Privacy, misinformation and competition in the social media age – Professor Suzanne Rab, OU Law Associate Lecturer, interviewed by BBC

National pro bono week  2019 provides a great opportunity to celebrate the depth and breadth of the public engagement projects developed by the Open Justice Centre. Applied technology is often at the heart of these projects. Our Digital Justice project is working to harness the potential of smartphone technology for public legal information purposes, our Open Justice Advice Clinic provides access to online legal advice and the law on social media use is often a popular topic in our Street Law programme.

OU Associate Lecturer Professor Suzanne Rab is often asked to comment on legal aspects of technologies such as social media. Suzanne combiners her role as an Associate Lecturer with the OU (on W102 and W330) with working full time as a barrister at Serle Court Chambers in London, being Professor of Commercial Law and Practice Chair at Brunel University and serving as a non-executive Board member of the Legal Aid Agency which dispenses civil and criminal legal aid.   

She was recently asked by the BBC to comment on the issue of whether existing regulation is adequate to make social media companies take more responsibility against a background of  concerns over privacy, misinformation and competition.

She said that,

‘In the wake of Facebook’s latest results announcement, it is clear that negative publicity and regulatory attention has not affected its growth, whether in terms of subscriber numbers, revenues or profits. 

The truth is that even though comparisons have been made with monopolies of the past, the world has not yet seen anything quite like the social media phenomenon where Facebook alone interacts with one in three people across the globe.  This has prompted calls for tougher regulation and even break-up.  However, passing laws to make social media companies police the internet brings with it other concerns.  Let’s not be deluded that any law that orders a company to remove unacceptable content will face objections from proponents of free speech. Where the court making the judgment is from a country where the rule of law is cherished, we might not object.   But that cannot be said of all regimes globally who want to take proactive steps to counter what they perceive is objectionable content.’

Please click here for a link to the full interview broadcast on BBC Business News on 31 October 2019.

Another half century: Hong Kong Law School at 50 by Francine Ryan

Francine Ryan reports on her experience of being invited to address an international legal education conference celebrating 50 years of HK Law School

The Open University isn’t alone in marking its 50 year anniversary. Hong Kong Law School has reached the same milestone and, to celebrate, they organised an international conference exploring cutting edge approaches to legal education from around the world. The conference was titled Experiential Learning and Innovations in Legal Education and provided a platform for academics working to shape the future of legal education, to share ideas and develop new projects.

The Open Justice Centre is gaining an international reputation for using technology to provide innovative ways of embedding experiential learning into the legal curriculum. In recognition of this, I was invited to  take part in the conference and present my empirical research findings on the impact of our award-winning online advice clinic.

The conference focused on the importance of encouraging students to ‘learn by doing’ through embedding learning within real-world contexts. It showcased the growing number of innovative projects being developed that are responding to the disruption brought about by rapid technological change.  The conference discussed how law schools are facilitating the development of practical legal activities to help students gain knowledge of the law, but also understand how the law works in practice and in doing so encouraging students to help real people with real legal problems.

The shift from the physical space to the virtual space is impacting on the delivery of legal services. In my presentation,  I shared how The Open University is pioneering the use of technology through the development of the Open Justice ‘virtual’ clinic. The advancement of technology is going to require workers to have new skills and capabilities to respond to new models of working. The Institute for the Future argues all future workers will require technological competence and the ability to work as part of a virtual team. The clinic offers students the opportunity to become familiar with using technology and learn how to collaborate online. Working in the clinic helps students develop the knowledge and skills required in a digital age.

But the clinic goes beyond helping our students develop the skills required for modern legal practice, it serves to build a bridge between law students and their communities to support legal empowerment, by helping clients to know, and use the law to resolve their problems. In the clinic, students have the opportunity to engage with complex legal problems and access to justice issues. The clinic serves a ‘virtual’ community empowering anyone with an internet connection to access the clinic. The clinic uses technology as a transformative tool to reach those clients who are unable to access to legal advice because they cannot attend face to face legal clinics.

