Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Guest Blog 41

I am a TPO who started as part of the big graduate recruitment onto the PQF. I had already been working as a PSO in Probation prior to this for 3 years, and before that worked in programmes in a Prison for 2 years so consider myself to be slightly different to the majority of my TPO colleagues. 

Our experience has been a frustrating and confusing one thus far. Aside from the recruitment process being shambolic with last minute interview dates given, having to wait nine weeks to find out if we were successful, finding out where we would be located two weeks before we were expected to start, I also had the added rigmarole of having to transfer from the CRC to NPS. Cue approximately 50 phone calls to shared services to prompt (and in the end push) them to correct my contract to acknowledge my continuous service and terms and conditions.

Since training has begun, I have to say management in my area have tried their hardest to help make this a positive experience for us. They were completely left out of the recruitment process and were given little to no guidance as to what should be done with us as we embarked upon a 15 month programme to become a qualified probation officer. Training events have been organised giving us sometimes only 48 hours notice that we need to travel a significant distance, they have also been cancelled sometimes on the day(!) via email when we have all already been on our way to the location. Getting cases has been a nightmare as very few of the NPS caseload are suitable for TPOs; I am only lucky with my previous PSO and programme experience that I have been allowed to have more 'meatier' cases than my fellow TPO colleagues.

I am so grateful to be finally training. It is what I wanted to do when I graduated in 2010 and it is what I have had in the back of my mind through my career so far in that I feel I have tried my hardest to get as much relevant experience as possible. I worry for my fellow TPOs. There is a sense of naivety, and with some perhaps a complacent bravado attitude of 'I can handle anything'. There seems to be a reluctance to ask for advice and a desire to push ahead with making decisions without consulting more experienced colleagues. This is all well and good, however training events thus far have focused on theory with little advice as to how to complete the more practice elements of the job, such as assessing risk of serious harm, completing MAPPA referrals, assessing for HDC etc.

Unfortunately the way training was sold on the website highlighted the starting wage of a Probation Officer and some seem to be using this as their main focus to succeed. Well, what 22 year old wouldn't want to be earning near enough £30,000 a year after graduating from University? What some of my fellow TPOs fail to realise is the true demand of the job. Most only have a handful of cases, have yet to work with the most serious of NPS cases and experienced the stress and difficulty involved in this. I have yet to experience this either, but know from my experience thus far not to go in with rose tinted glasses.

They estimate that there are 750 trainee probation officers as a result of this recruitment drive. A meeting with our regional head last week informed us that they were not clear what would happen with all of us when we qualify. When asked if we would get the PO role they have stated we would be 'transitioned' into, the response given was vague and went along the lines of 'you will need to be very flexible with regards to location'. When there are TPOs training across the country, I cannot see how there will be vacancies in other areas if there are no vacancies in the area that we are training in. It's also all well and good saying be flexible, but that isn't so easy with a young family to think about. I fear there will be a number of floating qualified POs kept in PSO posts with attempts to make them hold PO cases. I certainly will not agree to that.

I find myself feeling anxious and uptight every day, having to remind myself why I am training. I love this line of work, I love working with offenders and coaching people to make even the smallest of changes to their lives. But I look around and see stressed and tired colleagues, I read this blog and feel for the experiences of POs and other NPS staff around the country and wonder what I am doing.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post. If anyone has any advice for me (I am expecting a number of leave whilst you still can!), I would be most grateful.


  1. I read your post with mounting dismay at your experience and your grasp of reality of the situation. I qualified in 2002 and my experience was of course totally different. I had four years out of the service from 2011 and live abroad returning to work in a crc ...an alien concept to me if ever there was one ...earlier this year. I hit the ground running with a full caseload and after a few weeks was asked to mentor an nps trainee. I personally felt it was an honour and a privilege to be asked to do so and was aware that other crc colleagues looked at me with a jaundiced eye for doing it - data protection and all that was part of it but i suspect that it was also because of tensions between nps and crc . My advice to you is the same as it was to my mentoree - to hold on to the job for all the reasons you say. They are the right ones. When I was a trainee, an old salt of a probation officer gave me the best advice i had ever heard and it has served me well. 'Always tell it like it is' (for an occasion when i was stuck with what to say in a psr and 'never get out of the lifeboat'. Sometimes you might have to but stick with this job, the dust has not yet settled from all this dreadful upheaval and good probation officers are born not made and the love of the job goes with the territory. Others may dismiss my views but that is their indaba. I am about to start a contract with an nps office and if i am asked to mentor a trainee agavin i will be pleased to do so. So head up, give it your best and every success to you.

