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Implementing and delivery of the test beds Virtual Campus

Researchers: Caroline Turley
Published: February 2010


This project examined the implementation and delivery of the Virtual Campus for prisoners to understand  the bearing it had on  improving skills and access to education, training and employment information.

What is the Virtual Campus?

The Virtual Campus is an information and communications technology platform that allows offenders access to up to date materials to support their education, training and employment prospects, including secure access to websites in custody and community settings.


Implementation of the Virtual Campus

The four key features of the successful implementation strategy were identified as:

  • Resources: The overarching message was ‘invest to save’. Installation costs were moderate and were quickly recouped by increased learner throughput and placement of people into work.
  • Partnerships: Effective and committed multi-agency partnership working  across the public and private sectors was essential.
  • Security: Security measures were stringent and extensively evaluated so there were no security breaches from any prison or probation sites.
  • Content: Content was appraised to meet the complex needs of learners .

Delivering teaching and learning

Effective delivery involved:

  • raising staff awareness in custody and community settings;
  • engaging staff through a training programme with an accredited qualification for tutors;
  • managing offender-learner expectations using risk and needs assessments; ongoing support using peer mentoring.

Outcomes for organisations

  • For organisations, there were clear economic advantages in streamlining their delivery of education, training and employment opportunities.
  • Staff said the Virtual Campus improved their practice and performance, which increased job satisfaction and staff retention.

Outcomes for offender-learners

  • Feeling normal: Offender-learners spoke of how working towards qualifications or looking for jobs helped them to feel normal, despite being in custody. It also boosted their confidence.
  • Equal opportunities: The Virtual Campus was felt by offenders in custody to ‘level the playing field’ by providing them with online access to job vacancies.
  • Motivation to continue learning: the Virtual Campus helped some people see the potential rewards of education and training  and so motivated them to continue with learning opportunities.


Qualitative research was based on two stages:

  • Interviews with strategic stakeholders.
  • Secondary analysis of interview data drawn from NatCen’s primary evaluation of the two test beds in the East of England and West Midlands.

Read the report