scrutinised against plain English criteria and is kept to the absolute minimum. All content is presented visually, with extensive use of still images and video, as well as through subtitles and audio. Learners interact with the content within a minute of the course starting and then throughout all stages. Learning points are presented, assessed and reinforced in different ways and the learner can go over anything as often as they want. A glossary is available of all main language items and learners can download course notes at the end.
What qualifications can I get?
All qualifications are at Level 1. Learners can do individual units of a qualification or accumulate units to gain an Award, a Certificate or a Diploma in one of the vocational areas, life skills and work skills. The qualifications are accredited through Gateway Qualifications.
Does the learner have to attend classes, sit an exam or meet the assessor?
No. The reason this App exists is to avoid traditional methods of learning and gaining qualifications.
How is the learner assessed?
Once a learner decides to do a qualification, they are allocated an assessor via the e-portfolio. The assessor helps the learner to decide what evidence to gather and how. This automatically uploads to the e-portfolio where the assessor is able to assess it.
How will these qualifications help an ex-offender?
All these qualifications are related to realistic areas of work for ex-offenders. They will help build skills and also demonstrate to future employers that the person has a desire to learn and can achieve. Gaining a qualification can draw a line under the past and show a new beginning. It is a positive on a CV. For many this will be a first qualification and will build confidence in the ability to achieve and a desire to take things further.
What does a learner need to do to get a qualification?
These are work-based qualifications. The learner needs to be in a place of work. This can be paid, unpaid, temporary, short-term, voluntary. The important thing is that the workplace allows them to generate evidence against the assessment criteria for the qualification.
How long will it take to get a qualification?
This is entirely up to the learner and their individual circumstances. It is possible to start and stop. We are challenging awarding bodies to accept that qualifications could take up to 6 years and that evidence may be older than 2 years.
How can we be sure that the person doing the qualification is actually the person?
A photo will be taken as part of the registration process for the e-portfolio. In this way the assessor can verify it is the same person in the video and photographic evidence. Any other evidence will be signed off by the support agency. They will have signed off photo ID in much the same as is done for passports.
What data is required to register for qualifications?
In the first instance the learner needs to provide an email address. This will link the learner to an assessor who will be responsible for registering the learner for the qualification. At this point date only date of birth is required.
Does an ex-offender have to disclose their history?
How will personal data be protected?
GMCC is registered with the Data Commissioner. QfS has conducted a risk assessment which includes data protection. This informs the data protection policy and procedures. These set out that any communication is conducted through a secure, encrypted line. No personal data is collected or stored through the App. Impact measuring will be achieved through surveying the support agencies and all data collected will be anonymised and aggregated. Data collected through the e-portfolio is stored by the third party and protected through their Data Protection policies and procedures. Where there are any future changed, further risk assessment will be carried out and the QfS Data Protection Policies and Procedures amended to ensure the safe collection and storage of data.
How can this be used in prison if there is no access to the Internet?
The technology exists for this to be made available to the offender offline and then to be brought into an online environment away from the prison. To progress this requires work with the Home Office in terms of risk assessment and clearance.
Will ex-offenders have to pay for qualifications?
No. The next stage of development is to carry out an options review. This will look at either a subscription model, licencing for support agencies or contracts with statutory bodies.
Which organisations recognise the qualification?
All qualifications are QCF qualifications i.e. nationally recognised qualifications. These have been developed from the National Occupational Standards set by the Sector Skills Councils and employers in each of the sectors. These qualifications are well-understood by all statutory bodies, mainstream agencies and most employers.
What do ex-offenders think of the concept and idea of the App?
The App was conceived by ex-offenders at GMCC and the development team comprises 50% ex-offenders and 50% people working with ex-offenders. There has been extensive consultations with ex-offenders where ideas and feedback have been gathered to inform and modify development. Therefore there is a high level of confidence and evidence that the App is considered by ex-offenders to address their needs.
Is this the finished product?
No. This is phase one in our project journey. What we have now is a working prototype which has been developed over a year through extensive consultation but with a small team of staff and volunteers.
What are your priorities for the product moving forward?
In phase 2 we will populate the App fully and test the courses and qualifications with partner organisations. We will engage with external expertise to strengthen both the product and the business. The team will be built up to increase its capacity to refine the technology and experiment with leading edge digital innovation. We will develop a marketing strategy with our supporters and end users to create the look and feel which will work for ex-offenders.
What are the priorities for the project moving forward?
For the overall project, the hope is to generate new funding opportunities or social investment which enables us to expand the team and strengthen the infrastructure needed to deliver learning and qualifications externally. We aim to create a social enterprise which draws on the talents of ex-offenders and their supporters and is able to offer work experience and future employment to volunteers and others who are committed to the values of the project. Sitting behind the App will be a training school which develops skills and work in digital and creative technologies for ex-offenders.
Which organisations do you see yourself partnering with moving forward?
In the short term those who can add value to the development work and those with whom we can work on testing the App with clients over a wider geographical area. We need the support of funders who share our vision in order to test our hypothesis. Over the longer term we are looking for partnerships which enable us to reach as many ex-offenders as possible and these to include statutory services.
How will this intervention halt the reoffending cycle?
As with all complex social issues, there is no easy answer to stopping someone doing something. This project is built on a fundamental belief that a person needs to work and be financially independent in order to have a chance of staying away from crime. However, getting a job is notoriously difficult for an ex-offender. Gaining a qualifications indicates a step change to employers. It requires a willingness to change and a commitment to achievement, both valuable assets. It is our experience that gaining a first qualification can be life-changing to an ex-offender who has a lifetime of academic failure.
What non-monetary intervention do you need to make this a success?
In-kind support of any kind regarding offering time and help on our project is crucial to this project being successful. We are a team of skilled individuals who are passionate about what we do. However, there is always room for more in team, who also share our vision and passion.
Who is sponsoring this work?
We have had the support of several funders: UfI, Seedbed, the Church Urban Fund, the Sir Halley Stewart Trust; Peoples’ Postcode Trust; Awards for All.
Who will quality assure your products and outcomes?
We are held accountable to our Board of Trustees, our beneficiaries, our volunteers, our staff and our funders in ensuring the outcomes we described when we first took on the project are met. In terms of qualifications, we have our own internal quality assurance assessor and are visited regularly by the external quality assurer from our awarding body, Gateway.
Do you have a product roadmap?
We have an application architecture from which we are developing the foundation layer of the working prototype. Once we have completed this discovery phase to understand the development and its operating parameters. The team will devise a product roadmap in the next increment of the software to include the learning and new developments emerging from the prototyping activity.
How many users do you expect in years 1,2 and 3?
Year 1 – 30 learners in outreach within the Manchester area getting qualifications
Year 2 – 100 learners across GMCC networks getting qualifications with 10 support agencies engaged
Year 3 – 500 learners across a national footprint plus 5 employers engaging a further 10 learners
What can I do to help?
Offer feedback, time or skills. We are looking for partnerships and volunteers to sit on our Steering Group which meets quarterly.