Prisoners are to be given ‘military style’ maths and English lessons to boost their chances of finding work once they are released.
The courses will consist of 54 hours of lessons over two weeks with more help if needed.
The classes will begin in six jails as part of a drive to cut re-offending.
Skills Minister John Hayes said: “We are determined to make prisons places where people learn skills to build lives beyond crime.”
The new courses are to be based on a successful programme which gives new military recruits intensive maths and literacy courses relevant to their day-to-day work.
Follow-up research by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has shown that the courses not only boosted the the recruits’ basic skills but their confidence and future careers. This was true even of those who had poor experiences of learning at school.
The jail version of the scheme will start very soon after a prisoner arrives and will be linked to other popular courses like construction or painting and decorating.
Mr Hayes said: “This pilot is about ensuring prisoners are more likely to work than commit crime when they leave.
“Breaking the damaging cycle of re-offending and re-imprisonment will not only turn around the lives of countless prisoners, it will also prevent the suffering of their potential victims and reduce the burden on the taxpayer.”
Business Secretary Vince Cable added: “Crime blights lives both for the offender and the victim. That is why we are piloting this programme in prisons so we can give prisoners the basic skills they need to get their lives on track.”
Prisoners’ basic skills and their learning needs will be assessed at the beginning of their sentences and the courses will start soon afterwards. The new programme stems from a new offender learning strategy developed by the government last year.
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said the courses could particularly help prisoners on short sentences to “emerge from custody better equipped to be positive citizens rather than return to offending”.
Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said: “Just 36% of people leaving prison go into education, training or employment. Intensive training in basic maths and English linked to vocational courses should be a useful boost.
“However, government ministers must bear in mind the high numbers of people in prison with a learning disability or difficulty and work out how best to respond specifically to their needs.”
Starting in August, six jails in north west England will pilot the programme: Manchester, Garth, Kirkham, Lancaster Farms, Styal and Altcourse. It will be rolled out in other prisons if it is successful.