Friday, 26 June 2015

Guest Blog 40

Grace Under Pressure

Rather than offering a polemical post, here are a few brief jottings that hopefully will engage the wider interest of probation colleagues and other readers who may not be so familiar with this much lauded lecture series on the changing shape and direction of the Probation Service held in memory of Bill McWilliams. Having just attended the above lecture I aim to share with readers of Jims Blog some edited highlights! 

It was a particular delight given the tumultuous events over the last year which have seen the fractious fragmentation of a once unified and public Probation Service, to be able to attend The Eighteenth Annual Bill McWilliams Memorial Lecture - Grace under Pressure :The Role of Courage in the Future of Probation Work which was thoughtfully delivered by Anne Worrall (Professor Emerita of Criminology Keele University) and which was held at the Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge earlier this week on Tuesday 23rd June. The format of this years lecture was enlivened by the inclusion of practitioner/academic interlocutors in the second half of the afternoon in the shape of Morgan O'Flynn (Probation Officer) and LoL Burke (Editor Probation Journal) and proceedings were impeccably facilitated by Professor Mike Nellis.

It was perhaps understandable, given some of the toxic fallout occasioned by threats of mass redundancies, real risks of de-professionalization, technological mishaps and the oft-cited associated farrago of morale sapping foreseeable organisational difficulties which pepper many of the contributions to this Blog from colleagues now working in the NPS/CRC divide as a result of TR, that the lecture started with a coy request that attendees should 'suspend justifiable cynicism' when listening! 

My immediate impulse was no 'tell it like it is', but with wry historical references to earlier premature announcements of the 'death of Probation' (ie SNOP 1984), the media stereotypes of probation presented in the TV Series Hard Cases (1988/89) and the illusive notion of a 'golden age nostalgia' shaped by unfettered professional and organisational autonomy faced critical scholarly scrutiny, but were balanced by snippets from the burgeoning ethnographic literature (including Anne Worrall's co-authored text 'Doing Probation Work - reviewed in the Probation Journal 2014) on how front line practitioners endeavour to 'make sense and order' of endless systemic change, ossified managerialism, privatisation and rancorous political interference. 

Rather a bolder narrative, based on extensive fieldwork and research, offered an account of workers resilience, refashioned occupational identities,optimistic practice and working courageously against the flow of centrally imposed risk-saturated diktat was advanced. (recall these insights are based on recent fieldwork in a fast changing work environment).

It was instructive to note that the newly appointed Justice Secretary Michael Gove was making his first major speech on the same day, although I doubt that even the most cynical would suggest that this was as a spoiler! The adage that framed the title of the lecture was taken from writer Ernest Hemingway's definition of courage 'as grace under pressure (or fire)' and Anne Worrall continually drew on this notion of 'civil courage' as part of the working credo of probation workers seeking to find meaningful spaces in which to undertake 'edgework', that is working at the boundaries of practice to ensure effective engagement with clients in an 'emotionally literate' way in the chaotic landscape of contemporary probation. The focus remained very much at the front line, although the scattering of now 'ungagged' former Chief Officers in the audience did not elicit much in the Q&A session by way of revelatory 'grace under pressure' moments in the lead up to TR! 

There was much mirth at the mention from one practitioner at the distribution in one CRC of 'BIONIC' badges (believe it or not I care!) as part of what appeared a misguided and facile organisational rebranding exercise, although there were some considered contributions about the scope for 'innovative' practice mainly drawn from CRC colleagues. This 'search for excellence' is of course partly offset by the problematic cash/target nexus enshrined in many of the CRC contracts! (contained in sobering outline in a recent NAO interim report on TR).  The vexed and much debated hot topic of the role of the Probation Institute and in particular how its 'code of ethics' could be better integrated into the practice arena, informed the latter part of the lecture and my reference to the cautionary demise of the College of Social Work in the Q&A slot, whilst noted, did not seem to presently unnerve many of its proponents in the audience.

I was struck by Anne Worrall's references to the Stand Up for Social Work Campaign (re launched by Community Care 2015) whose central messages of Taking pride in the great work that you do and talking about it to inspire others, Being honest about the challenges you face, Having the support you need to protect vulnerable people. Clearly demands the need for strong collective voices, making the right noises, shaping as well as responding to the political agenda, taking the public with you, and the need for strong collective voices (user voices did not merit much attention!) and alliances to create public awareness and debate (in/out of Parliament?) 

The imminent demise of the College of Social Work and governmental threats to jail Social Workers who fail to act on allegations of abuse suggest that these voices certainly need to hold fast to 'civil courage'!! There were nodding acknowledgement to what was denoted as the 'great unspoken' in terms of the 'feminisation of probation work' an unbalanced gendered workforce, the choking off of entrants from more diverse backgrounds in the labyrinthine qualifying regime, and the current gender split in CRC/NPS.

