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Debating Matters: Our first steps behind bars


As preparations get underway for G4S-managed HMP Birmingham to play host to the UK’s toughest debating competition this summer, the team that will train the prisoners to compete talk about their first impressions of going behind bars in a short film released today.

The team from the Institute of Ideas discuss how their initial fears about teaching prisoners gave way to positivity as they met prisoners about the upcoming contest.

The project comes just two months after a government review into education across the prison estate called for more ambitious projects to be considered to reform prisoners and reduce reoffending rates.  The report, led by acclaimed former head teacher Dame Sally Coates said that prisoners’ education should be the responsibility of prison governors so that programmes can more closely meet the needs of their prisoners.

The Debating Matters team, who have delivered the programme in schools around the country but never within prisons, had some reservations before they took their first steps inside HMP Birmingham.

Debating Trainer, Adam Rawcliffe, said:

“My first thought was that this would be cool but then I became terrified. I then went home and rang my mum, she told me to man up it was an opportunity that not very many people are going to get.

“You get told constantly that prisoners have reading levels which are lower than primary school kids. I was concerned that training the prisoners was going to be more difficult than working with eight year olds.

“But when we walked around the prison, it was nowhere near as scary as you’d imagine. It really didn’t seem like that hostile or threatening place and I am excited to meet this challenge head on.”

Director of the Institute of Ideas, Claire Fox, said:

“We hope that this competition will give prisoners the opportunity to really shake their minds up a bit. Prison education is hugely important, it allows people who have lost their freedom, to take the time they have got to use their minds to think about problems and understand the world in new and interesting ways.”

G4S Director of HMP Birmingham, Pete Small, said:

“This competition will give prisoners the chance to properly research a subject, think their opinions and voice those opinions in a constructive way. And just as important, if not more so, is the ability to sit and listen to an opposing point of view and form a conclusion based upon all the evidence that they’ve heard.

“We are determined that prisoners leave HMP Birmingham, with the education and training that will set them up for the transition to life beyond bars.”


Notes to Editors:


Media contacts:

For further media enquiries about G4S or HMP Birmingham please contact Charlotte Eynon on 020 7963 3333 or

For further media enquiryes about the Institute of Ideas and Debating Matters competition please contact Adam Rawcliffe on 020 7269 9231 or