COP announcement about PEQF plans: reactions and reflections
The purpose of writing this piece is to reflect on the ongoing discussions concerning the developing narrative around the College of Policing’s (COP) ‘professionalisation policing agenda’ – specifically the Police Education Qualification Framework (PEQF). This is important for me both as a police academic and in terms of own research which focuses on exploring the role of education within policing. The methodology I am applying in this work tracks over time the experiences of police officers/staff who are undertaking or have previously undertaken a degree to explore how they utilise the knowledge gained from the degree in the work place. Practitioners’ voices are key to my research, to inform future questions that may develop as I follow this work through to completion.
I am not undertaking a formal online Twitter analysis as part of this research, as there are some methodological complications in relation to the sampling population. But, being a member of Twitter I observe the conversations of many police Twitterers regularly on many police related issues, and these discussions often climax when police reforms or plans to impact on police practice are announced. I certainly don’t have access to all of the police Twitter community, and it would be foolish of me to make concrete assumptions of the resultant discussions. In a crude sense, I wonder how much the themes from the discussions may actually act as a barometer as to general feelings within the policing world affected by these developments. Whether they represent the ‘overall’ to any extent or not, these are real perceptions from real people. A recent article by Ian Hesketh and Emma Williams reinforces the benefits of social media in understanding a wider context, so to ignore the debates that prevail when key announcements are delivered would also be short-sighted. These voices matter and I suspect they are indicative of the wider context.
On Thursday last week the COP announced their latest plans in relation to the PEQF following the proposals set out last year. The proposals incorporated plans to develop a professional status for police officers linked to gaining a degree level 6 education. This attracted much attention on Twitter from the police Twitter community. Having captured this at the time, much of last year’s debate questioned how to quantify a degree qualification and what the content would be of an accredited programme. Other perceptions related to the exclusive nature of applying this as a standard for police officers to gain a professional status and how this will impact on the ‘representative’ demographic of the future police workforce. Many police Twitterers were also very frustrated that by implication, those without a degree would not be considered ‘professional’ and might not be seen as exercising discretion in a professional way, despite the experience and training gained from their job. In addition, there was a sense that these plans were being imposed on practitioners, rather than including them in the discussion as communication around these plans were perceived to be inadequate.
Since this time, the COP have arguably been more transparent in their communication. They hosted a @wecops (online platform for police practitioners to discuss defined key issues), which stimulated much discussion to clarify questions in relation to the proposals. In March 2016, they also launched a public consultation communicating their proposals for feedback over a three-month period. There were over 3000 respondents to this consultation, ‘with nearly 80 per cent of responses coming from police officers…’. I am unsure of exactly what aspects of the analysis from the consultation specifically fed into the latest developments, but the COP have clearly taken steps forward in terms of consultation with the public and have been engaged in many conversations with Higher Education Institutes.
Last week, I observed Twitter with interest in relation to the reaction as the latest COP plans were announced under the PEQF. The main aspects to this comprise of the following elements: to provide recognition to those working at graduate level; to provide a national set of qualifications for officers once they are promoted at Sergeant and Inspector levels, and a Masters level qualification requirement for senior officers from 2020; entrants will be required to either obtain a degree whilst on the job via an apprenticeship scheme, will already hold a police specific degree level qualification, or in the case of a graduate (of a non-related police degree), undertake a graduate programme.
This motivated much discussion over the course of the day and seemed to mirror the concerns that were apparent on the Twitter discussions when the proposals were announced last year prior to the consultation detailed above.
I suspect those engaged on my Twitter feed (some I know, some I don’t and some I suspect have pseudo Twitter handles) were mainly serving police practitioners, academics in the field, or those from extended fields in policing. If I describe the Twitter feeds as a ‘community’, the general community on Thursday felt negative and angry towards the announcement. It is important to say that whilst I perceived the comments to be negative, they do raise questions and these are valid, suggesting that further clarification may be required as to why these decisions have been made. Evidence or knowledge production is why I am doing my research.
