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Probation officer: Entry requirements

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In order to qualify as a probation officer, you need to successfully complete probation officer training via the Professional Qualification in Probation.

In order to apply, you need:

  • relevant experience of working with challenging behaviour;
  • a QCF Level 5 qualification or above (for example, an honours degree, foundation degree/diploma of higher education (DipHE) or vocational qualification or higher apprenticeship level 5);
  • four knowledge modules at Level 5 in the community justice system, crime and criminal behaviour, penal policy, and the rehabilitation of offenders.

If your degree does not cover the four knowledge modules needed to apply for probation training, you will have the opportunity to undertake the required modules by distance learning prior to application.

Experience of working with challenging behaviour is essential. The quality of the experience is more important than the quantity and can be gained through either paid or voluntary work in a range of settings, including:

  • approved premises;
  • prison visiting services;
  • victim support services;
  • youth offending teams;
  • community payback teams;
  • outside of the community justice system.

Existing probation officers with a nationally recognised probation officer qualification such as the PQF Graduate Diploma or Community Justice Degree integrated with a Level 5 Diploma in Probation Practice, Diploma in Probation Practice, Diploma in Social Work (Probation Option) or CQSW (Probation Option) are eligible to apply for probation officer posts.

Entry-level probation service officer (PSO) posts are advertised locally by the 21 private sector community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS) Divisions. PSOs work with lower-risk offenders and train towards a relevant Level 3 qualification, such as the Diploma in Probation Practice, which also provides access to a Level 5 qualification, which in turn provides eligibility to apply for the Professional Qualification in Probation.

For more information, see Skills for Justice: Community Justice Learning . Recruitment information is available on Train to be a Probation Officer .

In Scotland, probation officers are known as criminal justice social workers. Entry is via a four-year honours degree in social work approved by the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) . A two-year postgraduate scheme is available for entrants who already possess a degree in another subject. Candidates should have some experience in social work or care.

If you want to work as a probation officer in Northern Ireland, you must be a qualified social worker. Candidates need to have some experience working with offenders and should apply through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) for a degree in social work.

For more information see:

Candidates need to show evidence of the following:

  • excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to relate to others;
  • the ability to persuade and influence others;
  • teamwork and collaboration skills;
  • a caring attitude;
  • case work and report-writing skills;
  • planning and organisational skills;
  • effective decision-making skills and problem-solving ability;
  • motivation and commitment;
  • resilience;
  • good judgement and the ability to think on your feet;
  • an understanding and appreciation of equal opportunities and anti-discriminatory practice.

Applicants are expected to have knowledge and understanding of the work of the criminal justice system and the probation service.

For more information, see work experience and internships and search postgraduate courses.

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Written by AGCAS editors
October 2015

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