  2. Interesting blog. Thanks. As a past Practice Development Assessor I would concur with your observations about the eagerness, bravado or even arrogance of trainee staff. Enthusiasm is positive, ambition is an energy, but over-confidence is dangerous. The culture of the workplace has changed beyond recognition from my days as an apprentice PO. Humility, deference & ever-open ears were the watchwords for new & trainee staff back then - "if you're talking, you're not listening". I currently find the raw aggression & petulant attitudes that come with some new staff, PSO or Trainee, quite disturbing. Even more disturbing is the fact that most of our management groom them, protect them & will not challenge them. Fear? I'm more inclined to think its because they recognise them as kindred spirits.

    Advice? Do what's comfortable for you. Life's too short & unpredictable. Don't get stuck, bitter & sour like me - enjoy everything, including your young family. In doing what I believed to be "the right thing" - abandon the greedy deceitful world of commerce & develop a professional career with meaning & honour - I find I've sacrificed:
    1. my time with my children as they were growing up, (impossible to recover),
    2. a marriage (irrepairably damaged),
    3. my health (work related stress) -

    - and now Grayling, Spurr, et al have taken away my professional career & status, and sold me into commercial slavery.

    But they haven't taken my life, my spirit or my EVR just yet...

  3. It's a depressing time to be a PO at the moment and it seems that only the trainees want the job any more! But it must be a very poor experience for trainees in the current climate where PIs change daily and no one knows what they are doing any more! The 2 young graduates in my office don't seem to have a clue or little interest in finding out . But in their defence they have been treated badly snd just left to muddle through .

  4. Probation Officer30 June 2015 at 18:58

    Remember that it's just a job. Get through the course and then worry about what comes next. The reality is that CRC's will soon be shedding PO staff and the NPS will be finding ways to not employ new PO staff. By the time you quality it'll probably be all target driven business models no matter what side of the fence you're on.

  5. I am mentoring a TPO and their experiences reflect yours. From my point of view the lack of PDAs add mounting pressure on me to cover the basics of the job, which I am acutely aware I have not got the time to give.

  6. Excellent blog, thank you for taking the time to write it.

  7. The simple truth is:
    1.this training has been rushed through as contingency planning under the Business Risk Register (remember that?) to ensure service delivery in any eventuality.
    2. this will provide a pool of staff able to be employed on different contracts meaning staff costs will be driven down ie expensive/experienced POs out cheaper new starters in.
    3. this will provide a mobile staff group given the number of young graduates employed who as young people are today, will become increasingly desperate for work.
    4.the shortfall in training will be met by existing practitioners helping colleagues out as we always have done.
    5. this was the cheapest possible training to plug potential gaps, not actual.
    6. (re) employing POs from CRCs would be more expensive.
    That is just my view and I realise how this may look to TPOs but I do think you will have jobs. The world is moving on and new recruits meet the business model. I wish you all well but most of all I wish you could have trained at a time of integrity.
    A PO

  8. I qualified in 1994 and there were no jobs available then (2 in all of South Wales and 10 newly qualified POs on my course alone - and I walked out of my interview to see one of my TUTORS going in after me). I had to relocate from Wales to Surrey to get work. It got better then it got worse again. Planning a 'career' in the world we now live in is all but impossible. No employers respect your skills and experience any more. They want the cheapest not the best.

  9. " They want the cheapest not the best." - that's exactly what this is about. The quality of TPO's that I have come across lack personal intuition, understanding, experience, insight and most of all values. They are there designed to model the new world of corporate image. No concept of reality and never ever visited areas outside of their own nice cushy middle class bedrooms. If this is the next generation of offender managers i hate to think what the experience of offenders would be like.

  10. To be fair, that is not my experience, we have 2 TPOs and they are great enthusiastic people eager to learn. That sound a pretty good basis to start to me. Good guest blog and the best of luck to you.