The conference showcased how universities across the world are engaging in developing practical pro bono activities to enhance access to justice. Through these programs they are inculcating a commitment to the professional value of providing pro bono services. The range of examples included collaborations between charities and the free advice sector to develop online tools to empower communities whose voices are denied and marginalised. Technology has the power to democratise legal information, knowledge and advice and has the potential to contribute to the solution to the crisis in access to justice.

The conference was organised as part of the HKU Law School’s 50th birthday celebration. As well as delegates attending in person the conference was also live streamed to Sun Yat-sen University in China, demonstrating the power of technology to bring together communities across the world. The opportunity to share and discuss how law schools can continue to innovate to encourage students to learn by doing but also to respond to the growing issue of unmet legal need was invaluable. I have learned so much through attending the conference- I have brought back some new ideas that can shape the further development of the Open Justice Centre.

Open Justice & Middlesex University Street Law Weekend – two blog posts by Elizabeth Walker and Laurie-Elizabeth Ketley

In October 2019 the Open Justice Centre and Middlesex University ran their second joint Student Street Law conference.  Twenty OU students worked with the same number of Middlesex students from Friday evening to Sunday tea time. They were introduced to the interactive teaching methodology that underpins the Street Law approach to public legal education and learnt how to create their own sessions.  The OU students were studying W360 (Justice in Action) or were members of the OU Law Society. 

Street law is one form of public legal education (PLE).  The premise underpinning PLE is that people who have even a basic understanding of their legal rights and duties, the way the legal system works and how to access legal advice will be better able to identify and resolve the legal problems they may encounter in the future. Street involves facilitating an interactive and participatory workshop on a legal topic to members of the public.  Students usually work with a small group together to facilitate a workshop to a group of secondary school pupils or a community group on a given legal topic of interest and relevance to them.

If you want to find out more about street law, please see the Open Justice website.  If you are an OU student, you can also attend out pro bono online event on street law on Thursday 7 November, 7 – 8pm in the Student Experience room on the Law Home Study website.  Level 3 OU law students can volunteer to take part in the street law project, run in partnership between the Open Justice centre and the OU Law Society, through either the Open Justice website or the OU Law Society website

A Pleasant Surprise – Attending The Street Law Conference by Elizabeth Walker

I first heard about the Street Law workshop during one of our law society meetings. When I was given an opportunity to attend I didn’t really think much of what the workshop would involve and simply was thinking it could add to extra skills when applying for the Bar Training Course next year. I had previously taken part in a school Street Law project with the OU, so I felt fairly confident in what the content of the workshop would cover.

As the workshop grew closer I decided to do a little more research on Richard Roe, the Professor from Georgetown University who would be attending. I soon realised that he had dedicated much of his professional life developing Street Law in a number of different countries and read how it had helped a number of communities. This got me thinking that maybe the workshop would be more beneficial than I first thought.

We got the schedule for the weekend around a week before the event, and when looking through it I could see it was going to be jam packed. Many of the activities in the schedule seemed to be highly interactive and though I feel I’m a confident person, I did wonder if I would feel comfortable to be able to fully engage with the activities in front of a number of other students from different universities.

I went into the Friday evening session with an open mind and I was even more pleasantly surprised than I thought. The lecturers running the workshop instantly made everyone feel welcome by getting everyone up and involved straight away. It was also a nice change being able to socialise with other OU students as this is a rare opportunity when studying with a distance university. It was especially useful as most of us were final year students and it was interesting to hear everyone’s aspirations once they completed their degree.

I was surprised to find that the weekend was heavily based on teaching techniques. However, after putting this into practice over the weekend, it has made me realise that these techniques can assist me with my remaining studies with the OU. It has helped me gain further confidence which I hope will assist with next year when furthering my studies.

