What is a level 5 qualification?

There are 9 qualification levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and they all represent higher education (HE) qualifications. To join the Probation Officer training programme, you’ll need a level 5 qualification in one of the following:

  • A diploma of higher education (DipHE)
  • A foundation degree
  • A higher national diploma (HND)
  • A level 5 award
  • A level 5 certificate
  • A level 5 diploma
  • A level 5 NVQ

What consultation was involved in the development of the qualification?

Key stakeholders were involved throughout its design, including the National Probation Service (NPS), Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), Her Majesty Prison and Probation Service, (HMPPS), Skills for Justice, the Probation Institute, NAPO and Unison.

The qualification is underpinned by the National Occupational Standards, which were created with national consultation across the Community Justice Sector.

I have studied some of the knowledge modules, does these mean I can complete the shorter PQiP?

To be eligible for the 15 month PQiP programme, you need to have studied  modules on at least three of the following four topics as part of a degree (or equivalent):

  • Crime and Criminal Behaviour
  • Criminal Justice System
  • Penal Policy and Punishment of Offenders
  • Rehabilitation of Offenders

In fact, you’ll need to have at least started the third of your modules at the time of application. You’ll go on to complete whichever module is missing as part of the PQiP programme within the first six months.

Alternatively, we will consider your application is you have relevant experience of working with individuals with challenging behaviours.

If your qualification doesn’t include these subjects, or you don’t have relevant experience, you’ll most likely study the 21-month PQiP programme (the first six months will cover all four modules).

Please note that our next intake will be the last to offer 21-month programmes for the foreseeable future.

I don’t meet the criteria to study the PQiP programme. How do I become a Probation Officer?

If you don't have a degree – relevant or otherwise – and you don’t have relevant experience either: don’t worry.

You can still apply to become a Probation Services Officer (PSO), and take on similar work to a fully-qualified Probation Officer. The main difference is, you won’t work with the highest risk offenders or on the most complex cases.

If you have no experience or studies in the area, you’ll combine your work with a comprehensive induction programme that includes the Gateway to Practice training course and a Level 3 Vocational Qualification in Probation Practice.

If you have some relevant experience and a Level 3 vocational qualification, you can choose to take a short Level 4 study programme, otherwise known as an Access Route.

If you’re successful, you’ll then join a bespoke Level 5 distance learning course with one of our partner higher education providers. This usually takes a year, after which you can apply for the PQiP training programme.

You can get the costs and precise time-scales for the Levels 4 and 5 distance-learning courses from our higher education partners below.

De Montfort University
Email: admissions@dmu.ac.uk 

Telephone: 0116 207 8443

Sheffield Hallam University
Email: gas@shu.ac.uk 
Telephone: 0114 225 2539

University of Portsmouth
Email: CJL@port.ac.uk
Telephone: 0239 2846 973

The Level 4 study programme will likely take three months. The full Level 5 qualification usually takes a year. Your employer may sponsor some or all of these studies – they will definitely support you if you go on to study the PQiP programme.

Click here to learn more about qualification levels.

Can I study the Community Justice Learning (CJL) Level 4 or Level 5 qualifications independently?

Yes, you can take the CJL qualifications in their own right. You do not need to be applying for the PQiP programme to undertake them.

What is considered – or how can I get – relevant experience to apply for the PQiP programme?

Relevant experience is essentially time spent working with offenders or other individuals exhibiting challenging behaviours or whose lives are in crisis.

This could be in or outside the Community Justice sector, in either a paid or voluntary capacity.

However, there’s no formal weighting to any type of experience. Its relevance is at the discretion of the hiring team.

What’s the Probation Officer PQiP programme recruitment process like, and when’s the next intake?

The process has a number of stages, including a written application, an online test and an assessment centre.

There are usually two annual intakes: in January and July.

You’ll find details on the next intake and start dates here.

The initial four-week induction is hugely important, so we suggest that you ensure you’re available for every working day during this period. 

If you are successful in your application, you will receive a provisional offer letter, subject to the availability of suitable vacancy locations, within a reasonable commute distance.  Please note that placement during that intake is not guaranteed as vacancies are determined by business need.  Allocation of successful candidates into PQiP vacancies is by fair and open competition based on merit from assessment scores and LDU preferences.   If it is not possible to place you into a suitable vacancy location due to insufficient vacancies, you will remain on the merit list and your application will be deferred to the following intake. Candidates are able to remain on the merit list for 12 months.

