Being responsive

This is my second blog in a series reflecting on my new role as chair of the Probation Institute. I have now been in this role for around three busy months at a time when the PI is beginning to deliver and promote its agenda to support the needs of the probation profession in all its plurality. Recently on the excellent blog ‘on probation’ a series of, at times, challenging points made by probation staff about the PI were aired. This blog will also seek to respond to some of the points made there.
Starting a new organisation with minimal financial backing in a time of austerity and massive disruption to the profession it is seeking to serve was never going to be easy. Though the concept of the Institute had been around for many years, it had failed to gain sufficient traction to get off the ground. But even as the worst excesses of transforming rehabilitation were being rolled out, the importance of such an organisation became apparent to many and the steering group composed of representatives of PA, NAPO, PCA and Unison brought the PI into existence. A stubborn and important action as no one else was doing this! It has taken time, no doubt too much time according to the blog posts, to build the agenda. It has been bedevilled by a number of understandable but in my view surmountable concerns. The blog posts identified three recurring problems – links to the MoJ and CRCs, demands on membership and not fulfilling a campaigning role. 

By its very nature the PI must work in partnership with all the constituent groups, though no Board member pretends this is easy or without conflict. We remain committed to keeping our doors open to the MoJ, NOMS, NPS, CRCs and the voluntary sector. After all, these are significant employers and policy makers for probation staff and any institute has to understand that context so it can offer services to all its constituent groups. But our concept of partnership goes much wider than this and we are establishing meaningful relationships with a wide variety of organisations, including service user organisations, to ensure our work is understood, our purposes explored and out of this networks can grow. We are in no one’s pocket other than our members. I stated this in my first blog and do not intend to dwell on this further. There are no corporate memberships as questioned in one post just working partnerships. But instead of creating false battlegrounds we need to turn the discussion around about how we can more effectively do the job we set out to do. 

We are accused of being silent and it is true that the PI has been busy establishing the key elements of its business and during this time communication may not have been as good as it could be. But that is not the same as doing nothing. As individuals we would comment on TR and readers will know my own contributions. But the PI’s prime agenda is the profession of probation and by definition we must have a forward looking agenda and engage with what is happening now. We are now in a much more robust position in our key areas – registration, professional frameworks, networks and as a centre for excellence. One critical blog post suggested: 

‘I agree probation needs a professional body, a format for registering qualifications and professional development, a credible place for identifying and accessing research and training, and a probation focused authority to speak on behalf of probation practice. Sadly the PI in its current form is not it, and has tried to be too broad and therefore too vague.’

I cannot agree. Our journey on all these issues has made notable progress. We have pioneered a registry, against almost universal opposition, because we believe it offers an essential marker for the profession. It has not been easy to maintain this commitment and as yet it is right to point out we have not achieved a ‘proper register of licensed practitioners’. But that is the longer term goal and the infrastructure created is ready for this task. The more members take up their place in the registry, the more it becomes the default place for licensing. The challenge here is not the registry itself but the need for members to respond to its existence. We have the infrastructure, you have the bodies. 

In two weeks time we launch our Professional Development Framework. The result of intensive work by a small working group backed by a larger reference group. This is a major piece of work which offers a one-stop-shop to professional and career development in a world where a plurality of providers makes career patterns uncertain and difficult to chart. 
The Framework is intended to be:

Inclusive: enabling all workers in the probation, rehabilitation and community justice field to map their career progression

Integrative: bringing together all related frameworks such as the NOMS Community Justice Learning for probation officers into the framework, or restorative justice standards for instance; 

Adaptive: have the flexibility to adapt its core standards to partners training and developmental needs for all groups working in this field; 

Aspirational: promoting a renewed focus on post qualifying development, an area neglected in recent years. We want to create a professional identity which sees lifelong learning as a right.  
This Framework is ambitious but deliberately so as we seek to create an environment where professional growth and development cannot be ignored but is at the heart of good practice in every probation and community justice agency. 

The PI has sought to engage all its members, employers and many wider groups associated with the world of probation and community justice in networks of practice and development. David Raho with many others significant in this field has spearheaded work in the difficult area of electronic monitoring and a final report is due shortly. Over the forthcoming months and years this will become a thriving part of the PI as more networks emerge and we deliver policy documents on a wide variety of practice areas. We want this to be done with members and genuinely reflect our joint aspirations for high quality practice. 

Such outcome reports will enable the PI to speak with authority on practice matters. It is not up to the administration within the PI to determine that policy but to create the environment in which networks can flourish and outcomes are as considered as the work of the EM network will prove. New networks on ‘Women and Justice’ and on ‘Restorative Justice’ are just emerging. Please get involved in this vital work. 

Our fourth area, some of which will spring from the professional networks discussed above is the crucial area of creating a centre of excellence. One blog post said the PI ‘enjoys more traction with academics than practitioners’. I reject this as a false dichotomy. If the PI is to do its job its membership must come from all sections of the probation and community justice world. That includes the many friends that probation has in academia who have supported probation, as I have, in its struggles and campaigns, whilst producing research which demonstrates how practice can and does work. But we must go wider than that and recognise that the profession has management amongst its numbers. There has been a criticism of those who have applied and become Fellows, yet they collectively represent from practice, management and research the great traditions of probation to which we must surely aspire. My challenge to practitioners is why not apply for fellowship and join that journey for excellence. We have a committee set up to pursue this agenda and we are talking to everyone who will listen, explaining that we can provide that repository of knowledge. The speed of this depends on engagement and ultimately on funds. 

We have no secret access to funding. We ask for your support as members because we need your support as individuals to grow this agenda. If we had the resources to offer reduced memberships we would do so. But there is a challenge here to those who stand on the sidelines and criticise our drive to recruit new members. I believe strongly in my own professional development and I will pay for it to achieve personal growth and change. We have kept membership fees at a level well below that of comparable organisations. We are better with you in and being active. Click on the website now and join. 

Most of the work of the PI is done by people volunteering to get involved. I have pursued professional excellence and aspirations throughout my career through Napo, through writing, through the social work council, through supporting training and development and through research. My name was mentioned in the blogs a few times with one comment saying this: ‘I respect the likes of Paul Senior and Sue Hall but they’re not doing enough if they want it to work’. I have offered to come to areas and talk about the Institute and some have taken up that offer but the offer remains on the table. This is not paid work for either of us. We are pushing as hard as we can; if you respect our contributions, please take some of the load and get involved. We do not have the monopoly on what is the right way forward but we will continue to try and not get locked into self-defeating arguments. No one knows more than I do the crushing way in which these reforms have affected probation staff and I have spoken and written on these issues many times. The Institute wants a secure profession across all agencies undertaking probation work, wherever that work is taking place. Don’t we all? Please join us in this endeavour. 

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