From Apprentice to MBE
Manchester tutor Andy Dennis honoured with an MBE
22 July 2015
The Manchester College tutor, Andy Dennis, has been awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for his outstanding achievements whilst teaching at HMP Maidstone.
“It’s very humbling”, 47 year old Andy comments modestly, “I’m so proud and deeply honoured. It’s such a privilege to be recognised for a job I love doing.”
Andy’s commitment and dedication is changing lives – he is credited with helping to improve prisoners’ confidence and helping them to deal with their issues in a more positive way.
One former prisoner wrote in to say, “What I’ve learned most from you [Andy] is how to be a better person, how to believe in myself”, while another wrote, “Every school and college needs an Andy Dennis!”
A former City & Guilds bricklaying apprentice, Andy is an experienced tradesman in his own right. After qualifying and working in the construction industry for several years, he decided in 1991 to change course and become a prison officer.
Following 16 years in the Prison Service, Andy struck upon a way to combine his practical experience as a bricklayer with his desire to help prisoners have a real chance when they left prison – by offering a City & Guilds Level 1 or 2 qualified bricklaying qualification.
Andy Dennis said; “I presented a business case to the Governor to show the benefits of training prisoners and she decided to invest money in piloting the idea. Nine years on I have a portfolio of letters from over 50 guys who’ve gone out and actually got jobs. Not all have gone on to be bricklayers, but because they have a City & Guilds qualification under them they can prove they have an aptitude for learning. A City & Guilds qualification is not given, you’ve got to work hard to get it, and employers recognise that.”
But it’s not all about construction skills - as part of the course Andy piloted the first ever mentoring system, which is now standard practice across the country. For each course up to three prisoners are kept on as mentors to help new students starting on the course, as well as to further develop their own inter-personal skills.
He also made sure other important skills were embedded as part of the course – maths and English, as well as a custom designed ‘Life Challenge’ workshop to help build mutual trust with, and amongst, the prisoners.
So what’s the key to Andy’s success in such a challenging learning environment?
“I just try to be myself”, Andy continued, “Prisoners see right through you if you’re not. No two days are the same when you work in a prison. You can never be on one level, you’ve got to come down and make sure everyone engages no matter who they are or what their literacy. It’s also about mutual trust. I tell them it’s a two-way street - if I give you respect I expect it back and hopefully it sinks in.”
This isn’t the first time Andy had received an award recognising his work. In 2011 he won a City & Guilds Medal for Excellence, and in 2014 he won two awards at the prestigious City & Guilds Lion Awards – the ‘Tutor of the Year’ as well as the ‘Outstanding Achiever of the Year’ – for his incredible contribution to prison education.
So what does the future hold for Andy?
“Who knows!” says Andy, “I’m currently designing courses around interactive learning, working with Google sketch, making sure the teaching meets what Ofsted wants and makes for a good learner experience.
“I’d love to work with young people, especially NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training), the ones forgotten or at risk. With what I’ve learnt in the prison service I can give something back to the youngsters, stop them from getting into prison in the first place.”