Though I had already done a school Street Law project last year, I now wish to get involved with even more. One reason why I wanted to study law was to gain knowledge and apply it to help others that were not in the position to do so and street law gives you that very opportunity. The weekend also gave me the opportunity to see that there is more to teaching and that this could also be an option for in the future.

Following the weekend I decided to contact Richard Roe to again express my gratitude for all he did. He instantly responded with a number of reading materials and an invite to his next workshop later in the year on mock trials. His passion for this area of law is refreshing and inspiring to see. Overall, I couldn’t recommend the Street Law workshop more! I’ll be back next year for sure.

Elizabeth Walker – OU law student and member of OU Law Society

Where do I start with the Open Justice/Middlesex University Street Law Conference Weekend?!

It was absolutely fantastic from beginning to end! It started off a bit nerve-wracking as any situation you are in does, where you don’t know anyone and are there pretty much on your own. We were sat alongside students from Middlesex university, so that if we did know other people, we couldn’t bask in the comfort of being sat alongside them.

We were then given a task to talk to the person next to you, I know, the horror of it…to actually talk and interact with a stranger?! ….and that was it. The weekend propelled into one huge success.

Every single technique, challenge, task and initiative were carefully constructed to bring the most out of any given individual. To explore new ideas and to help increase engagement with the theory behind the weekend being Talk Less, Teach More! It made me want to be involved and massively helped with my confidence. To know that you were not going to be ridiculed should your answer be wrong was impossible, as no answer was deemed as wrong.

I am honestly so excited to go forward and use the skills I have learnt from the most incredible teachers, that will hopefully help me grow and develop as a person, alongside hopefully helping me to one day do the teaching. I am so grateful of the opportunity that the Open Justice team have given me and I am excited to hopefully do more alongside them and with them in the future!

Laurie-Elizabeth Ketley – OU law student and member of OU Law Society

 

Should pro bono be mandatory? by Lucy Pettinger

In this guest post, Lucy Pettinger, a current Open Justice student, tackles the issue of whether or not UK lawyers should be obliged to offer their services for free to some clients. She makes a strong case that although pro bono should be promoted, much would be lost if it were made compulsory.

Pro bono or pro bono publico can be translated from the Latin as ‘for the public good’, a service donated most often on a voluntary basis. The act of volunteering comes from a place of passion, empathy and good will, so making it compulsory may go against this essence and undermine the enthusiasm and passion that comes with volunteering. Moreover, those who do not believe in it may show dispassion and lack of sensitivity to clients’ needs and treat them differently from fee-paying ones. A better solution would be to create and embody a pro bono culture into the legal profession, with the participation in such schemes coming from the individual out, and not from the State in.

Making the activity of pro bono compulsory may place an unfair encumbrance on lawyers, particularly for those working in smaller practices that are already under resourced. Moreover, firms that presently practice in areas of law under legal aid will be under more pressure; so the solution should rather be to institutionalise it and implement a target-based system, with larger commercial firms enjoying larger objectives in end-to-end cases.

From another more pragmatic view, if these regulations are enforced, how would non-compliance be punished? Would there be enough lawyers to fill the gap created by legal aid cuts, especially in areas of specialist law? Are there enough resources available? The likely answer is no, for there is evidence that even before LASPO, there wasn’t enough legal aid so it is unlikely that pro bono can facilitate this effectively.

More importantly, I feel that regulating in this area would be a regression in the development of the legal system. For it can be perceived as a step away from the government’s responsibly and obligation to ensure the right to a fair trial is upheld, as required by Article 6 of the ECHR.

Recognising that access to justice and equality before the law is intrinsic in a democratic society, this cannot be the solution to the problem. While understanding that a considerable, and increasing proportion of the population are being denied access to justice, it is clear many of the problems reside in the administration of justice and legal system as a whole. This is what needs to be addressed, acknowledged and reformed; the roots of the problem not the leaves. For it cannot fall on the charity sector to water the legal deserts created by LASPO, for it will only expand.

