Thursday, 19 May 2016

Latest From Probation Institute

I notice Paul Senior, Chair of the Probation Institute, has today published the following blog post:- 

Time to get involved

I gave a lecture last week in which I talked of the ‘the politics of ignorance and despair undermining the Probation Institute and (I hinted) it could go out of business’. In the recent publication of the British Journal of Community Justice (14.1) Professor Emerita Anne Worrall posed a similar question: ‘Standing back and ‘seeing how it goes’ will result in the PI failing. The danger is that too many people will only realize that it might have been worth getting involved when it is too late to do so’ (Worrall, 2016)

New organisations which survive change rapidly at the outset and seek to listen to its constituency to do so. The PI has now completed its set up phase over a two year period, has listened, has developed and changed and in April launched its Business Plan for 2016-17 (see ). This represents a restatement of what we have achieved in those first two difficult years but crucially represents a reassessment of who we are, what we do and how we will do it. Unfortunately amongst some commentators there remains a residual resentment of issues which have an history or at least a mythology but one in which we feel we have moved on. This blog is the last time we seek to address some of these concerns.

Firstly a clear statement in the Plan is the rejection of the idea of corporate membership. It was not the right way to go and so we have moved to a concept of partnership. Yet even this has been criticised. Partnership is a concept which allows all partners to pursue their own agendas as we do ours. It does not imply agreement on all issues. In fact given the volatility of the field of probation at the moment this would be unlikely. Yet it must be right to have a relationship with the organisations and bodies which we can hope to influence over the future of the profession of probation. So we will work with NOMS, MoJ, NPS, CRCs, No Offence, Magistrates Association, Napo, Unison, UserVoice, Unlock, the HMI Inspectorate and maybe even the Howard League in order to get our message across. Recently we ran a Consultation event on the new probation officer training and helped ensure that there is one award for the NPS and CRC to avoid accusations of second class citizenship for those within CRCs. The PO qualification remains at the heart of our register, somehow misconstrued by some intent on causing mischief. But, we want to ensure that other qualifications get due recognition both at a beginning level for other grades but also to work towards our aspiration to encourage advanced practice, a clear marker of a vibrant professional presence.

We have listed what we have been doing over the first two years in the Plan and, given the size of the organisation, we have achieved a great deal. All the infrastructure is in place and we are now focusing on developing key messages, see our Position Papers. (see ) There are more in the pipeline and we are now developing our professional networks. You can join a single network without being a member so if you have a specialist interest please sign up for one of our existing networks – Women in Justice, Veterans, Electronic Monitoring, Professional Development, – or suggest new ones. We want to hear your voice.

The PI grew out of an initiative from the PCA, Napo, Unison and PA. The financial support that PCA supplied was significant in enabling us to develop the infrastructure. But we now have a diverse Board and a Representative Council which reflects much wider interests including higher education, practitioners, union links and voluntary organisations. Our executive membership is evolving along with the organisation, there is only so long that we can be held accountable for that past. Voluntary effort is at the heart of how we function, you want us to do other things then get involved!

This must include our vibrant and diverse group of Fellows. Of course, it includes managers who have a long track record in probation and we are glad that some have applied but the grouping is much wider than that including practitioners, trainers and key probation academics and the voluntary sector. It is not a closed shop and anyone can apply. Some Fellows are working hard to support the PI and we are grateful for such help.

We are acutely aware that our membership numbers have been affected by the plight of staff who are demoralised or worse have been forced to leave probation behind. There is a real personal tragedy in the events of the last two years and we all know it could have been avoided. Nevertheless we have to look forward and try and ensure that the high quality and evidence-based standards of the recent past are maintained despite the cutbacks, the redundancies, the re-modelling, the deprofessionalization and the negativism which abounds. You will see in our Plan we have set out a positive agenda and want everyone who cares about the profession to resist and persist in maintaining commitment to a positive future, however dark it might feel right now.

One key aspect is our desire to create and develop a Centre of Excellence. Our Research Committee is working on this and we have appointed a high-profile Academic Advisory Panel to support this work. We have inherited the Graham Smith Awards which showcase practitioner research and the next round will be announced soon. Our first annual practitioner conference is on June 8th, in conjunction with No Offence and at Sheffield Hallam University. It has a terrific line-up already nearing capacity attendance. Book your place before it’s too late.

If we don’t heed the warnings of fellow travellers like Anne Worrall we will derail the one organisation whose single-minded agenda seeks to maintain the professionalism of probation and community rehabilitation organisations and the profession itself. Shout at us, debate with us, challenge us but do so in a shared spirit of seeking to provide a way forward, not simply to snipe at long gone issues, part myth, part fantasy. This does not help the Institute going forward, read our Business Plan, see what we are actually doing, join if you wish and get involved.

Paul Senior


Can I please urge people to read the full PI Business Plan before leaping to comment, but at the very least it might be helpful if I quote the following:-

2 Background

The Probation Institute was set up in 2014 on the initiative of its founding organisations: NAPO, Unison, the Probation Chiefs’ Association and the Probation Association. A Steering Group including representatives of these four organisations had been set up the previous year. 

