QUALIFYING TIMES: RECOGNISING OFFICERS’ EXPERIENCE IN THE POLICE EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS FRAMEWORK

Emma Williams

There has been a lot of recent debate about degree-level entry and the ‘professionalisation’ of policing. Emma Williams of Canterbury Christ Church University has been heavily involved in work to recognise serving officers’ existing skills and capacities. Here, she outlines what ‘Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning’ will mean.

Over the last few months there have been five regional events held by the College of Policing to update local forces and related Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) on the Police Education Qualification Framework (PEQF) and what it means to them.

By their own admission the College has not been fully effective in their communications with frontline practitioners.
By their own admission the College has not been fully effective in their communications with frontline practitioners, and as an attender and presenter at two of these events, the audience really was made up of interested academics and officers specifically involved in learning, development and training.

Misunderstanding remains about the PEQF and this was highlighted to me in a recent blog by an Inspector from Cheshire.

Dan Reynolds is a huge advocate of and engager with the College and his awareness is probably more advanced than most on the detail of the PEQF.

However, details have moved on since Dan last enquired and whilst much of his blog was correct some of the terminology and detail about what officers could achieve via their experience and prior learning was slightly confused.

Therefore I thought it might be useful to give an update based on what I have been discussing at the events being held across the country to potentially, a wider audience. So here goes.

Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning

Last summer, 2016 a tender came out to work with the College of Policing on the controversial PEQF.

Indeed, for anyone who has read my ramblings on degree gate, you will know that I too had mixed feelings about making degree level entry compulsory for a range of reasons.
The contract was for a six month period, finishing in March 2017 and as Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) had been very much involved in the conversation prior to the tender, we thought ‘in for a penny, in for a pound,’ and put in a bid. We were successful in the process and here we are now at the end of that contract.

The work strand I was involved in was the Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL)[1].

CCCU has a very established programme for serving officers, and if I am quite honest, the RPEL options and now the apprenticeship programme are the two areas of the PEQF I am most excited about.

The College did listen and have actioned some of the findings from their consultation about degree level entry (which reported in December).

Indeed, for anyone who has read my ramblings on degree gate, you will know that I too had mixed feelings about making degree level entry compulsory for a range of reasons.

Qualifications

The RPEL side of the PEQF I feel very positive about. A recent survey conducted by the College found that 79% of officers who responded would like to obtain a qualification.

Officers (if they wish) are absolutely entitled to claim the rightful recognition they deserve for reasons of transferability, recognition and actually for some, their own self esteem.
CCCU have between 50-80 applications a year for the BSc, and the amount of learning officers and staff can evidence in their forms always impresses us – clearly this should count towards academic credits for a full degree.

The complex decisions made, the research undertaken to explore problems, the conflict management skills and the reflection and self-evaluation completed on a daily basis is something which is hard to evidence in many other occupations. This in itself makes officers professional people.

Neither me, my colleagues or the College would state that a degree automatically makes that person more professional; BUT having a qualification can align policing with other professions, and I truly believe these issues are two separate things.

Feedback from our own students suggests that qualifications can also make an individual feel more justified in their role. However, regardless of tha,t and put fairly simply, officers (if they wish) are absolutely entitled to claim the rightful recognition they deserve for reasons of transferability, recognition and actually for some, their own self esteem.

This is why I was so pleased to work with the College on this – because I absolutely believe in it – should officers wish to do it. And let’s make this very clear – for serving officers it is optional.

The deliverables

To be honest when I saw the list of deliverables and the timeframes we had to complete them I nearly panicked and ran away. Six months to produce:

A directory of universities with policing related qualifications /costs attached / learning methods / assessment styles and potential content
Three guidance documents for individuals, forces and higher education institutions
A standardised application form for officers to use when claiming their credits
An agreed list of the academic credits attached to a number of current National Police Curriculum courses
We would not have been able to do this work without huge assistance from a number of HEIs and forces who helped with the indicative credit figures / the piloting of the application form / the feedback on the application form from practitioners etc. But after much blood and sweat we got there.

There is also an additional development – a digital platform which will allow officers to populate their career history, previous training, education and experience to provide them with the indicative credits they might be entitled to should they wish to gain them (this is due for release in the summer).

Unintended consequences

One of the most positive issues arising from the pilot of the application form was the positive feedback from some of the officers involved who previously had no idea what they might be able to gain academically from simply what they already do.
This is a very effective way of formally recognising the fact that some people might not have the piece of paper; but my goodness they are capable of gaining one – if they want to.
The credits fed back to the officers involved ranged from some applicants being accredited to a standard half way through a degree qualification – meaning they could gain a degree in three years part-time.

