“Harmonize probation training in Europe, share good practice and highlight new initiatives.” This was the goal of the CEP conference held in Agen, France on 17th and 18th December organized in conjunction with the École Nationale d’Administration Pénitentiaire. Throughout the conference there were presentations and discussions about the training and selection of probation practitioners in Europe. Dr Brian Stout, Associate Head of School of Applied Social Scienes at De Montfort University (DMU), provided the concluding presentation at the end conference and is looking back at these two days.

Since the quick developments in Europe, like the implementation of the framework decision on probation and the implementation of the BaMa structure at higher education level, the possibilities on working in the probation sector in another European country are increasing. Therefore there was a need to come together among CEP members, to discuss and learn more on the training throughout Europe. It was also an opportunity to talk about the development of a European Curriculum in the training of probation practitioners. According to Dr Stout, who is in his work involved in the teaching of probation students and the shaping of the probation curriculum in the UK, it is of great importance to create a common training framework. “The framework could contribute in the achievement of a consolidating, effective and human probation service in Europe. It would also be of great benefit to those countries where probation work is in an early stage of development, providing a strong foundation for developing a training programme. In addition, a common training programme will increase opportunities for staff movement around Europe and the sharing of learning and best practice.”

The presentations during the conference made clear that probation is delivered in a wide variety of ways in EU Member States. In addition, there’s also diversity in the influence of the educational system in probation across Europe. DMU is one of three universities providing probation training in England and Wales and Dr Stout plays a key role in the liaison and communication between the university and probation employer partners. “In my view, greater unity is the correct aim, rather than standardisation”, notices Dr Stout. “Standardisation implies similarities in structures, levels and relationship to other disciplines that I think would be almost impossible to achieve, due to the differences in each jurisdiction. For example, in some countries probation training is located in social work, in others it is located in the prison service, and in others it is stand-alone. There are national, political reasons for these differences and it is difficult to imagine those changing.”

Mainly the discussions to initiate debate as how greater unity could be achieved, pointed out among other things how complex standardisation might be. Dr Stout thinks there are three big obstacles in obtaining a European Curriculum: “One obstacle is that national training providers will tend to develop curricula with a view to national considerations, rather than European considerations. In some instances it will be important to remind trainers to consider the European dimension. Another obstacle might be a temptation to focus on points of difficulty or difference, rather than to look positively at what could be achieved and the benefits of a European Curriculum. A third obstacle is that change is always difficult; countries where a curriculum is already established may be disinclined to reflect on its content.

Nonetheless greater unity is achievable through setting some clear principles and benchmarks, and by promoting best practice.” For that reason some of the participants met toward the end of the conference and agreed the need to develop a project group. This project group is an important output of the conference, which should be carrying out five initial tasks:

  1. Design framework units.
  2. Acquire funding for pilot projects.
  3. Build in training in the relevant regulations, rules and protocols.
  4. Discuss the level at which the curriculum should be located.
  5. Spread the project beyond the initial small group of participants.

According to Dr Stout the general conclusion of the conference was that a European Curriculum is a significant goal and one that would be possible to achieve. Next to that, everyone left the conference with a greater sense of what is happening in other European countries, and some key contacts that could be followed up. “It is important to build upon the successes of the conference and build an enduring network. In continuation, CEP could be driving the agenda of curriculum development, and reminding all of us of the importance of the European element of probation training.” Personally I think that the atmosphere was an extremely positive one, that all speakers were heard respectfully and that there were a lot of good discussions both within and outside the sessions. “So it was an honour to be asked to offer the closing observations and summarise the main points of the conference. But it was a challenging role too, as it was difficult to summarise the content of two days into 30 minutes, without missing any key points.

“Having looked back on the conference, it was difficult for me not being confronted by the bad memory of my journey home”, recalls Dr Stout. “I spend fourteen hours stuck in a tunnel on the Eurostar train! Nevertheless, I was very satisfied with the conference itself, both with the opportunity to meet people and with the high quality of the presentations. The conference provided a strong foundation for future work that I can do on the European Curriculum.”

Presentations

Conference based documents

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Workshops – presentations:


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