On this note, I therefore believe there should be a strong commitment from the legal profession to provide pro bono work, both in the public interest and benefit of the student or lawyer offering their services, but it should not replace the properly funded legal aid community. It should seek to work in collaboration and corporation with legal aid institutions to bring the right specialism to the right case. To serve the population as a whole and ensure that the rich do not have greater rights of access, but the rule of law is upheld and applied equally to everyone. In conclusion, pro bono services must work in alliance with the legal aid community to better achieve access to justice in a supportive role, not a replacement role.

‘Open Justice – Just Deserts’ by Jamahl Peterkin

Jamahl received a 2019 Open Justice Award for an outstanding contribution to Open Justice pro bono activities. In this post he reflects on his experience of studying W360: Justice in Action which included working in prisons and providing free legal advice to members of the public in the Open Justice Online Law Clinic.

Introduction

Open Justice module provided me with challenges, hurdles, experiences and insights into practising law. The module prepared me for professional practise; both academically and practically and challenged me to achieve my true potential. The module was rewarding, motivating and at times somewhat exhausting, which is perhaps a fair reflection of what to expect from a career in Law. The culmination of years of academic study leading towards my LLB degree culminated in my work with Open Justice, which was the cherry on the cake.

The Learning Curve

Open Justice provided a steep learning curve which allowed me to excel in professional practice under supervision of qualified solicitors. Prior to Open Justice I had no experience in researching and presenting to an audience on legal matters, no experience offering legal advice, no experience working in prisons and no experience working on online legal platforms. This module added a dynamic learning experience which equipped me with valuable transferable skills. The module pushed me out of my comfort as prior modules had been mainly academically based and I had yet been challenged in a practical setting.

I have gained a wealth of skills and experience during this module in a diverse range of topics. Learning how to communicate effectively, to present to a variety of audiences, to hold online conferences, to research and offer advice and learn how to use online legal advice platforms are just a fraction of some of the skills learnt.

The online law clinic provided me with experience in working as a team on legal issues as well as learning different real-life legal situations such as breach of contract and subject access request legalities. The prison law project gave me the opportunity to research and offer advice to prison inmates and gain experience working in prison institutions. Both projects allowed me to gain practical experience and for my clients to get free legal advice. Just deserts for all involved.

Future Career Opportunities

The Open Justice module has opened up further opportunities and career possibilities. The experience I have had working on the Clio case management platform has equipped me with skills in administering advice on online platforms and the ability to research issues for clients. I have gained practical experience in handling contract law issues which will enhance my career opportunities. This experience has been accompanied by the experience gained working in prison, providing transferable presentation skills and also insight into the professional  etiquette and processes relevant to working within a prison environment.

Just Deserts

This module has added immeasurable value to my CV and has provided invaluable professional experience. It has equipped me professionally and academically to be prepared for a career in law. This module has been the cherry on the cake to my law degree. I am due to finish my LLB with valuable practical experience. I have since been contacted to do work in prison institutions and offer advice on contract law cases. Open Justice – Just Deserts, the proof is in the pudding.

‘W360: Feel the fear, and do it anyway – You could be very glad you did !’ by Susan Desfontaines

Now, I’m going to be frank. When I was considering my optional module at the end of my degree I was concerned about W360 Justice in Action (the Open Justice module) because, as a relatively new addition to the Open University’s offering, it was a bit of an unknown quantity and the success of my overall degree grade rested on how well I could do in the last two 30 credit modules. I had a big interest in social justice, so it had real appeal, but I was particularly concerned about the team-working element and whether, despite my best efforts, this could negatively impact on my grades.

I was also the girl that started this degree not quite knowing where I wanted to go with it, but who had always said from the start “it definitely wont be criminal law.“ Ha! How wrong I was.

Once I embarked on W360 I decided to get fully out of my comfort zone and signed up to the Freedom Law Clinic project to participate in a criminal appeals case, the reasoning being that I would get the most out of the module by experiencing an area of law that “ I definitely wasn’t going to get into. “ I also taught A level Law at the local school, which I was able to add to my pro-bono experience portfolio.

