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Leading change
on the inside

Gaby, 2017 cohort

Leading change
on the inside

About us Back to top

Unlocked Graduates is working to break cycles of reoffending by identifying brilliant people and supporting them to spend two years working as frontline prison officers. We challenge them to come up with new ideas to improve the way prisons work across the country.

The Unlocked Graduates programme was one of the key recommendations of the Coates’ Review of prison education. The report argued that education needs to be put at the heart of the prison service if Government is serious about the rehabilitation of prisoners. It also called for the creation of a new scheme to encourage graduates from top universities to work as prison officers for an initial period of two years.

Unlocked Graduates was launched in 2016 to answer this challenge. Our programme has now been running for over three years across London, the South East, West Midlands and North West of the UK.

Named Graduate Scheme of the Year at the 2018 Personnel Today Awards, ranked 37th in the Escape 100 awards in 2019, and rose to 36th place in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers in 2020, Unlocked has transformed the way the prison officer job is seen on campus.

Diversity, equality, inclusion in the prison system is a high priority for Unlocked. We celebrate the diversity of our participants, and put the full weight of our support behind campaigns and initiatives promoting equality and inclusion.

Our prison officers have received numerous accolades and early promotions – two of our participants recently received High Sheriff Awards for their excellent key-working and some of first cohort now manage our more recent recruits and other officers on the landings.

Unlocked Graduates was supported to success in its incubation state by Catch22, the social business and charity. Since 2020 we have operated independently as a registered charity.

We work in partnership with the Leeds Trinity University to deliver our Master’s degree. Find out more about how our partnerships and how you can support us.

#Read more about our executive team and board.

Natasha Porter

Chief Executive and Founder

Photo of Natasha Porter

Natasha developed the concept of Unlocked Graduates while working with Dame Sally Coates on her review into prison education, and has led the organisation from its inception in 2016. Since then, Unlocked Graduates has recruited hundreds of graduates to be prison officers, working with over 10,000 prisoners across the country.

Natasha has a background in public sector start up, and was previously a teacher and senior leader in inner city schools. This included co-founding King Solomon Academy and leading their frontier cohort to groundbreaking GCSE results in 2014. Natasha has also worked as a government adviser and in the Westminster think tank Policy Exchange. In her spare time, she is a school governor and charity trustee.

Maria Donovan

Recruitment Director

Photo of Maria Donovan

Maria is an experienced graduate recruiter. As part of the start-up team for Think Ahead, a scheme to recruit graduates to be mental health social workers, she successfully recruited the first cohort of 100 to this new programme and built their brand so successfully that they appeared on the Times Top 100 graduate recruiters in their second year of recruitment. Before this, she was a recruiter for Teach First where she attracted 1 in 10 Oxford finalists to apply to the programme. Maria is also a Teach First Ambassador, having completed their Leadership Development Programme while teaching for two years in Birmingham.

Bodil Isaksen

Chief Operating Officer

Photo of Bodil Isaksen

Bodil joined Unlocked Graduates as an experienced leading adult trainer who has a passion for researching and applying the best teaching and learning techniques. She has spoken widely on these issues and been a course tutor for BPP’s PGCE (post-graduate certificate in education) as well as contributing to two books on initial training and continuing professional development. Bodil was a founding teacher and Head of Department at Michaela Community School, a free school in Brent. She is a Teach First Ambassador and spent two years as a Maths teacher in a Lee Valley school.

Sarah Pearson

External Relations Director

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Sarah joined Unlocked from the New Schools Network where she built the campaigns function and acted as interim director. Prior to this she was Associate Director at public affairs and corporate communications agency Hanover where she led a range of projects, specialising in health and education campaigns that involved partnerships between the public, third and private sectors for clients both in the UK and across Europe. She is also a school governor at Frith Manor Primary School.

Libby Gray

Programme Director

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Libby joined Unlocked in 2017, heading up the south region before moving into her current role as Programme Director. Libby brings experience of education, teacher training and leadership development.  She trained as a teacher in 2009 before moving to work at charity, Teach First, where she designed and delivered teacher training. The travel bug kicked in 2014, and Libby moved to Hong Kong where she took up the post of Head of English, and later, Vice Principal in an international school.

Rt Hon David Laws

Chair and Executive Chair of EPI

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David is the executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute, and the Education Partnerships Group – the international arm of the Ark education charity. Alongside this, David is a senior adviser to GK Strategy, a Trustee for the Teacher Development Trust, an advisory council member for Future First, and Chairman of the UPP Advisory Board. Following roles at J.P. Morgan and Barclays, David left the City to work in politics. David was elected MP for Yeovil in 2001, and served in this capacity until 2015. From 2012 to 2015 David was Schools Minister and Minister of State in the Cabinet Office.

