From education to employment

Moves to Improve and Strengthen the Skills of Workers in the Justice System

Continuous professional development is key to a robust and responsive sector. This holds true in practically every sector, but is particularly pertinent in the justice sector.

Take the developments in modern technology, or the greater focus on human rights and anti-discriminatory practices. The justice sector, maybe more so than any other sector has made significant changes, and based on its current policies will continue to do so, in order to overcome barriers that have hampered effective service in the past.

Sector Skills Leads the Way!

Leading the implementation of changes is Skills for Justice, the Sector Skills Council (SSC) covering all employers, employees and volunteers working in the UK justice system. Skills for Justice has the responsibility for creating the regime of standards and qualifications that shape the way our policemen and women, our probation officers, and our prison staff conduct themselves.

The standards that they lay down provide the framework for how to deal with everything they may encounter through the course of their working day. Their remit extends across the entire justice sector, and as a reflection of its diversity the Skills for Justice board is comprised of a number of representatives from almost all of the diverse areas of the sector.


Through the work of Skills for Justice, National Occupational Standards (NOS) now underpin the education and training of workers within the justice sector. The NOS process describes competent performance in terms of the outcomes of individuals” work and the knowledge and skills they need to perform effectively. They allow a clearer assessment of competence against nationally agreed standards of performance, across a range of workplace circumstances for all roles. This way, by defining what has to be achieved rather than what has to be done the NOS affords the necessary flexibility to meet the needs of the individuals.

NOS have been developed to cover most occupational areas in the UK. Those specifically developed for the justice sector are: community justice, custodial administration, custodial care, policing and law enforcement, and youth justice. Their increased use in the justice sector is a reflection of the high regard with which they are held. Not only do the NOS act as a form of quality assurance, they also support individual and organisational development at all levels.


The NOS can be used in a variety of ways by individuals, trainers, human resource departments and organisational management to plan training, appraise individuals or for career development. Their role is primarily that of a tool or a resource to support education and training in the workplace. They can assist in recruitment, appraisals, and job evaluation as they ensure that all personnel are continuously aware of their own role and what they need to be able to perform it in a competent manner.

NOS are also used as the basis of qualifications, both traditional and vocational, as they define the knowledge and understanding required of a role, therefore identifying the knowledge that needs to be delivered through the qualification. In vocational qualifications such as NVQs and SVQs the NOS are grouped together to provide a meaningful qualification that reflects an individual’s role. Achievement means that the candidate can claim not only to have achieved the knowledge and understanding required but also, and perhaps most importantly, to have demonstrated workplace competence.

Based on a framework of units, the NOS are in essence a form of “pick and mix” qualification. Each unit represents a function or activity in the workplace. Within each unit the required standards of performance and related knowledge and skills for that activity are described. Therefore the key activities relevant to the roles of the individual in the workplace can be defined by selecting the appropriate units of national occupational standards.

Michael de la Fuente

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