Others received feedback from universities that would take them straight in at a postgraduate level purely based on the complexity of their experience and professional training on the job.

If policing is going down the road of all applicants either coming in with a degree or being trained to degree level through an apprenticeship, this is a very effective way of formally recognising the fact that some people might not have the piece of paper; but my goodness they are capable of gaining one – if they want to.

Worth noting is that this credit recognition was reflected across all of the HEIs that helped with the evaluation of the application forms – of which there were a fair few.

The willingness of the workforce to engage with us on this shows the appetite for this opportunity, and as we promised the application form has been completely amended based on the applicants’ feedback. It is now relatively simple to complete, standardised and should make the process of applying for credits fairer and more consistent across all academic institutions. This was an aim of the PEQF initially.

Change for us all

The development of the guidance documents has not been simple. Indeed, there have been questions at a number of events I have attended about the reality of what they include actually happening in practice and the potential to set false expectations. But in order to make this work, everyone involved needs to make some changes.

The College acknowledge they cannot enforce what individual forces choose to offer their staff and officers in terms of support and financial assistance – forces need to consider operational requirements and reduced budgets.

Individuals cannot guarantee that they will be able to attend all the relevant lectures and get every assignment in on time, but if they do choose this option, the personal extra time to study is a given.

And HEIs might not all fully understand operational commitments and the need to make their theoretical learning practically useful – there is change needed here for us all.

Supporting each other

The guidance documents, I hope, will outline similar information which is written in a different way dependant on the audience (force, potential student or HEI).

There are clear ways that this process can be eased through mutual support and all if us accepting change and doing things differently. The documents are of course far more detailed but here are some examples from each one:

Individual guidance – The aim of the individual guidance is to offer information about different learning styles, to provide examples of what people might use as evidence if they decide to apply for credits or put them towards a further qualification – the individuals who chose to take this opportunity are the most important ones and they will need the support from the forces and the HEIs.

Therefore, we have tried to offer some thoughts about the type of questions that potential students might want to ask their force about in terms of support. This might depend on the type of learning style someone opts for, but it could focus on time to attend lectures and complete assignments, having an assigned mentor who might have academic experience or even just someone to help them think about where they might be able to apply their learning and help their own force with knowledge gain.

I can hear the ‘yeah right’ comments as I write this, and have heard the ‘that ain’t gonna happen’ statements myself. I completely agree that the culture to promote such a learning ethos is not quite there – but let’s try to be positive!

Force guidance – This is where we try and offer examples of what might work for people who want to study and gain credits for their work. There are some huge advantages for forces who enable their workforce and believe it or not some great examples of those that do exactly this.

The added bonus is that a supported workforce gain a real sense of value from that support and feel more part of their workplace. This might not be stated in the guidance but offering support to your people has huge benefits both in terms of productivity and for using their assessments to enable the development of an organisational research bank and evidence base.

This guidance focuses on the specifics of what forces can do to help, what support issues might come up for different learners and how they can assist with the application process. There are examples of good practice out there – let’s try and use it, support this change and help employees’ have their expertise recognised more formally.

HEI guidance – Let’s face it, this is also a huge change for some HEIs. Many might not like having to sign up to a set curriculum, to be more thoughtful in the way they deliver teaching and in their application process. Plus they will inevitably have to think more practically about how they assess students.

But if we want to really align the world of policing and academia we should embrace this change. The opportunities to learn from practitioners about their reality compared to what is in the books is something that should be welcomed.

The HEI guidance offers ideas about how the academic community can support students in operational roles and how we can have a real impact on workplace learning based on education and evidence. Exciting times for us all as teachers in a very practical, fast changing and dynamic world.

The future

This change will take time and it will require us all to think differently and step outside of our comfort zone if we want to make it work. However if we really care about the future of policing for its employees and the public we have to acknowledge how fast the environment is changing.

Universities need to provide evolving, relevant, research driven programmes which aim to assist practical cops and staff think about how they map learning onto their vital experience and on the job learning.

Forces need to support their staff in order to help them gain the recognition they deserve (if they choose too). The benefit for the individuals and also on a wide scale is clear.

And individuals should they choose to put their credits towards a further qualification have to try and use their learning in the workplace despite the potential barriers. This could (and I am positive) facilitate a change that is needed to help develop a learning and change willing environment which may make the vital difference in policing going forward.

[1] This piece only discusses detail from this area of the PEQF

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