The centrality of the professional relationships, the demonstrable benefits of partnership working (IOM's) core values as encapsulated in the Probation Institute, looking outward towards workable organisational models of supervision in Europe, as against some of the macho-correctional cross-overs from the US, were also canvassed in the broad sweep of the lecture with the ever recurrent theme of civil courage undaunted by organisational changes but evincing a bold embrace of proven and valued driven evidence led practice, left the audience with many ponderables to take away. 

The full text of Anne Worrall's lecture will appear later in the year (Howard League Journal?) and the enduring worth and success of the Bill McWilliams Lecture (now surviving without former financial corporate support from the PCA/PBA) and whose continuing viability will it seems rely on the wider support of all those with an indelible commitment to the best of what probation has to offer. I later had the bibulous pleasure of informally meeting up with some of Bill McWilliams family in one of the popular hostelries overlooking the River Cam before catching the train to London with my estimable colleague Chris H. As a fitting tribute to Bill McWilliams legacy to probation, for those new to his life and work, I append this excerpt from the invitation to the lecture:-

Bill McWilliams, who died in 1997, had a prestigious career as a probation practitioner, researcher and writer. His quartet of articles on the probation service’s development up to the point at which the “punishment in the community” debate began, is now widely regarded as its definitive history of ideas. He was a staunch advocate of the need for rigorous evaluation of probation practice – but an equally staunch critic of the excesses of the management ideal. He had an independence of mind – irritating to more timid souls – that won him friends across the spectrum of political opinion in the Service. There are many who would say – as W.H. Auden said of George Orwell – “how I wish he were still alive, so that I could read his comments on contemporary events”.

Mike Guilfoyle


  1. Would Mr McWilliams not be spinning at the idea that stalwart probation staff don't receive an invite to the lectures in his name, but ex-chiefs who colluded with the dismantling by Grayling et al were in evidence, no doubt imbibing & cheerily exchanging anecdotes about fat pay-offs, houses in France & which consultancy agencies they're involved in.

    1. Hemingway ended up shooting himself, so he wasn't a living example, perhaps, of grace under pressure. Whether grace or edgework, what seems implicit here is that as you are unlikely to get job satisfaction 'without', in the chaotic world of contemporary probation, look for it 'within' by ignoring all the slings and arrows – and just getting on with the job as conscientiously as you can. It may not be quite management speak, but 'grace under pressure', etc., is a kind of academic-speak, probation institute speak, that will have trouble finding traction and validity in fragmented probation. It is true that there was no golden age, but previous epochs bear no comparison with the Apocalypse Now! of TR. Grace under pressure comes from an epistle to the defeated. It's message is you cannot change the structures of the TR world, so adapt to them. It takes political action to change things, but that, of course, is not part of the academic or PI remit and such talk anyhow would have had those sybaritic ex-chief officers in the audience in paroxysms.

    2. Good points well made NetNipper.

  2. Thanks to Mike Guilfoyle and Jim Brown for bringing us that. I do not recall knowingly meeting McWilliams but do know the names of several who spoke very warmly about him.

    I suspect the Chris H, Guilfoyle references is a former London SPO with whom I remember speaking in the course of 'the job' in the early 1990s when together we reflected on the significance of the ending of the probation order as a non sentence adjudication, in the manner of a 'bind over' that required a probationers consent to be imposed - hence making it explicit that supervisees were indeed fully CLIENTS.

    I still think that was the major turning point in taking the whole leadership & management of probation away from the mediaevally established Justices of the Peace, who somehow had (even if not understood or recognised) an intrinsic duty to care for the continuance of functioning good social order within primarily the locality to where they were appointed.

    I am digressing even for me!

    However I note that the PDF document prepared for this lecture gives a handy reference to all past lectures and so maybe useful for those curious to understand more about the background which seems to me to capture the true spirit of the growth and continuance of the notion of probation as I surmise that Boston bootmaker first envisaged it in the 1870s.

  3. Completely off topic but I have some questions: Is/was probation in Scotland a different entity to probation in England? Did Scottish probation undergo TR or was it just English probation? If someone wanted to transfer from probation in Scotland to probation in England for a job is this doable and how long should it take? Anyone who can provide any insight, it would be much appreciated.


    1. There never was a Probation Service as such in Scotland, these services being provided by specialist CJ Social Workers under Local Authority control. I understand that things are due to change though.