Dame Sally Coates

Board member and Director of Academies United Learning

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Sally is Director of all United Learning Secondary Academies. She also chaired The Dame Sally Coates’ Review of Prison Education. She joined United Learning in September 2014. Her previous role was as Principal of Burlington Danes Academy, which she turned around from one of the lowest performing to one of the highest performing schools in the country. She was acting as Executive Principal at Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton until July 2012 and Executive Principal of Ark Putney and West London Free School until July 2014. Prior to that, Sally was Head of Sacred Heart School an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ VA school in Camberwell, London Borough of Southwark. Sally chaired The Review of the Teaching Standards and most recently chaired the Skills Test Review. She also served as a member of the Key Stage 2 Test Review Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Bew. Sally was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2013 New Year’s Honours List.

Chris Wright

Board member and CEO of Catch22

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Chris is Chief Executive of Catch22. He leads the team of 1,800 staff and volunteers that in 2015/16 supported 30,000 people in over 100 locations. Chris originally trained as a probation officer and in 1999 established Nottingham’s first multi-agency Youth Offending Team. From there he moved to the Youth Justice Board as Head of Performance where he led on developing and implementing a performance management framework for the Youth Justice System. He joined Rainer, which became Catch22, in 2006. Chris is an advocate for the social enterprise sector playing a key role in the delivery of public services. As a result, Catch22 is known both for its innovative and collaborative approach to justice, education, employability and social care.

James Darley

Board member and CEO of Transformation Trust

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James has been working in Graduate Recruitment for over 20 years and in late 2018 he spotted an opportunity to build on nearly 15 years’ experience with Teach First to help address the wider public service leadership challenge the UK by setting up the charity ‘Transform Society’ an alliance of the five programmes recruiting top talent into the most needed roles in society (Teach First, Frontline, Police Now, Think Ahead and Unlocked). In addition, he supports Teach for All and their partners across the world with marketing, positioning, scale, partnerships and recruitment. James is a founding Trustee of Frontline, Police Now, Think Ahead and Unlocked, and an advisory board member of The Springboard Bursary Foundation. James also supports a number of university employer/career services including Birmingham, York and Leicester.

Robert Farquharson

Board member and Principal at Doughty Hanson

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Having started his career in Commercial Property Finance at Continental Bank and HSBC, Robert recently retired from a role as Head of European Real Estate and member of the Investment Committee at Doughty Hanson. For 12 years before this he was CEO of The Langham Estate. Robert has a longstanding commitment to social mobility, especially in the context of education. He served as Vice Chair of Governors at Cambridge School in Hammersmith, a special educational needs school, which led to him becoming a Founding Governor of Skinners’ Academy in Hackney and subsequently Chair of Governors, providing a critical link between the sponsoring livery company and the school.

Nicola Marfleet

Board Member and Governor, HMP Woodhill

Photo of Nicola Marfleet

Nicola Marfleet has over 20 years of experience of working within the Prison Service. She started out on the frontline as a prison officer in 2000.  Since then, she has worked in a wide variety prisons across the country. Her roles have spanned institutions serving women and young people through to the high security male estates. These have included HMP East Sutton Park, HMP Swaleside, HMP Elmley, HMP Pentonville, and HMP Woodhill, where she currently leads in her role as Governor.

Nicola is passionate about developing potential in teams, growing leaders, and mentoring women in the workplace.  She speaks widely on team dynamics and shifting culture within the workplace, and is a guest lecturer for Leadership College London.

Karan Rai

Board member and Unlocked Ambassador

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Karan is a 2018 Unlocked Graduates Ambassador having spent two-years as a frontline Prison Officer at Her Majesty’s Youth Offender Institute Aylesbury and having worked on a group Policy Paper presented to the Secretary of State for Justice on prison reform.

He is a former Youth Ambassador for the anti-racism and discrimination in football charity Kick It Out, working on various projects for the organisation and advising them on how best to tackle racism and discrimination in football from a youth perspective.

In 2018, Karan was identified as one of twelve ‘Gamechangers’ by Kick It Out, an initiative supported by the UEFA Foundation, Premier League and UCFB aiming to identify and create the future leaders of football, inspiring them to bring positive change to the sport with regards to equality, inclusion and cohesion, and in turn help to address the under-representation of minority groups across the industry.

Karan also has extensive frontline experience of voluntary teaching, having worked on education projects in China, Hungary, Morocco, and Ghana. He is also a volunteer at the Longford Trust, where he is mentoring a former prisoner through their university degree.