Assessing ‘degree doing police recruits’: Getting it right

Assessing the Apprenticeships Part 1
As we progress with the development of the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) (and to a lesser extent the Degree Holder Entry Programme (DHEP)) which readers of this blog will know a few things about (I hope), one of the questions that arises in the programme design and validation process is how are we going to assess the work that Apprentices and Student Officers are expected to produce. This blog is primarily concerned with the PCDA, and therefore I will be referring to Student Officers as Apprentices, but, with the exception of discussing Levels 4&5 and the End Point Assessment (in a future blog), issues will also apply to the DHEP Student Officers.
Currently, those undertaking the Certificate in Knowledge in Policing (CKP) have a number of written assessments and a knowledge exam which is pitched at Level 3 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) (A-Level equivalent). This means that the assessments can be fairly limited, and are designed to test well defined problems. The PCDA, however, is a three year programme which is assessed at Levels 4, 5 and 6 depending on which year of the programme the apprentice is in. These higher levels increase the levels of knowledge, and ability to evaluate that knowledge. These higher levels also prepare the holder of the qualification the ability to operate in more complex situation and these are the types of situations that police officers regularly find themselves in. Therefore any assessments that the apprentice undertakes will need to reflect these levels culminating in the Level 6 assessments which leads to the award of a Bachelor’s Degree.
The PCDA, however, is more than an academic programme. It is a programme designed to produce fully competent operational police officers and whilst academic assessments will form a part of the process there is a challenge to ensure that these assessments are relevant practically AND that Operational Competence is assessed in a manner acceptable to both the Police and to the University. However this blog will examine the issue of the academic assessment of the new apprentices, a blog on assessing operational competence will follow at a later date.
Essay Writing Cops?
The word “academic” does seem to put a lot of critics of the PEQF on edge, but what we are really talking about is the knowledge portion of the curriculum. This is the area of the curriculum which will be vastly expanded from the current initial police training regime (College of Policing, 2017). The content of this will include a far greater range and a far greater depth of knowledge than is currently delivered. Topics from the psychology of vulnerable victims, to basics concepts in criminology and crime prevention, to the handling of cybercrime all underpinned by the wider notion of Evidence-Based Policing will be covered, and much much more. All of this needs to be assessed to the appropriate level, e.g. a multiple choice examination would not be acceptable at many Universities at Levels 5 & 6, some may not even find it acceptable at Level 4, and yet so many police knowledge exams are just that, multiple choice. As a result the HEIs in partnership with their partner police forces in designing their assessment strategy will need to factor this in.
The term “essay writing cops” has been used to highlight a concern since Peter Neyroud conducted his 2011 Review into Police Leadership and Training. The essential criticism is that writing essays is not an effective way of assessing professional police officers. Some of this negativity stems partly from the concept of the essay as a method of assessment and the fact that one thing police officers do not have to do in their daily duties is to write essays. However universities have often seen essays as a very assessment tool for a number of reasons.
• It can examine deep understanding of the knowledge of the student.
• It can examine the breadth of reading done by the student.
• It can examine a student’s ability to critically examine the topic.
• It can examine the student’s own biases towards a topic.
• It examines a student’s ability to express themselves clearly and logically (basically can they communicate effectively through writing).
• It is a relatively easy assessment to set and examine.
I have friends, however, who are undertaking professional qualifications at University in areas such as Primary Teaching and Midwifery, and even they have to write essays despite the fact that they will, most likely, never have to write another once they qualify. It is just considered part of the academic culture of the discipline and a way of assessing key knowledge.
The key to ensuring that whatever assessment strategy is employed, there needs to be a diverse range of assessment methods (CCCU, 2015) and the closer that we can keep them to the relevance of day to day policing the better. Examples of options include, critical evaluations of official reports (such as Baby P, or Victoria Climbé examining the police’s responsibility in relation to safeguarding; The Winsor, or Neyroud Reviews so that the student officer is aware of contemporary issues in policing), providing a briefing document to a senior officer into a major/critical incident, producing a presentation on a proposed policing strategy to a senior officer or a local community group (with accompanying analyses), conducting a personal reflection on a range of incidents that they dealt with whilst on operational duties etc. All of these things will allow the HEI to test an apprentice’s ability to think critically in much the same way as an essay as outlined above, to examine the levels of knowledge that the officer has and all within a professional policing context.
There have been criticisms from the police organisation of the whole PEQF project to be sure, reflecting on the “essay writing cops” trope, however in trying to address this issues there has also been pushback from academia. One commentator I interact with on a regular basis question how this was an academic programme without essays, and claimed that this was just a way for forces to farm out training. However the assessments will be at Level 6, and do examine in a similar manner to essays. Whilst this framework is to be transformative to the police it will also have a similar effect on Universities as they will have to adjust their processes to the needs of the forces, without compromising academic integrity, in short we all need to be doing things differently as Williams et al. (2019) point out.
There will be exams, but these will have to be limited and actually test the deeper understanding of the knowledge rather than just the surface knowledge of laws and procedures, and yet there will still be a great deal of “black letter law” to learn. The examination procedure will have be far more rigorous and in depth that just regurgitating statutes, or selecting from a limited multiple choice of answers which apprentices will have a one in four chance of guessing. The programme is about having police officers thinking differently and having the higher level of knowledge to support their work, and to evaluate their own work through critical reflection. This should result in a positive impact upon the quality of service that officers can provide to the public.
Concluding Remarks for Part 1.
Assessment is a key part of education. It is how we judge that a student actually has the knowledge, skills and behaviours required of a professional police officer in the modern age. The National Policing Curriculum has widened the amount of knowledge required of new police officers a great deal. The curriculum includes a greater knowledge of crime prevention theories and the position of the police within society. It aims to give them a greater sense of professional identity and grant them the skills to reflect upon their own performance on a routine basis to constructively improve. We must also ensure that any assessment of this knowledge is conducted at the right academic level, and is of use to professional police officers. This is the challenge, however HEIs are working with the training design teams of the forces to best ensure that this happens to the satisfaction of both, and that the final qualification earned by the apprentices actually equates to a degree.
However, what these academic assessments do not do is examine the apprentices’ operational competence, i.e. the practical application of the academic knowledge in the real world. I anticipate that this is/will be a major concern of commentators from frontline officers and their line managers working with apprentices, to the public who want to ensure that the police officers patrolling their neighbourhoods and investigating crimes that they may become victims of are able to do so effectively. It will also be important to chief officers (some of whom are also sceptical of the PEQF) who require competent officers for the money that they have to invest within them (though they will be drawing on the Apprenticeship Level and effectively are going to get money back from the government. This is the subject of a whole other blog and will follow shortly.
CCCU (2015) Learning and Teaching Strategy 2015-2020. [Online] Downloaded from [21/04/2019].
College of Policing. (2017) Policing Education Qualifications Framework: Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship – National Policing Curriculum (Complete Version) June 2017 – Version 1.0. Ryton-on-Dunsmore: College of Policing.
IfA (2017). End Point Assessment Plan for Police Constable Integrated Degree Apprenticeship at Level 6. [Online] Downloaded from [Accessed 21/04/2019].
Neyroud. (2011) Review of Police Leadership and Training. London: Home Office.
Williams, E., Norman, J. & Rowe, M. (2019) ‘The police education qualification framework: a professional agenda or building professionals?’ Police Practice and Research. [Online]
Read more at [Accessed 21/04/2019]


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