Why do we need a degree?
There were a number of questions raised in relation to why police officers need a degree. This was a question repeatedly asked in many guises. For example: why do I need a degree? Isn’t experience more important? What about routine training – this is more important than a degree? What will a degree give me to do my job? Following on from these questions, other issues were evident where more clarification was required in relation to exactly what is to be achieved through these plans and how will these actually impact on professional policing.
The justification from the COP tied the why a degree is necessary to a generic ‘being professional’ label. This created frustration because by implication it was perceived that without a degree, police officers are not professional. Indeed, there have been a number of blogs written over the course of time since these plans arguing that having a degree (or not) does not point to being ‘professional’ (or not). This point relates back to the previous, indicating there needs to be further clarification in relation to how the skills gained from education impact on policing.
The COP also referred to the current evolving and complex nature of policing. This again led to a sense of frustration with some Twitterers as a form of justifying the plans. They felt that this is not new and police officers have always dealt with a set of complex variables without being degree educated. On balance, there were other contributions made indicating that having an understanding of the broader perspectives on policing and how these have evolved gained from education, contributes to and compliments experience gained on the job and the routine training given. Emma Williams stated in an interview with the BBC News on the day of the announcement that “…This is not about saying police are not already professionals…the police would continue to provide practical training, while academics might focus on evidence-based policing and criminology…” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38319283).
The development of formal education in policing relates to incorporating thinking around the wider societal structures and perspectives on policing to compliment experience on the streets and routine training received. It is important to understand what the benefits actually are. People clearly need to know more about ‘the why’ and ‘the how’, otherwise a new barrier between practitioners, those mandating it, and other partnerships involved in plans (in this case, the academy) may ensue. This is something we stress hugely at CCCU. The experience mapped to formal education is critical. We cannot teach policing and could not do police work purely based on the knowledge we try and impart. The learning with our officer and staff students is shared. Mapping theory to police practice is something we often do together in class.
The prevailing discussions around what recognition actually means in practice for police employees was a theme. There were some encouraging contributions made about the plans to accredit previous experience and training, defining funding options as potential support, and having a set of recognised qualifications. However, there were others that felt they needed more explanation as to what this means and why it matters, particularly to those who are not in favour undertaking education qualifications, and if they had they would feel forced to, not because they had a desire to study but to fulfil a set of educational requirements imposed on them in order to progress.
Stipulating levels of education may force unintended action…
There were concerns over stipulating levels of education requirements within policing. Whether a requirement on entry or further up the ranks for promotion, perceptions indicated that this would force both a ‘tick box’ approach to recruitment, as well as force an individual into education. Perceptions presented that reasons for individuals engaging in academic study should be generated from a desire to learn, not to fulfil a recruitment criterion.
Due to the personal financial cost, education is not always an option for everyone and concerns over this point were evident in relation to ensuring a ‘representative’ demographic of the future police workforce both in terms of recruitment and promotion. On balance, there was more positivity in relation to the apprenticeship option as a way to recruit people in from different backgrounds, support them with funding and to ‘learn on the job’. But questions were also raised as to how this will work in practice, the allocation of funding to individual forces and how suppliers of education would be quality assured.
These themes in no way provide an exhaustive account from the discussions on Twitter on Thursday, but do go some way to reflect a few of the issues. As I said at the beginning of this piece, the purpose was for me to reflect what was discussed in response to these plans and how they fit into my own study. What has come out for me through this reflection is that it is clear, whether Twitterers are supportive or not, they care. Their opinions are based on their experiences and this for me counts hugely. I have already made the point that I have a relatively small snap shot of the police Twitter community, but given the issues / questions raised I do wonder about the extent to which they might exist outside of Twitter in policing more generally. I hope these perceptions are acknowledged and managed properly at a time of huge change for officers.
I am just finishing year one of a six-year project, which should go some way to help unpack the how and the why. I hope to have preliminary findings as I go and I will be happy to share with the COP should they wish.