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  Dick Winterton is the Chief Executive of Skills for Justice - Dick Winterton  

Skills For Justice

This interview appeared in the Summer 2005 edition (No 39) of Custodial Review.



....Dick Winterton


Dick Winterton is Chief Executive of Skills for Justice, licensed by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills in April 2004, as the Sector Skills Council for the Justice sector. Dick served in the RAF for 18 years, initially as a pilot before  taking a Masters degree in electronics, in order to specialise in electronic warfare and training.

In 1996 he joined the National Training Organisation (NTO) for the steel industry.  the NTOs were rationalised in 2000 and the network of Sector Skills Councils emerged in their place. In 2001, the police approached him to set-up the National Training Organisation for the Police Service in the UK, later called the Police Skills and Standards Organisation. It became one of three national training organisations that merged in April 2004 to create Skills for Justice.

Steven Mitchell (SM)                Does your organisation cover the whole of the justice sector?

Dick Winterton (DW)               Prisons had their own National Training Organisation (NTO) for custodial care, the Probation and the voluntary sector had a Community Justice NTO and the Police had the Skills and Standards Organisation. For good measure we also added those parts of the Justice sector that hitherto hadn’t been serviced by a NTO. That means we bought in Prosecution Services, Court Services, magistrates and judges. We now cover the whole of the justice system.

SM                  What is Skills for Justice, what does it do…why does it exist?

DW                  Essentially we are here to identify what skills are required by staff who work in the justice sector to make them competent. We are set-up as a limited company and are ‘owned’ by the various parts of the justice sector, for example we have Chief Constables, police authorities, Prison and Probation Services, in fact all parts of the Justice system, represented on our board and they direct our operations. So as Chief Executive I am directly responsible to a board drawn from all parts of the Justice sector.

SM      How many staff do you have to cover this remit?

DW      Skills for Justice has a staff of 55 divided into three directorates, the first is Research and Development headed by Lesley Dunlop with a staff of 12. We are recognised, that is licensed, as the only people who are allowed to set down the National Occupational Standards for all roles within the Justice sector. Lesley’s main job with her staff is to identify what those standards are and specify them. Next is the Directorate of Implementation headed by Tracy Watersson. There is a regional network in England, and we have offices in Belfast, Bridgend and Edinburgh, covering the devolved administrations. England is divided into three sections  North, South and Central, and each is looked after by a team of people who take the standards we develop and work directly with police forces, prisons and others to integrate those standards into the everyday routine. The third directorate is Corporate Services and that looks after our administration.

SM      Who pays for all this?

DW      The Home Office is the biggest subscriber, the police are about half the sector, the prisons make up about a third. The rest comes from others we work for. Our turnover is about £4.5 million and about £1.5 million comes from central government. Another third of our income come from agencies like the National Occupational Standards Board and the rest comes from projects we undertake for other agencies. For example we do work funded by the European Social Fund. Over the next few years I would like to develop a commercial arm.

SM      What has (say) the Prison Service had back for the money they have given you?

DW      We have recently updated the existing set of National Occupational Standards (NOS) covering all prison roles to reflect modern practices. They are going out for final consultation as we speak. They will become the recognised national occupational standards for the Prison Service and will be entered on the national database. NOS define the performance required of a competent individual and encapsulates best practice.  The standards are set by drawing upon the expertise of the sector. We are not experts, neither should we be because an expert would write down what he/she thinks it should be and then the process becomes useless. We observe and take the best practice from where we find it in the sector and then encapsulate it into the standard. Other functions, recruitment, selection, appraisal and training all follow. They are very significant management tools.

SM      So you produce a specification, based on what you observe to be best practice, of (say) a prison officer and what he/she should be capable of.

DW      We give the manager an output standard. Skills for Justice doesn’t take a view on how a person is developed up to that standard. It could be done in a training establishment or ‘on the job’.  We just have a view of what constitutes best practice in specific areas and the supply side need to gear themselves up to meet that specification in a way they think best.

SM      I think a few examples would be helpful at this stage.

DW      OK, this time from the police. Let’s take the new pattern of probationer training, basic training for coppers, where a sizeable amount of public money is being spent. The new pattern is geared to 22 units of NOS that help the police to define what makes a competent police officer. The England and Wales police forces are using those standards to develop their training programmes. The long-term residential courses are no longer viable. Hendon is still used by the Met because it is local, other forces do more of the training in house rather than sending probationers away on courses for long periods. Many forces are using external providers. For good business reasons it is sensible to wrap nationally recognised qualifications around the training because NOS mean something.

SM      So training is the next logical step to take? 

DW      There is a Sector Skills Council for every main part of the UK economy, 24 in all. They range from finance, engineering, health, building construction and so on. If a qualification is based on a NOS then it becomes a national qualification and is recorded on the national database. The one everybody has heard about is the NVQ. Police training might become a foundation group…the Probation Service could be a diploma. A service that relies on the competence of its people falls at the first hurdle if they are not properly trained. It is often the case that police and prison officers are put in harms way and the manager who has not assured him/herself of their competence would be in breach of Health and Safety legislation.

SM      All very well but how does the boss assess whether somebody sent to do a dangerous assignment is competent?

