Degreegate, consultation and the potential to listen…

This is myself and Jennifer Norman’s take on the Higher Education policing forum we attended today. Never been great at minutes so I hope it reads a bit better than them!! Important to get this knowledge out there….

Today @jennife15141697 and I attended the Police Higher Education Forum at De Montford University in Leicester. The Forum is attended by representatives from a range of academic institutions who deliver programmes in policing and police related studies (both at undergraduate and postgraduate level) across the country. These are delivered at pre and post entry stages.

As a result of recent events this board is now integral to the College of Policing’s plans to standardise training and eventually ensure that all officers who apply for a role in the police have a degree. It is essential that the development of the ‘police degree’ is undertaken very much in collaboration with the academy who have been developing programmes, in many cases in collaboration with local forces, for a number of years. This is key to ensuring the knowledge input is as influential as the training side (in our opinion).
There is currently a thorough scoping exercise being conducted by the Forum members to review what the current provision looks like across the country. What do the modules look like, what do the current structures for accrediting prior learning look like, who offers ‘police only programmes’ and what are the differences in delivery methods (to name but a few). It is essential that with any of the options that are eventually agreed as a ‘final product’ for this degree that they are built on existing ‘good’ examples of policing education and development.

This blog is not here to debate these developing ideas or to raise issues that have been discussed before – simply to report back to interested parties on two, what we considered to be, positive outcomes of today’s meeting.

Sam Peaches from the College, today, in some detail, told the members about a wide scale consultation process that is happening next Tuesday 2nd February. The attendees from the College very much acknowledged, I quote, the ‘Twitter storm’ after the College’s annual conference last year and also raised the issue of the continuing difficulty in some areas with the relationship between the academy and the practitioner. This consultation is therefore very important.

Like many, I am sure that this consultation will not change any decision about standardising the processes, programmes, training and qualifications that will be developed through the Police Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF) but it may at least offer the chance to anyone as an individual or as an organisation to have a say in how this develops, what it might involve and to raise their concerns about this decision. Plus and very importantly I hope it involves idea generation about costs and innovative ways of ensuring accessibility.

I have no idea what the plans are to action the subsequent knowledge gleaned but I think it is a positive move. The launch will be high profile and the media team will be available on Twitter to answer questions next Tuesday. I believe this is a genuine attempt by the College to take on some views from a range of parties. The proof will be in the pudding about what they do with it. However I hope that, for example, for the frontline staff and most important assets, the College use the knowledge to help dilute some fears, help build strategies around building better links and create examples of where this has worked well and why.

As the old saying goes ‘knowledge is power’ and the more engagement, information, involvement and actions from the listening party the better. So I ask you…. Please comment on this consultation. Have your say / voice your opinions and use it as a constructive forum to express your views. The consultation will close on March 29th (6 week process) and this will be followed up by detailed analysis and plans for actions (one hopes).

Secondly and leading on from this the Forum also discussed POLCON, the annual conference of the Higher Education Forum for Learning and Development in Policing. This year will be the seventh consecutive year that this has taken place to date. These conferences essentially aim to consider contemporary policing issues and how police research and knowledge can enrich the debates facing the profession. Key note speakers are invited to deliver papers at the conference each year based on an identified theme defined by the HE Forum (please follow @hepolicing for updates from the forum and details of the forthcoming POLCON7).

Today, we discussed potential ideas for the main theme of 2016. It proved an interesting discussion. One topic suggested related to accountability and policing and meeting more effectively the needs of the community. Given one of the aims of standardising education in policing is to ensure fairness / consistent service delivery and better accountability the discussion focused on how HE programmes can assist with this. An additional potential theme for a conference focus related to some of the key messages emerging from the CoP proposal and subsequent outcomes from the imminent public consultation mentioned above. Indeed, this forum could offer an excellent chance to feedback and discuss the concerns raised in order to try and help resolve some of the problems raised. Whilst some raised concerns about potential clashes we think this is a great idea to bottom out ideas and listen to the challenges facing the success of these plans.

One of the main features of the topic chatter concerned the commitment from the HE forum to focus the event on both relevant and current issues facing policing, and most importantly, the need to ensure that the theme attracts frontline practitioners. This is vital to the successful building of collaborations between the academy and the police and provides a great opportunity to engage and to further share ideas. To date POLCON delegates have mainly come from the academy rather than being operational officers / police staff. Facilitating access to the frontline must we feel be a priority.

Previous research in relation to the academy and police practitioners highlights how fractious relationships can foster between the two (Brown, 1996); how this can impact on a lack of receptiveness to research within police practice (Lum, 2009) and furthermore how this can potentially lead to ambivalence about the importance of education within a practitioner environment (Fleming, 2012). The group acknowledged the fact that there are very different perceptions about the College’s policing qualification (as Sam Peaches called it the ‘marmite’ effect – although there are many who sit somewhere in the middle). However whether you love or hate the idea, or sit somewhere in the middle, what is important is to establish ways of collaborative consultation and expression of differing opinions between academics and practitioners.

One member of the forum talked about the potential opportunity to showcase previous student police officers experiences having undertaken a policing degree qualification. This could enable the police community to listen to different experiences of how education / subsequent research has been used positively (or not) in practice. This could be beneficial for all. Indeed, recent studies undertaken at Canterbury Christ Church University, and elsewhere, have highlighted how police officers who undertake a degree in policing can often feel disenchanted when implementing their learning in the workplace – in fact for many of the reasons given by the current doubters who don’t hold degrees about why they feel this degree issue ‘won’t work’. This may result in opportunities to learn from these experiences and to provide a platform for engagement and debate which is both inclusive and reflective of frontline experiences. How the College reassures officers that their education will be valued in the organisation, used by the organisation and that stringent prescriptive process won’t suppress and limit its worth… is the (big) challenge.

I am sure it will be argued by some, in relation to both of these proposals (which we consider to be attempts at positive ways forward through a complex and challenging debate) that developing a collaborative dialogue through this consultation is idealistic and paying lip service. However, the intentions from the College and the HE forum were certainly about acknowledging the need for methods (and quick) to bridge this gap in a practical and joined up manner.

Indeed, what has come out of today’s forum are two clear opportunities for academics / frontline practitioners and the public to have a critical voice in this debate – whatever the view. Of course what culminates from this information, in terms of outputs and subsequent outcomes is the crucial issue. We have offered help with this and would very much like to be involved in the development and analysis.

There will always be challenges and questions but surely consultation, idea generation and listening can only be a good thing or at the very least a good starting point???

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