The rationale for the creation of the Institute was the lack of an independent body that represented the profession as a whole. This contrasts with other professions such as in medicine, nursing, teaching and social work. The lack of a coherent continuing professional development (CPD) structure and code of ethics were two manifestations of the absence of a recognised professional body. 

This rationale was strengthened by the government’s “Transforming Rehabilitation” reforms which have created a mixed market of Probation and criminal justice providers. Community Rehabilitation Companies are in private ownership and have supply chains that include both private and third sector providers. The National Probation Service comprises about 30% of the sector and remains in public ownership whilst commissioning services from private and third sector providers. This diversity of provision strengthens the case for a professional body spanning the whole sector. Such a body has benefits for all parties and provides underpinning for the system. 

The setting up of the Institute was resourced by donations from the Probation Chiefs’ Association and the Probation Association together with a grant from the Ministry of Justice. The latter followed submission of a business case to the MoJ and meetings between Steering Group members and the Minister for Prisons and Probation, Jeremy Wright. The minister was adamant that the funding was to assist in the setting up of the Probation Institute which needed both to be seen and be independent. 

The aspirations set out in that business case were as follows: 
  • Providing professional leadership, enhancing the professional status of the sector 
  • Publishing a code of ethics which provides an underpinning for the development of practice 
  • Being a centre of excellence which provides an independent view of what constitutes good practice 
  • Contributing to the setting of competence levels with the profession Providing a professional register that records levels of qualification and continuing professional development 
  • Enabling providers to demonstrate that they adhere to common standards of practice with a firm evidence base. 
It was unclear at the time that the Steering Group was setting out their aspirations and composing the business case to MoJ, how the TR reforms would play out in practice. The reality, perhaps inevitably given the accelerated timetable for implementing the programme, has been complex and, one year after the sale of the 21 CRCs to their new owners, the system remains very much in a transitional stage. 

Lack of certainty about work volumes with consequent volatility of funding streams has been a complicating factor for CRCs and their supply chains. At the same time the National Probation Service is undergoing significant structural reform under the “E3” programme. 

This uncertainty and volatility has had a clear impact on some of the early planning assumptions made by the Steering Group. 
  • Recruitment and retention of members has been much more of a challenge than anticipated. Reduction in staffing numbers, changes in roles and the sheer pace of change in the day to day roles have not created the ideal climate to focus on longer term aspirations about professional development and recognition, critically important though these remain to the future of probation. 
  • Achieving sufficient visibility and getting the Institute’s voice heard amongst the noise in the system has been hard. 
  • Whilst the Institute has established good working relationships with most of the new providers, it became clear that the concept of “corporate membership” was not one that was likely to be viable and has been replaced with a focus on partnerships.


  1. Probation Officer19 May 2016 at 17:18

    Yes but just two days ago the PI made a statement about the "prison reform" bill and "forgot" to mention probation. If the PI has 'changed direction" then it should start by denouncing TR, E3 and current CRC "practices" which are decimating what's left of probation. It also needs to decide whether it is representing probation officers and practice, which could begin with a call for a regulatory body to uphold the PO qualification, role boundaries and professional standards. If the PI really wants to be the "voice of probation" then it should be clear that this is to be its starting point.

  2. I don't know what the referred to mythologies are. I think the main concern about the PI is its identity. The rejection of corporate membership in favour of partnership does not clarify identity. It's novel to me that the concept of partnership means partners pursuing their own agendas. I thought it meant the opposite: working together to achieve a shared purpose.

    What harmed the integrity of the PI at its inception was taking money from the MoJ. This was a Tory investment in PR, not PI, as hardly a day went by when Grayling et al were not lauding the creation of the PI as evidence of Tory commitment to good practice – just like the £46-pound-in-your-pocket was supposed evidence of Tory compassion to do more for those released unsupervised. This is history and I am afraid in probation we know that the best predictor of future behaviour is...

  3. PI is a zombie organisation slumping along while CRC takes the remains of probation and knackers it up for profit.

  4. Did I miss the Napo Officers & NEC consulting with all memebers before becoming one of the founding organisations - or am I perpetuating a myth by asking the question?

    1. Think AGM voted on it in about 2012

    2. The Probation Trusts did not know they were to be wound up until 2013 and they seemed to be the driving body behind the establishment of the PI along with the financial support of the MOJ, but I could be wrong on the detail of who suggested it first.

      I am not aware that ordinary Napo Members knew that discussions were being held about the possibility of forming a new probation professional association, in spite of Napo itself being a professional association and TU and having a national professional committee.


    4. One would have assumed Napo would have been in charge of the creation and development from this. Why were the PCA allowed to run away with it when we had had enough of Probation Chiefs dictating to us. If probation training and development consortiums were in charge rather than senior management and the PCA it may have been different.

  5. Harry Fletcher
    #Probationselloff National Service- 1,000 vacancies/ temp staff,CRCS up to 2,000 less staff than 2 years ago.Unsustainable MPS need to Know!