DW      The standards are only half the story as you have obviously twigged. Just as important is how to lay down how a manager would assess an individual. What would an employer consider evidence of competence? An examination might be OK to test for book learning, or simulation or role playing for activities, or your own eyesight when the job is being done for real under varying conditions. Let’s take an example from flying…you are off on holiday and the captain is up front ready for take off. He has passed his aviation law exam, engineering systems exam, has spent many hours in a simulator where he has practised his flying procedures. Is he competent to take-off for the first time with you and another 100 people in the back? No of course not. He has to demonstrate his skills in the air under supervision and serve time as a co-pilot before he can be deemed to be a competent captain. Draw a parallel with anything a police or a prison officer has to do. Another example is one of the early units we developed for Covert Human Intelligence Source Handling (CHIS) or the way to penetrate organised crime, a very dangerous occupation indeed. Again the would-be agent can do the book learning, study the psychology of sources, the law surrounding entrapment and so on…and the work can be simulated in training exercises but at the end of that would they be competent. I hardly think so. They would be paired off with an experienced operator and looked after in other ways whilst gaining experience.

SM      Learning the dangerous bit on the job…similar to the co-pilot we used as an example before.

DW      We defined new roles for Special Branch following their reorganisation in response to the new threat posed after 9/11. They bought in a new concept of operations to deal with this new form of international terrorism. They were faced with a group with no country of origin, any clear aims or objectives, very much into sacrificial bombing to kill a lot of people without warning. We prompted them with a single thought….by redefining your conduct of operations are you confident that your personnel have still got the skill sets they require?

SM      I am putting a stick between the spokes by saying they ended up killing an innocent man.

DW      It is regrettable when a firearms officer shoots someone they shouldn’t have or a police driver knocks someone down. Police officers, like anybody else, sometimes make mistakes. The skills of police officers are coming under increasing challenge when things go wrong. The old excuse, ‘we sent them through a training course’, no longer holds water because a barrister will ask to see the evaluation of that training and all too often it has not been evaluated. The line manager needs to be able to stand-up in court and say, ‘I’m an expert in this particular area, also a qualified assessor. I assessed the officer concerned and in my professional opinion he was competent’. If competence can be proved then the Enquiry by the Police Complaints Commission can move on to find other causes otherwise the enquiry gets tangled-up.

SM      That’s firearms - the violent part of police work. What about the delicate nature of DNA collection and analysis?            

DW      In the area of DNA forensics the evidence is very strong; there is extremely little doubt and a barrister, challenging such evidence, will concentrate on how it was collected. The competence of the police will be called into question and they will need to demonstrate the competence of those who collected the evidence. One of the biggest advances in recent years is the way DNA is processed. These days 2,000 samples can be processed at a time and this has allowed DNA evidence formally available for serious crimes, murders and sex crimes, to be extended into what we might call volume crime, burglaries and car crime. Subsequently people investigating volume crime suddenly had a new tool and that bought with it requirements to develop their skills to be able to use it properly. That is another example of the work we do…that is identifying the skills required. It is an ongoing programme constantly changing. We can actually lay down those competences in the standards so that there is no argument about what competence really looks like.

SM      Can it be likened then to engineering, first the specification, then the drawing finally the article. Is that a fair analogy?

DW      Yes but I would like to extend it a bit, having built your engineering model it has to be kept-up to date otherwise it won’t sell. Likewise with our work, having given someone a set of skills we need to keep them up to date to match the fast changing nature of the work in the justice sector. The other difference is machines don’t need values and ethics whereas the justice system and other areas, such as health, do.

SM      I guess you’re coming on to the problems associated with multiculturalism in the justice system.

DW      All police officers were sent on a Community Race Relations (CRR) course but it proved not to be effective as was evidenced particularly well in the Panorama programme. Basically the CRR course was a training solution applied to a problem that couldn’t be solved that way. I don’t think it’s possible to convert a racist that way, nor do I believe a racist can be selected out during the probation process. The answer is to identify the core values of the Service. The police can only do their job because they have the permission of the public….

SM      …..we could argue specifics within that statement. Sounds like an act of faith and out of line with the robust nature of your previous arguments.

DW      We are not a police state and we run a huge risk if the values of the organisation are at variance with the values of society.

SM      With some exceptions, drugs and traffic for instance….we agree to differ, let’s continue with racism.

DW      Society does not value racism, it values diversity. As a whole in this country we do not want our society to be racist or bigoted. Consequently we must not allow the police to become either of those things. They must apply their policing powers equally and fairly without fear or favour. But we have to make it clear to police officers why they can’t be racist or bigoted. We have to make sure, as any organisation would, that the individual members hold the values of that organisation. This is the National Competency Framework we have developed which goes slightly further than a standard. We have developed the behavioural competences we expect people to hold. People are then measured in those areas day-in day-out as they go about their normal roles. This is not a training solution, this is an every day supervisory solution. It should make the environment so uncomfortable for racists and bigots within the justice sector and peer pressure will keep them out. The ethos is there already but it’s not clear enough.

SM      Being nicked for drunken driving 30 years ago didn’t carry the shame it does now but it took a long time for society to change its attitude. A social engineering solution is called for here perhaps?

DW      Yes, that is what we are aiming for with racism.                   

SM      Within this very fast changing situation can you foresee, guess even, where it’s all leading?

DW      In, say, two years time I would like to see the various standards bought to bear on the professionalism of everybody who works in the justice sector.  We need to make sure we capture best practice and then lay it down as a recognised national occupational standard. Then people can develop their skill set against those standards, constantly updated, and get recognition for it. That then will be a real professional service.

SM      Thank you for speaking to the Review.


  Tel:    0114 261 1499
Web: http://www.skillsforjustice.co.uk
Email: enquiries@skillsforjustice.com


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