At the law clinic I was assigned to a joint enterprise murder case and became increasingly engaged in what I was doing. It was challenging, and the workload every bit as demanding as I had been warned it would be, but I thoroughly enjoyed the practical application of the legal skills that I had developed over the course of my degree studies.

I also used the opportunity to improve on my team working skills, which, because of my need for control, had been of such concern to me. I was well supported by my assigned tutor, who dedicated time, effort and frank feedback into showing me a better way to work well within my team and deal with the frustration I felt when others did not apply the same work ethic I demanded of myself.

The experience has transformed the way I view myself as a person and a professional, it has ignited my interest in pro-bono’s relationship to justice and in criminal law itself. I also gained real insight into my own strengths and weaknesses.

As a result I will be starting with a local authority next month as their legal officer, prosecuting rogue landlord cases in the Magistrates’ Court and case managing and briefing advocates for cased to be dealt with at the Crown Court. I will be training on the job, before being assigned my own independent case load and be responsible for deciding if the cases and evidence collected meet the CPS tests.

It’s a role I never envisaged taking up at the start of my degree, it is invaluable experience as I start my legal career and it is in no small part a direct result of my W360 experience, from both my viewpoint and that of the interview panel who doubled the length of my allocated interview slot in order to discuss the experience!

W360 is challenging and by no means easy or comfortable, but if you engage in it wholeheartedly you may well be shocked with just how much it has to give back in terms of personal and career development.

‘Paralegals: the importance of gaining as much experience as you can’ by Amanda Hamilton

Amanda Hamilton is CEO of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals

The changes within the legal services sector over the last decade, means that there is plenty of scope for paralegals to take up the slack and fill the gaps left by those changes. These opportunities have been as a result of the virtual eradication of legal aid for consumers, the level of fees charged by solicitors and barristers (inaccessible for most), the cost of academic training and the abundance of law graduates.

The consequence is that paralegals are starting to become the go-to legal service providers for most consumers. This is why it is so important to gain as much experience as possible, as soon as possible in your careers whether pro-bono or paid.

Many Universities are opening their own law clinic to provide a service to the local community and to offer the opportunity to law undergraduates to gain experience at an early point in their careers. My advice to all students studying law: get in there and take up this valuable chance to gain experience listening to real people talk about their very real problems. The practical application of the law beats any scenario-based assignment that you may be working on!

Engaging in pro bono work is an important way of helping develop the skills and knowledge you will need if you decide to pursue a pathway as a paralegal. Having experience from pro bono work should give you the sufficient confidence to either gain a paid paralegal position or end up running your own paralegal firm.

Even if your intention is to qualify as a solicitor or barrister, the experience you gain at this stage will be invaluable. Gaining a paralegal position in a law firm could eventually lead to a sponsored LPC and the more experience you have, could lead to by-passing a training contract into qualification. Several ‘paralegals’ already have made it through this route and one or two are now junior partners in their firms.

However, you should not dismiss the idea of becoming a career paralegal professional. Joining a professional membership body (like NALP) and gaining a NALP Licence to Practise will give you the credentials to set up on your own, offering legal services in a similar way that solicitors do but obviously there are some activities that you cannot perform. These are ‘reserved legal activities’ which still remain the monopoly of solicitors.

‘This is Real Life Law’ by Maurice Doona

In this blog post Open Justice law student Maurice Doona reflects on his experience of working to support litigants in person as they try to navigate the complexities of the family law court system.

‘This is Real Life Law’

Recently, a District Judge sitting at West London Family Court (WLFC) asked if he could share a table with me at a café over lunch. I volunteer at the Personal Support Unit (PSU) at WLFC. He had presided over hearings at which I was present, assisting clients through the private family law process. We had a brief discussion about being a law student practising voluntary legal work. Our conversation led me to reflect on how my understanding of pro bono legal work has been enhanced by volunteering at the PSU and led me to consider my motivations for getting involved.

