Seminar 9/12/16: Maths behind bars

Maths behind bars
Catherine Byrne
Dublin Institute of Technology
Friday 9 December 2016
1pm, Blue Room, DIT Kevin Street


The field of prison mathematics education is a relatively new research area. Mathematics is now a compulsory component of every full award in Further Education at all levels including prison education centres, where the most popular levels are QQI (formerly FETAC) level 2 and 3. There is a need to assess the mathematical level of people who are starting back to education. To see the impact of education on these students, it was essential to have a test at the point of entry to the education centre. This research examined the results gathered over several years, of 440 people who sat a locally devised test. The test was devised by prison teachers for this context and the outcomes were comparable with national and international assessment frameworks. It shows the numbers of people whose skills matched each level, (from pre-literacy, level 1, level 2 and level 3), the maths competencies that were weakest and needed most assistance and the types of skills which had been acquired through the everyday life and activities of the student.

These results will enable us to target mathematics support in the areas that need it most, and will enable more people to progress on the ladder of learning. The results of this research will have an impact on the future development of basic education assessment in this context, and in the wider field of adult basic education. This project aims to develop a wider assessment framework that will give a clear picture of the mathematical competencies, attitudes to mathematics and mathematical self-efficacy that is culturally appropriate. The research will give data on the impact of learning mathematics in prison and on desistance.


Catherine Byrne is a teacher of ten years’ experience in Cloverhill Remand Prison and a teacher in special and prison education for thirty-five years. She is engaged in research for a PhD on Mathematics Education in Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).