This piece was published in ‘Policing Insight’ earlier this week. Degree debate and communications.
Well degree-gate has certainly caused a storm. Following the announcement at the College of Policing’s annual conference that the requirement for all new police recruits to have a policing degree is ‘coming soon’ and of course, the subsequent media coverage, Twitter alone went into a frenzy. Indeed this is perhaps one of the strongest examples of the power of social media and ‘blogging’ as a communication forum for police and police commentators. This is not an exhaustive list but concerns to date, to date, have predominantly focused on:
- The lack of an evidence base for the graduate only officers argument
- The questioning of current non graduate officers’ professionalism and ability to do ‘the job’
- Access to and diversity within the police workforce
- The ‘real’ reasons behind this decision (is it about professionalism, improving consistency in training or purely based on financial reasons)
- Increasing critical thinking in a current culture that suppresses innovation and diversity of thought
- The lack of detail provided by the College of Policing regarding accredited police degrees’ learning outcomes
- How this will affect already serving officers and how this might impact on promotion opportunities
- Issues for universities and academics about whether the approved courses will be extended training packages or the provision of learning and education traditionally provided in an academic institution
Interestingly for me what seems to have been missed out of this debate, following the conference, is the issue of communication – or rather lack of it. This seems ironic given that one of the key justifications for the EQF and degree level entry was about the provision of key academic attributes to officers – ‘communication’ being one of them.
I was incredibly positive about the establishment of the College of Policing – I was hopeful about the commitment from the excellent research team there to get some of the vast amount of research which is conducted in universities by both students and academic staff used and collated more effectively. This is felt would support a move away from (in some circumstances) the view of academics as the enemy who are there only to critique police practice and note wrong doing. Both myself and academic colleagues were positive about the shift to a time where police and academics could collaborate and produce research findings together and to influence evidence based change to benefit both the public and officers themselves. I think to date the College have worked hard at influencing this and have pushed to drive forward an evidence based approach to decision making.
There is a strong evidence base around the use of information being a crucial ingredient in perceived relationships with the public and the police. Victim satisfaction is driven by victims of crime believing they are being kept informed about their case and feeling they are involved in the process. Community confidence in the police is largely driven by engagement and this, multi-faceted concept, is largely to do with the public having access to information about what the police are doing to address the issues that affect them at a very local level. Good communication strategies are essential to relationships in most areas of life and it seems paradoxical that the College have, it appears, provided very limited information about the degree issue to officers themselves – particularly prior to the announcement. Police officers are surely the customers of the College of Policing, who will rely on officer membership and buy in to maintain credibility amongst the frontline.
As an academic I am really interested in the voice of officers themselves being heard in the process of knowledge and evidence creation. As a result of this one of the most exciting pieces of work I have come across over recent years is the work conducted on organisational justice which essentially explores the principles of procedural justice internally with officers themselves. Researchers from the College have published widely on this work and the main messages for me coming from this is the importance of officers feeling involved and more critically, ‘heard’ in decision making, organisational change and wider reform agendas. Therefore consultation and information provision is critical. Get this right and it seems you will have a ‘happier’ workforce who are more on board with change programmes and generally more willing to act as advocates for the organisation in which they work.
Therefore using this principle, going back to the start of this blog, it seems unsurprising that the lack of perceived consultation and communications concerning this most recent announcement from the College has led to officers and interested parties filling the gaps with their own interpretations of events. This has clearly and very publically impacted on some of the anger and resentment concerning this contentious decision amongst officers. Actually, if I am honest despite the university within which I work being involved in the development of this accredited programme I feel uninformed about what the content of this programme will culminate in and the desired learning outcomes of a policing degree. However I have already written of my concerns about the potential for the degree to become a police training programme which I, for one, do not think is the purpose of academia and the ability to think more critically is all about.
Sadly what has happened as a result of this lack of communication is the reverse I think of what the ethos of the College is. I am sure there are a wealth of reasons why the College believe that further education within policing is a positive thing not least because the use of evidence in decision making can support officers and justify decisions for them when things go wrong. However without the context about why this is happening and consultation to source opinion and ideas about it, officers already serving in the job (interestingly those with and without degrees) feel that this is just another thing being ‘done to them’ in the current climate. This is exactly why the likes of @dedicatedpeeler and @nathanconstable were so keen to establish #oldbillrebuilt to crowd source ideas and engage the frontline in debate.
Whilst it might be the evidence base about the benefits for having a degree educated workforce is unclear there is at least a strong evidence base supporting the importance of communication. Therefore when Alex Marshall announced on Radio 4 on Friday that given the changing nature of what the police are dealing with, the complex vulnerabilities involved and the situation with austerity, degrees might help officers complete case files more efficiently the backlash was immense. As Duncan Campbell voiced in The Guardian on Saturday ‘we need both graduates and artisans’ and with this statement I agree entirely.
Yes academic knowledge can provide information about some of the issues concerning why dealing with these complexities is critical to getting it right and supporting victims through a case but it cannot actually teach you how practically to complete a case file. Perhaps some (and I am not suggesting all) officers would be more willing to engage positively in this debate if there had been a better communication strategy about this decision and some wider consultation about the reasons for it happening.