What will contracts of employment include?

PQiP learners in NPS are employed on permanent Probation Services Officer contracts and will be expected to undertake routine PSO tasks during the training programme. However, they will also be allocated some study time towards the required learning components.  We will also allocate some PQiP learners to CRCs who will receive an NPS Probation Services Officer contract and a secondment agreement outlining the specific details of working within a CRC for the duration of the training.

I currently work in the NPS. Do I have to move from my current office location to join the PQiP programme?

Employees working in the NPS who successfully apply to the PQiP programme will need to move from their current office locationto a new location as a Probation Services Officer PQiP learner.  There are no guarantees that PQiP vacancies will be available at their current work location In line with fair and open competition, allocations of successful candidates are made based on merit from assessment scores.  This will also apply for applicants currently working within a CRC.

What happens if I fail the PQiP?

To qualify as a Probation Officer, you must pass both the vocational and the applied academic elements of the PQiP programme.

If you don’t pass, you’ll either return to a previous PSO role or may be asked to leave. The decision will be made by your employer.

How long is the recruitment process?

The recruitment process is 6 months. If you apply to a recruitment campaign in January you will usually start in the following July, or if you apply to a recruitment campaign in July you will usually start in the following January.  However, if it is not possible to place you into a suitable vacancy location due to insufficient vacancies, you will remain on the merit list and your application will be deferred to the following intake. Candidates are able to remain on the merit list for 12 months.

I currently work elsewhere for HMPPS. Do I need to resign from my current post?

Successful candidates who are allocated to a PQiP vacancy office location will be issued with a new internal contract. There is no need to resign from your position as an internal move within HMPPS will be managed accordingly.

What happens if I studied for my degree-level qualification outside the UK?

You will need to provide a Statement of Comparability from the National Academic Recognition Information Centre UK (NARIC) to verify that your qualification is equivalent to a UK level 5 qualification.

I have a Civil Service Pension (PCSPS). Can I keep paying into it?

No. If you’re a civil servant and member of the PCSPS, You’ll be opted out of it and auto-enrolled into the Local Government Pension Scheme when you accept our offer of employment.

Will I automatically get a job if I pass the recruitment process?

Unfortunately, no. PQiP vacancies are linked to teams’ needs. So there’s no guarantee that one will be open in a location near you. Plus, all posts are assigned according to assessment scores – including if you already work within a CRC or for HMPPS.

What happens when I qualify?

Newly qualified officers are able to apply for qualified Probation Officer positions via local recruitment processes.

I currently work for a CRC, can I continue to work there while I am doing my training?

If you currently work for a CRC and are offered a PQiP role with the HMPPS (NPS) you would normally have to resign from your CRC employment to take up the role in HMPPS.  Due to the implementation of the Unified Model, HMPPS will provide you with a choice if you are offered a role:

  1. You can choose to resign from the CRC and take up the HMPPS role in the NPS substantively, which would mean you would lose any continuity of employment you have with the CRC; or
  2. You can choose to be seconded from the CRC to the NPS (subject to CRC agreement) if your CRC role is in-scope to transfer to HMPPS.  The secondment will cover the period until your  substantive CRC role transfers to HMPPS via the Staff Transfer Scheme and thereby protect your continuity of employment;


If it is not known whether your substantive CRC role is in-scope to transfer to HMPPS at the point you have to decide between 1 and 2 and you opt to be seconded:

  • If subsequently your substantive CRC role is in-scope to transfer to HMPPS, no further action will be required.
  • If subsequently your substantive CRC role is not in-scope to transfer to HMPPS, you could:
  • continue with the secondment but would have to return to the CRC at the end of the secondment or ahead of any transfer to a new employer; or
  • if you wanted to take up the NPS role substantively you would have to resign from your CRC employment and take up a new contract with HMPPS;

What are the benefits or working as a Probation Officer?

You’ll have a positive impact from day one. And in return, you can expect to:

  • complete either a 15 or 21-month programme that leads to Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) certification
  • earn £22,261 a year during training, plus £1,100 if based in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Kent, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk or Suffolk; or £3,889 in London (once PQiP-certified, your salary rises to £29,038 plus allowances).
  • enjoy 25 days’ annual leave (30 days after 5 years) plus 8 public holidays
  • join the Local Government Pension Scheme.

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