IT’S not widely known, but Scotland is emerging as a world leader in custodial education. Indeed, we have been invited to lead a Europe-wide review, which could be instrumental in improving and redirecting thousands of lives.

This international recognition flows from the implementation of the Learning and Skills Strategy 2016 to 2021, which put us on a different educational trajectory to England and the USA. There the primary focus is often on numeracy, literacy and other skills seen as helpful for getting jobs.

We fully agree on the need to get people reading, writing, using numbers and, where possible, in employment. But several big issues loom, including what works, what’s appropriate and how to stimulate engagement among disaffected adults.

Many people in prison had poor experiences with schooling. They need learning that’s creative, relevant and engaging, rather than prompting fear of more failure. Art, craft, sculpture, drama, music and creative writing generate other opportunities for engagement. They develop skills, challenge people to talk, think and reflect. Through initiatives like the Koestler Awards, they bring recognition and promote confidence, esteem and a sense of achievement.

Many prisoners lack confidence and direction. If these can be nurtured then they become more positive in their outlook, attitudes and behaviours. This in itself can fuel the appetite for education. The number of prisoners taking formal qualifications is growing.

A liberal arts education policy addresses the needs of the individual, but the results are for the whole of society – lower reoffending, stronger families, more positive individuals.

Our approach to education has nurtured abilities of many kinds. You can see this at Narrative. The men, women and young people whose work is exhibited have shown themselves to be powerfully expressive artists and craft makers in their own right.

This is what success looks like.

James King is head of offender education at the Scottish Prisons Service