Offenders will be given their “tailored” programme on arrival in jail under plans unveiled by the Government.
Ministers are also set to launch a new fast-track training scheme to attract top graduates to work in prisons in an attempt to boost the quality of teaching.
The measures are central to efforts to drive down re-offending rates by improving criminals’ prospects once they are released.
Figures show that 46 per cent of prisoners commit another crime within 12 months of being released, with re offending estimated to cost taxpayers £13 billion a year.
Only one in four offenders enters employment after being freed, while just one in six leave with an education or training placement.
The new proposals are based on the findings of an independent review of prison education, which is being published by the Ministry of Justice on Wednesday.
Its author, former head teacher Dame Sally Coates, said: “Education should be at the heart of the prison system and I am reassured that so many people share my belief in the power of education to unlock potential and transform lives.
“If education is the engine of social mobility, it is also the engineer of prisoner rehabilitation. Prisoners are in prison because they have done wrong.
“But once they have served their time, it is just to them and in the interests of their communities that they have the same decent chance to re-enter society successfully, to reject crime, to find work, to live fulfilling lives.”
The MoJ said it has accepted all of her recommendations in principle. They include:
:: Giving governors complete control of their education budgets and the freedom to tailor a curriculum according to the needs of their prisoners;
:: Creating “tailored personal learning plans” for each inmate on their arrival in prison - allowing governors to be “held to account” for the progress of each offender against their plan;
:: Giving governors more discretion over prisoners’ access to ICT and digital technology to “facilitate learning”, while keeping safeguards in place. Unconfirmed reports have raised the prospect of prisoners being able to use iPads for educational purposes.
:: Introducing a new, stand-alone Ofsted judgment on the standard of education in prisons to shine a spotlight on poor performance, with “tough, remedial action” taken against institutions which fail to immediately improve.
:: Improving the quality of teaching with a new scheme to attract “high-calibre” graduates to work in prisons for an initial two-year period. The MoJ said this aimed to attract “enthusiastic and inspiring professionals to transform prisons into learning environments with education at the heart”.
Hailing the review as “superb”, Justice Secretary Michael Gove said it “makes a compelling case for change”.
He added: “The current standard of education in prisons is not good enough. Quality is patchy, prisoners are not being given the skills and knowledge they need to find jobs and governors are hampered by an overly bureaucratic system.
“The review sets out a comprehensive plan. Prison governors will be given control over their education budgets and will have the freedom to change providers.
“At the same time, we will hold prisons to account for educational outcomes. Through better prison education and rehabilitation, we will reduce re-offending, cut crime and improve public safety.”
Six of Dame Sally’s recommendations require the support of other bodies or Government departments before they can be implemented, while four are aimed at independent inspectorates.
The education plans are one strand of the Government’s wider penal reform programme, which will be at the heart of the Queen’s Speech later.
Kirstie Donnelly, managing director of qualifications body City & Guilds, said: “It’s important to now turn our attention to how we actually implement and resource these recommendations in the real world.
“Four out of five prisons we work with have raised staffing as the main challenge to delivering high-quality education.
“The proposed Teach First-style scheme to train prison officers to teach is a step in the right direction, but won’t overcome the problem of a real shortage of qualified, experienced lecturers and teachers which is facing the Prison Service right now.”