Mike Nellis's proposal for a criminology-driven "stand alone" probation diploma is fatally flawed.
The status and quality of university criminology teaching is quite as variable as social work teaching, much of it is of little practical utility to probation officers, its knowledge base is more contested than Nellis suggests and, in some quarters, it is more given to political bias (hence his curious vision of criminology enabling training providers to resist Home Office's plans for a training system it will itself be buying).
There are major overlaps in the skills and knowledge needed for the two jobs. A "stand alone" probation diploma is unlikely to be attractive to potential recruits, likely to demand more not less occupational mobility. Any such diploma must be systematically linked to a larger training system.
It is social work, certainly not criminology, which is most advanced in meeting the demands of theoretically sound but competency-based professional training. This will be a major growth area for higher education, and Nellis's attack on vocational training is especially ironic given that it is made at the very time universities are finalising their responses to the recent Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals circular on higher level General National Vocational Qualifications.
A probation diploma could indeed be offered in a number of vocational departments other than social work. Nevertheless, the creation of a system of exemptions and "top-up" training for staff moving between the two jobs must be a priority, whatever system emerges. Any role for theoretical criminology will be marginal.
Robin J. Harris
Social work division