I undertook the Open Justice module with a view that it would assist me in applying my legal studies to real-world situations. This coupled with my personal goal in achieving a ‘good’ law degree led me to apply to the PSU as a volunteer. It was clear that that these factors were all about my desires to succeed as part of my degree but on further reflection there was much more to it.

I had appreciated prior to joining the PSU, that their remit is not to provide legal advice and are not insured to do so. It is to assist Litigants in Person (LIP’s) with the court process through practical and emotional support before, during and after hearings. This has aided my understanding of how complex and daunting the legal system can be for those who do not have the financial means to pay for legal assistance. It has led to a realisation that I possess practical skills to help clients through the family courts.

This includes assisting clients with the paperwork and empowering them to have control of their personal legal issues. It can be by helping them to work out and practice their oral submissions. This leads to increased confidence and reduced anxiety which in turn allows the client a fairer hearing, especially, where the other party may have legal representation. Hearings in the Family Court are private proceedings, it is a privilege to have been provided access to the Court assisting clients who wish to provide a stable environment for their children. For example, being able to support a client in the successful award of an emergency order preventing removal of the children from the jurisdiction over the school holidays was humbling. The client had arrived at the court in a distressed and vulnerable state at 9am. She was directed to the PSU by security, fortunately we were able to assist her as some hearings had been transferred. I assisted the client to complete the C100 form ‘child arrangements’ and liaised with the court staff to process the application and to schedule an emergency same day hearing.

The skills that I have developed, I believe, both from a legal and general life experience, aided the client receiving access to justice. This was ‘Real Life Law’ in practice.

‘Open Justice – Reflections on teaching Human Rights’ by David Purdy

Prior to beginning the Open Justice module I held the preconception that pro-bono legal work was on the increase due to cuts in legal aid and was confined to the provision of advice and representation. However, as the module progressed, I was surprised to learn how broad the provision of pro-bono had become and was especially pleased to see that legal education is being treated with ever-increasing importance, prompting me to choose a Street Law activity, whereby I would work in a team of 4 other students to deliver a legal presentation to school pupils.

From the outset, I worked very productively with my team members. On reflection, this was made easier because my fellow students all shared my passion for promoting legal knowledge to those who would not normally have access to it. We all embraced the task and agreed to deliver an interactive presentation on human rights law which agreed was a topic which was both important and interesting to the audience. Additionally, whilst engaging closely with tutors, I began to learn that there is a broad desire to engage in pro bono activities within academic institutions such as the OU, a fact which is supported the materials I read and referenced in writing my first assignment from which I summarised that; “pro bono plays a valuable and productive role in increasing legal literacy and reaching out to marginalised groups with education projects [although] arguably encourages government to make further cuts which could further limit access to justice and damage the legal profession in the long term.”  On concluding the preparation of our presentation, I felt I had gained a comprehensive understanding of the pros and cons of providing free legal education and though there was an argument that pro bono enables the state to ignore it’s social responsibilities, I felt that the benefits of increasing access to legal knowledge massively outweighed this adverse effect. However, the true realisation of how important our work was had not yet emerged.

We delivered our presentation just as we had planned. It is no exaggeration to say that the response I felt from the audience placed the true importance of what we were doing into perspective. As I reflected in my portfolio; “This class of 16-year-olds at a Newcastle Secondary School appeared to be totally engaged. The make-up of our session meant that every pupil was actively involved, and the outward interest of these young people was incredible.”

The feedback from the pupils on the day told me that education on human rights and other legal rights and responsibilities is limited, if not non-existent in our national curriculum. As a society, how can we expect succeeding generations to understand their rights and obligations as citizens if nobody teaches them? I would strongly argue that these fundamental subjects should be included in mandatory education at a young age. However, until it is, the provision of legal education on a pro bono basis is not only important, but indispensable.

