The shape of the Policing Degree, one Officer’s Suggestion – Richard Honess

Richard Honess – a PhD student and recent MSc graduate at CCCU offers some thoughts  on what a degree in policing could look like. Getting the balance between theory and practice……

The recent announcement by the College of Policing about the Policing Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF), followed a consultation process which resulted in the initial proposals being amended. Three “pathways” of entry were proposed. The most talked about (and easily the most controversial) was the pathway outlining that an applicant to the police should have completed an accredited Policing Degree BEFORE application to the service. I wish to stress that this is only one of the three pathways, and I make no comment in this piece on the pre-join degree conversion course or the higher apprenticeship (except to say that the higher apprenticeship preserves the principle of a profession that those without prior qualifications can still join, earning their qualification on the job).

This post has nothing to do with the debate per se, and I look forward with interest to watching the plans develop over the coming months and years. As a frontline police supervisor in my day job, my biggest concern is that when it happens (as is now almost certain) what will the pre-entry degree as envisaged by the College produce with respect to qualified police officers? To answer that question we need to examine what the degree will consist of.

Before I continue I want to make the following disclaimers up front:

  1. I have never worked for the College of Policing nor have I been involved in the work putting together the PEQF.
  2. I am a serving police officer with 13 years’ service, all of it frontline in both inner and outer London. I am currently a Sergeant in an outer Borough.
  3. This post is NOT about the debate around whether is should be done, only to demonstrate that it (theoretically) could be done.

This post is a humble suggestion from me based on the degree training that I undertook for my previous profession, teaching.

Teaching is a graduate profession and ones’ qualifications must be earned up-front at a students’ own expense before actually taking up a paid teaching job. I would argue (from personal experience) that the role of a Police Officer in the current climate is as complex a job as being a teacher. In fact in a lot of ways it has a far more critical a role in society as we are often dealing with immediate life changing issues. Much of what is learned in both policing and teaching is technical on the job skills which, as many critics point out, “can’t be learned in the classroom”. To an extent I agree and teachers do undertake a probationary year before being confirmed in post, and so I would propose a model for the new policing degree along similar lines to my Teacher Education degree I did back in the 90s.

 

With respect to policing I would argue that there are three aspects to the degree. Firstly is the academic. This would be a traditional policing studies curriculum you would find in any academic policing degree. It would cover such topics as basic criminology, theories and techniques of crime control, policing within a liberal democratic late modern society, the origins and history of the police etc. This would be marked using traditional academic assessments and marking schemas. Much like in my teaching degree where we learnt the basic theories of childhood cognitive development, child psychology, instrumental verses behaviourist theories of learning etc. This would also give police students the opportunity to develop their critical thinking skills and develop reflective practice which is one of the main drivers for the degree.

 

The second would be the professional skills training; which in policing (as an MPS officer) I would call the “Hendon bit!” With this aspect you would teach the students law, points to prove, police procedures including officer safety and emergency life support. This is the basic training that all police officers need. Mirroring teaching, these were the modules where I learnt to write lesson plans, the best way to deliver lessons, differentiation of different abilities by input and outcome etc. This would also be assessed in the traditional academic manner by knowledge and skills tests much in the way my training was assessed back at Hendon.

 

The final aspect would be professional practice. I will talk teaching first. Once a year I spent time in a real primary school classroom as the “student teacher”, starting off with short spells delivering simple lessons to a small group of children under close supervision of a tutor (or the class teacher), building up the final teaching practice in the final year where I took over a class for a whole term and basically was the teacher putting into practice what I had learned from the lecture portions of my studies. With regards to policing this can also be done. Students would be required to join their local (sponsoring) force as a Special Constable (this has an implication for recruitment onto the course, as they must also qualify to be an SC on entry to the programme). They would then go out for periods of time, starting off with tutor officers (like the old street duties courses) and develop, becoming qualified for Independent Patrol and finally being able to work for periods of time as an officer working for a full term. This aspect would simply be pass/fail. You are either competent, or you are not!

 

The degree would then conclude with the student writing a reflective dissertation based on their experiences of putting into practice the theories that they learned during the professional practice aspect. This would then earn them the full Honours degree to attain Qualified Police Officer Status, and again was similar to my original Bachelor of Education Honours degree I did some time ago which led to Qualified Teacher Status.

 

Over the three years of the degree (or four years as my teaching degree was) they would then have covered everything (and perhaps even more) that I learned on my 18 weeks at Hendon and 10 weeks street duties, plus the desired academic content and reflective practice which is transferrable if they decided to take up another profession (as I did when I eventually decided I didn’t want to be a teacher), but still have a full honours degree which is so necessary to advance in the current job market.

As you can see a professional, vocational degree with elements of professional practice and “on the street” training is possible. It has been done by other professions and it can be done by policing. There are already pre-join full and foundation degree courses out there (and admittedly I have not researched them at this time) so institutions are already delivering training of some kind.

This piece is only one suggestion, one potential model of how it could be done. Ultimately it will be down to the College as to how the qualification is designed and therefore I offer this a one officer’s humble suggestion!

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