What we're all about
Earlier this month, Code4000’s Chief Operating Officer, Rod Anderson, and I travelled to London to update two of our key partners, The Ministry of Justice and The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, on our plans for 2020. The meetings were positive and our plans for the future of Code4000 were very well received; it was truly gratifying to have their continued support.
However, it isn’t just gaining that support that was gratifying, if I’m honest. It’s great, of course, that we enjoy the support of key partners such as the MoJ and DCMS, but it was also great to talk about the work we do and our plans for the future. And It’s when we talk to others about what we do and the impact we have on the lives of our cohort that we really visualise the importance of our work. It’s that visualisation of impact that made those meetings truly rewarding.
But what exactly is it that we do? I mean, yeah, Code4000 teach computer programming to people in prison but is that it? Of course, that training is at the heart of our provision, but there’s much more to it than that. The training is part of a larger offer, an offer that we were able to describe in those meetings and that I’d like to describe again today.
First of all, we achieve positive outcomes for our students. Not one of our graduates has returned to custody and all of our graduates are engaged in some form of positive activity, either in the community or open prison. At the time of writing, 24% of our graduates were supported into work in the tech-sector and 12% have started their own business in tech. 29% of our graduates are being supported to access further training and 12% are in further or higher education.
But one word I used a lot there was “supported”. Every Code4000 student is now interviewed by our regional manager upon joining the course as part of their Learner Journey planning. Every twelve weeks their progress is reviewed and, where appropriate, interventions are made to ensure they are making progress. Planning for release starts from the point the student joins the course and a discussion around their ambitions and aspirations forms a huge part of the initial interview. This year we will begin to roll out a package of soft and employability skills to run alongside our students’ technical training. We have begun to work with the Offender Management Units of our host prisons to share our planning and contribute to the multi-disciplinary approach to resettling our students on release. From the minute they join our course, Code4000 students are supported to achieve their learning and resettlement goals.
We recognise that not all of our students will leave prison as developers; some might even have more pressing priorities than employment such as recovery work or the rebuilding of family ties. Some may not be quite ready for that step and require further training. However, we have already begun to integrate continued Code4000 learning alongside other interventions in the community. Our support package is growing and driven by a determination to ensure that anyone can access our course regardless of complex or special needs. We continue to work with these students and do so in a way that fits with their broader plans. There is no one-size-fits-all approach; our support is bespoke, flexible and developed in collaboration with the student. Some students will leave ready for the tech-industry, others may need some extra help and support, but Code4000 work with all our cohort, beyond their release.
However, and perhaps most importantly (and certainly at the core of what we do), we teach people in prison how to code. But again, this core point becomes almost peripheral when you look at the impact our work has on the outlook of our students; being on the Code4000 course is so much more than computer programming training. Look at what our students say: “It’s not like prison”; “it’s opened up a whole new world for me”; “it’s a privilege to be on the course”; are just some of their remarks about the impact the Code4000 programme has had on their lives. They are evangelical about learning to code: they want to show you what they’ve created, talk to you about what they’ve learned, and share their knowledge with those new students who are just joining the course. I have worked in prisons for some years now and I have seen a lot of successful projects done extremely well but I have never quite seen men, some of whom who have been in and out of prison their whole lives and have little experience of formal training or education, get quite so excited about what it is they are learning.
Our students take their textbooks back to their cells; petition the governor to allow them to work through their dinner breaks; and one of the guys is even trying to persuade his parole board to visit the classroom to see the work that is being done! To be fair, Code4000 can’t take all the credit for the students getting the coding-bug (no pun intended!), as a hobbyist coder myself I understand the compulsion that comes with programming. The problem solving, the frustration of being stuck suddenly giving way to the elation of success when you finally figure out what you’ve got wrong (often something minor and trivial!). Coding can become and obsession regardless of context, but Code4000 provide the opportunity to learn coding to those who would otherwise not be able to experience it. Learning to code appears almost life-changing to our learners who are, let’s not forget, a cohort who have more need than most for life-changing experiences.
Amongst all this, it’s easy to forget that our graduates are actually leaving prison with one of the most sought-after skills in the country! Our curriculum has been a success, with more and more learners going through the Code4000 programme and leaving able to build websites and code in at least one, and often two or three different languages. We offer a curriculum that can guide a complete novice to become an advanced coder and is structured to support all learners to reach their full potential. If nothing else, Code4000 achieve that, but it doesn’t take much time in our classrooms and talking to our students to discover that it means much more to them than a sought-after skill.
And that is what Code4000 are all about. An accessible curriculum teaching up-to-date tech skills. A package of support to ensure that learners reach their potential and that no one falls behind. A learning and training environment that is welcoming and encourages learners to help their peers and improve their own knowledge and understanding in so doing. A through the gate service that begins at the point of joining the course and that ultimately guides learners into sustainable training or employment upon release. And all of this in the hope that learning to code, and the opportunities that learning provides, will guide our learners into a life free of crime and offending.
I suppose, in short, #teachingtechchanginglives