    2. A response to Anon 09:27

      The whole Criminal Justice System in Scotland, operates from Scottish only laws, which are now devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I presume that at some point the Supreme Court of the UK (replacing the House of Lords as the (European apart) court of last resort) comes into play.

      After the Seebohm report into Social Services in 1968, Scotland organised Social Work including probation services differently to England and Wales and probation work was incorporated into the work of Social Work Departments. I do not know for sure what qualifications are accepted within the probation sections of the Public Social Work agencies in Scotland, though am certain CQSWs & DipSWs are acceptable whereas I cannot say about DipPS or the Probation Graduate Diploma

      The situation in Northern Ireland is different again where Probation operates under a national Board. There are also separate Probation Service Departments in each of Guernsey (including the other Islands in the Bailiwick) and Jersey and the Isle of Man & I believe that similar to Northern Ireland (but unlike England & Wales) still have the Probation Order as an alternative to a sentence requiring the consent of supervisees (I may very well be wrong in some details).

      I suggest pursuing enquiries via: -

      There is also qualification info here: -

    3. I can't speak for what is happening now regarding transfer of PO's to England from Scotland , where they still come under the umbrella of Social Services and are called 'Social Workers (Criminal Justice'), but in the past, Probation Officers in England or Wales could transfer to Scotland, but not the other way round. SW's- Criminal Justice had to retrain, doing the full 2 year CQSW, or DIPSW. That of course was the same between those Services in this country, where a PO with one of those qualifications could become a SW here, and indeed, many newly qualified people who were not accepted by the Probation Service, were almost always accepted by Social Services in Child Protection, (given the constant movement and shortages of SW's in that field) but someone who trained as a SW, could not become a PO.

      And no, TR has not contaminated Scotland, just England and Wales, given that the Service we knew and loved, was the National Probation Service for England and Wales. But I don't know if the Scottish qualifications would now enable people to work in England, given that there is now a downgrading of qualifications, particularly in CRC's. (to our Scottish neighbours, I am not downgrading your qualifications, just saying that there is no longer one statutory qualification in England,and in fact, as SW's here can now move into Probation, likewise, as specialist CJ SW's, you will be well qualified to move here)

      Good luck if you are planning a move.

    4. Response to JB's post 09:47

      I had not read JB's succinct response b4 I posted - it makes my post above superfluous and I invite deletion of that post and this.

      However, it maybe worth adding that there is also an Irish Probation service - still operating from the 1907 Probation of Offenders Act, but as with Scotland reforms are also underway.

      Additionally in the past up to at least 1990s & possibly still today, there are other places that employ folk either called probation officers or broadly doing that work, in parts of the world formally administered under arrangements that originally developed in the UK Parliament.

      Including the UK Ministry of Justice, Malta, Australia and New Zealand and maybe Canada - so a UK obtained probation practice qualification may well aid employment in many places without additional primary professional training.

      After thought

      - I have known South African trained POs come to UK so it maybe possible to go the other way as well and possibly some other places in Africa.

    5. RESPONSE TO ANON at 10:17

      who writes " but someone who trained as a SW, could not become a PO."

      I may not be understanding properly but to my certain knowledge in England folk holding either a UK awarded CQSW or DipSW have always been accepted directly as probation officers without needing to undertake further professional qualification - though sometimes initial in-service top up training was provided.

      Sadly since the Michael Howard as Home secretary Ordered end of Home Office sponsorship of DipSW trainees from about 1995 - the replacement pre entry academic Probation Training introduced by Jack Straw as Home Secretary, has not been acceptable for Local Authority Social Workers throughout the UK because that is how the Labour Party Government and successive Governments decided things should be, though bizarrely they did not prohibit DipSW trained people working as probation officers.

    6. "Including the UK Ministry of Justice, Malta, Australia and New Zealand and maybe Canada - so a UK obtained probation practice qualification may well aid employment in many places without additional primary professional training."

      And Hong Kong I do believe - an interesting post Colonial anomaly.

    7. Responding to JB at 11.39

      Whoops - I meant to write Ministry of Defence - not MOJ which I took for granted - though I think the MOD tiny Probation Service in Germany may now have been replaced [I don't think it was actually called probation service but it was in the old Napo directory] Eons ago, I had some contact but have forgotten the circumstance.

      I had forgotten Hong Kong - it is especially interesting as HK is NOW governed by China

      Yes - Hong Kong - Services for Offenders as part of Social Welfare Department - underpinned by ... Social Work!

    8. Po's used to be able to work in the Seychelles and Jamaica as well , unsure if the quals still stand . Not sure why anyone in Scotland would want to move to the UK service, it seems a far better idea to move to Scotland.