  6. Blah blah blah the PI will never e the support of those of us who fought long and hard against TR which resulted in us Frontline practioners being left hung out to dry

  7. "The setting up of the Institute was resourced by donations from the Probation Chiefs’ Association and the Probation Association together with a grant from the Ministry of Justice."

    .... And it's been downhill from there. A questionable set up because we're in this mess because the Probation Chiefs’ Association and the Probation Association allowed and helped the Ministry of Justice to break up the Probation Service in the first place. The PI has since shown its true colours by making fellows of its Probation Chief buddies, it endorses Tory deprofessionalisation of probation roles and practice with its silence, and it turns a blind eye to the perverse models of private probation companies in the hope of securing funding and revenue with them. These are not myths and are part of the reason why there has been negative comments here, there and everywhere. No probation officer in their right mind would join the PI.

    I like the idea of a probation institute but not this set up and management. I don't recall a Napo consultation either.

  8. People need to believe in an organisation to join it. Following TR most people are having difficulty believing in the organizations they now work in, but have been left with little choice.

  9. Just look at the blog post from Prof Senior. He starts by calling legitimate criticism a myth, moves on to rigidly tell us there will be no changes and ends by giving us an ultimatum that it we don't join it is at our peril. This condeming, blaming and denial is not very encouraging.

  10. My only reason for not joining the PI remains that a manager with no probation qualification but a master's in business is recognised at a higher level than PSOs and POs. I feel that this undermines my professional qualifications and experience and it's not what I want from a professional association. I don't know of any other professional association that would do this. To me it's a real shame because the PI would otherwise have a lot to offer and I believe they are focused on doing their best and if more of us joined it could be amazing but I just can't join with the membership structure the way it is.

    1. This I find shocking too. A Working Links manager with an MSc in Business and one days experience working in a probation office is ranked above a qualified probation officer with 10 years experience. Ive never heard of a professional institute that ranks the non-professionals above the professionals!

    2. It's a genuine concern and it worry me that the PI don't recognise this by saying (above): 'The PO qualification remains at the heart of our register, somehow misconstrued by some intent on causing mischief'

  11. Poor PI, a concept that Probation staff would have supported as the idea was to develop the professions integrity but regrettably it is tarnished with the TR brush (rightly or wrongly) and in consequence it will take years to recover it's legitimacy with Probation staff particularly those who practiced pre TR. An invidious position. Don't quite know what the answer is to this dilemma?

    1. Its not a dilemma, just badly run and has its priorities all wrong. This was expected because of those who run it, they're after money and status. It's had many opportunities to go back to the drawing board but didn't listen to the frontline. Too late now it has no reputation or legitimacy.

      Probation Institute = Epic fail.

  12. The PI has failed because the Probation Chiefs Association and Probation Association tried to develop it as a business rather than a professional association to benefit probation practitioners. They put the head of the PCA in charge as it was closing even though the PCA and Probation Chiefs could barely run probation properly and hardly defended good practice. They were never our choice to run the PI and the unions were wrong to ratify this on our behalf. So you see the Probation Institute under the PCA and PA was never positioned to be a "centre of excellence" for probation and never will.

  13. The PI has already failed its aspirations by not speaking out about TR.

  14. The probation service got through its first hundred years without a PI, but we are now advised that if we don't all support it, we may realise our folly when it's too late.

    I am not sure whether we should view the PI as a flagship or a lifeboat. The suggestion that time may be running out for the PI if it cannot build and sustain its membership suggests it's more of a lifeboat – or perhaps even a Noah's Ark that will preserve probation's values and standards, so that they won't be lost to future generations.

    It seems to me that there would be no PI but for TR – because it's TR that threatens probation as a profession. The PI obtained £90k from the government on condition that it needed both to be seen and be independent. On the face of it being independent seems a good thing, but on the other hand it can also mean not taking any sides in any situations, not being biased towards one set of arguments against another set, not being in favour of a publicly funded probation service or against privateers reaping profits. Guest Blog 54 quoted Paul Senior's endorsement of the importance of taking sides: 'I hate the indifferent. I believe that living means taking sides...' However, in Guest Blog 55 one of its fellows (after telling us he ain't no Marxist) tells us that it does not matter to him whether the cat is black or white (read public or private) as long as it catches mice.

    I don't see the PI as being an independent voice that will safeguard probation because that would involve taking sides and upsetting some of its partners. It has to pretend to see moral equivalence between public and private, because to favour either would show bias and that would not be showing independence, would it?

    I don't see the PI as independent in the best sense of having the courage of convictions, taking sides and telling it as it is. It's enslaved by its very diversity to steer clear of any controversy, to seek out the lowest common demoninator and therefore it implicitly condones the free-for-all that probation has become.

    1. Well said netnipper. I cant stick the PI in principle but i'm starting think that if we allow it to go under we could come to regret it.

  15. The PI is now a thorn in the side of probation. It mixes between ignoring and endorsing all that is bringing probation to its end. It is better for probation that the PI folds, and the PI and its supporters have reached a new low by threats that we will regret not supporting it. When the current PI is out of the way there will be scope for a practitioner led PI to be set up.