Ruth McFarlane : The OU at 50 – Students in Secure Environments

Over the last two years the Open Justice Centre has been successful in developing prison based pro bono projects. This success has been made possible by the support of the OU’s Students in Secure Environment Team who work to support prison learners studying with the OU. In this guest post Ruth McFarlane reflects on the OU’s 50 year record of making higher education accessible to students in prison.

Distance learning can be a lonely activity and we work hard at the OU to create learning communities so that students can engage with their peers and share experiences. We know that this can make a real difference, especially when students are finding things tough.

For OU students in prison, this isolation is exacerbated by the lack of social media or other online options increasingly available to mainstream students. However, the OU has been supporting students in prison since 1971 and we know that this environment offers other options for a study group and peer support to develop.

The new module W360 (Justice in Action) provides opportunities for OU Law students to undertake pro bono activities, including some public legal education projects which run in four prisons, as well as in schools and courts. Through collaboration between different teams within the OU, we have ensured that this also serves as an introduction to OU study for the participants in prison, many of whom have been encouraged to sign up for a degree following their engagement with the project.

Just as for mainstream students, all OU students in prison are allocated a tutor who supports them throughout a module, offering guidance and feedback on assignments. Where possible, tutors visit students in the prison or offer telephone support, and this also depends on the facilitation of prison education staff, many of whom are wonderful. The value of this tutor support was summed up by Liam, who served a 10 year sentence and completed his degree shortly after his release :

What needs to be acknowledged is the drive and determination of the Open University tutors I have had during my studies. Without a doubt, without them and their constant, active engagement with me and their encouragement when I wanted to give it all up I would not have completed my studies. The determination of the tutors when faced with the realities of a prison security department and the rules and restrictions was quite inspiring. It encouraged me to persevere and I am glad I did.

This quote reminds us of the importance of personal contact, which we are also developing through a series of open academic seminars now being held regularly in several prisons in the Midlands. These have been well attended by a very engaged audience, with OU academics who have presented on a wide range of topics from space science to politics. This is helping to increase the appetite for higher level study, and has the added benefit of giving academics more of an insight into the challenges of studying in prison, so that we can further tailor the support we offer.

At other establishments we have run study skills sessions focusing on generic skills such as note taking, referencing or exam preparation. These help to strengthen the learning culture within a prison and replicate some of the online help that is available for mainstream students. We currently have a student on ROTL working in our team preparing an evaluation of the impact of these sessions, which we look forward to sharing.

The OU orderly role was introduced at HMP Ashfield and is now in place across a number of universities where there are more than 20 OU students. The orderly is an experienced OU student who helps with administrative tasks such as registering for a module, keeping track of when assignments are due or taking bookings for computer use. They also arrange study groups for more generic support sessions, particularly for people who are new to OU study, who can benefit from the experience of others. We have found that this increased focus has made a real difference to student success, with average assignment scores going up, as well as overall student numbers in those prisons. This is an excellent way to demonstrate our commitment to the OU aim of “more students qualifying”.

Finally, we recognise the need to play to our strengths. We are a distance learning institution offering higher education to students in all prisons across the country. This means we can support people when they move across the estate and when they are released, but we cannot always offer the regular long-term local support that makes such a difference to students. We are really pleased to be developing links with a number of Prison University Partnerships, particularly the Inside Out programmes. This localised university engagement in prisons is recognised as offering a much-needed level of participation in higher education and we are now offering on-going accreditation pathways to students who want to pursue a degree while they are in custody and also when they are released.

Through all of these projects, we hope to increase opportunities for personal contact between students and university staff, across a large number of prisons. We have almost 1800 students in approximately 150 prisons and secure units across all security categories in the UK. Many of these initiatives are being facilitated by the Students in Secure Environments (SiSE) team at the OU, and if you haven’t yet heard about our fabulous colleague Stephen, please do take a moment to read his story, which has been featured as part of the OU 50th birthday celebrations:

https://50.open.ac.uk/photography/stephenak

And follow us on Twitter for more regular updates @OU_SiSE