  4. Apologies for going off topic but an interesting article here:

  5. I have spoken recently with several people (all substance misusers) that have recently been released from short custodial sentences. All are currently on the streets, and it seems that the normal avenues of being able to get short term or emergency accommodation is drying up and becoming much more difficult obtain. So much for through the gate!
    I know many agencies have had their funding cut, or even stopped, but I also get the feeling that some agencies no longer want to, or at least feel uncomfortable engaging with probation services.
    Earlier this week someone posted on this blog that they had difficulties engaging with shelter and finding a client a placement. I've heard several tales of late where people have found placements with agencies from other avenues where those same agencies were unable to help prior to release, or through negotiation with probation.
    This seems strange to me, and wonder why relationships between certain agencies and probation don't seem as harmonious as they used to be?
    Is there any identifiable reason? Or is it just the sign of the times?


    1. reply to Andrew -1017. I qualified in 1994, with a DIPSW from Durham Uni. The course (which also included an MA qual) catered for both SW trainees and Probation trainees. Probation trainees did additional studies in Criminal Justice, with 3 month and 6 month placements in Probation offices. As result, we qualified as both PO's AND SWs, but SWs were only SW qualified. And employment was not guaranteed; we all had to be interviewed and not all were appointed. But they usually were appointed with Social Services after application and interview. That happened to several of my fellow students.

      I think it was 1998 when this changed, when they introduced the probation degree, and were accepted as trainee Probation Officers from day one, while they studied for higher qualifications.

      Somewhere along the line, SWs were allowed to apply for Probation jobs, though I cannot remember when and how. Was it after we became Trusts? I was too busy trying to survive with my own responsibilities, more complex IT systems and unrealistic targets, even then!

      Ironically, PO's with DIPSWs and CQSW quals, could later only apply for SW jobs if they registered with the SW council, or whatever it was called, at a reasonable cost with friendly staff, until it was taken over by some sharp soul less organisation, around 2011,which charged us a fortune!

      If my memory has played tricks, please correct me Andrew.

    2. I think Anon at 19:26 is right - in some respects as am I and we are also both wrong in some respects.

      In 1994 I was working in Inner London with at least one colleague who had then been in Pbn 2 or 3 years who definitely held a CQSW having trained to be exclusively a social worker and had first worked for a London Borough Social Services Dept. but was welcomed into Probation - ILPS was usually carrying vacancies & recruited almost anyone qualified - they had me after all - only 9 months after I resigned from Essex Probation, when I then decided that my 8 months in Social Services, even on a Senior's pay was enough - I got being a social worker out of my system after just a short locum contract!

      Previous to working in Essex from 1982 - I worked in Merseyside - where at times there was a surfeit of newly qualified Home Office sponsored probation trainees & CQSW holders, so in that era with that Pbn employer it was unlikely that ex Social workers would have been hired if probation trained CQSW holders were available.

      There is more that can be said about this but I think the issue is that different Probation Service's and different Local Authorities had different recruitment policies at different times.

      I know one of the grouses of my Principal Probation Officer, in Liverpool in 1975 was that "they" committed a lot of resources to first year officers, who once they were confirmed and had a bit of experience soon after often went to more attractive areas to work that did not have the sort of inner city pressures that places like Liverpool, Manchester, London, Birmingham, Newcastle & one or two others experienced. As I had only moved to Liverpool to train, he was hinting I was one of those - I stayed 7 years before moving to Essex entirely for family reasons.

      Those areas I mentioned all had higher pay awards due to staff shortages after Nalgo Social Workers, were involved in protracted Industrial Action before, during and after the so called - winter of discontent 78/79, before Thatcher's Conservatives won the General Election in 1979 - the only time I ever got an above inflation pay rise.

      So I suspect the reason I usually had colleague SW trained POs was that I almost always worked in places that found it hard to recruit for a variety of reasons (including Essex - where people in the same general area were getting the outer London extra allowance in pay).

      Probably, at least until the CRC desired redundancies are worked through, it is likely to be possible for newly qualified probation officers to get work in most CRCs or NPS areas now and any Social Services Department - possibly even for DipPS & ProbGrad holders - though NOT as social workers empowered to do childcare supervision or take 'place of safety orders' (whatever they are called now - additionally there has long been the need for an extra Approved SW qualification to authorise Mental Health detention orders - {when I trained in 73/74 unqualified Mental Welfare Officers were doing that})

      I STILL thing we in Napo were very wrong to agree to the separate DIpPS, especially that left qualifiers ineligible to work in an SSD and also wrong that those CQSW & DipSW holders working in Probation should not have been supported by their Pbn employers & required to register under the GSC when that was introduced in 2001.