This blog was written by Emma Williams and Jack Chapman (research assistant).
Winning Hearts and Minds: The implications of a lack of local and central comms on the implementation of the PEQF
The controversy of #degreegate has raised its’ head again over the last two weeks with social media policing commentators specifically focusing on protected study time for those officers on the PCDA and concerns about abstractions from front line duties (amongst other things). This has, in some respects, been triggered by the Lincolnshire Police Chief Constable taking the College of Policing’s (COP) decision around police entry to a judicial review.
In February 2019 The Canterbury Centre for Policing Research was lucky enough to win a small internal grant to complete an exploratory piece of research looking at organisational readiness for the PEQF. The Centre had previously been involved in research with police officers completing a degree (in their own time). The work found inconsistencies in both the use and recognition of their new and different knowledge.
Other work conducted by MOPAC in 2018 based on interviews with learning and development (L and D) departments gathered views on preparedness of the police to work with HEIs and the development of the curriculum (using Police Now examples). However, there is limited research capturing the perceptions of officers who will be involved in supervising the new recruits and, furthermore, their role in supporting tutor constables.
There is some available academic work which is applicable to this project. The literature relates to: the opportunity for new recruits to use their taught knowledge (Ramshaw and Soppitt, 2018); the culture of resistance that prevails around changes to police training (Griffiths and Milne, 2018); and the impact of some current officers not having experience of formal education and therefore misunderstanding its’ relevance to operational practice (Williams et al, 2019; Pepper and McGrath, 2019). However, we felt there was scope to conduct more work – specifically involving the practitioners who would be actively engaged with this process as it rolls out. They are – we believe – key to this.
The research aims and how we did it
This blog is the first of two outlining the key findings from the project which was aimed at:
- Capturing the perceptions of police officers and staff around the organisational readiness of their constabulary to manage and develop new degree level entrants
- To review any promising practice in police organisations regarding the implementation
- To identify any barriers to the implementation and embedding of the PEQF
For the methodological reviewers out there, we are very aware of the limitations of this work given that it is only based in 5 police areas (30 respondents) and a national survey comprising of 67 responses representing 22 police forces. However, we are confident that this provides an indicative narrative which we think may represent concerns at a more national level. Indeed, this is clear if the issues that are regularly witnessed in social media (Twitter) commentary are anything to go by.
So what did officers say?
This first piece will discuss the theme of communication about the PEQF, both externally and internally, and the receptivity of new knowledge within the constabularies we visited. These issues are so significant when considering organisational readiness and whilst some of this may not be rocket science to readers of this blog, the importance of relaying the concerns and perceptions of the officers and police staff we spoke to is key. The second piece (forthcoming) will present the challenges of and, subsequent risks to both the PEQF and (most importantly) the officers involved in delivering it.
Communications and implications
I guess it is of no surprise that communications came up as a common theme in the interviews. This quote captures the general lack of knowledge about the PEQF full stop.
‘I did a Google search on PEQF when I knew I was coming to this interview’ (Sergeant)
There was a mismatch between what sergeants and, at times, inspectors knew about the PEQF compared to SLT and L and D representatives. And yet the former did tell us that this lack of knowledge was inhibiting their ability to recognise the benefits moving towards all recruits having a degree. Interestingly L and D reps, whilst the latter had more strategic knowledge of the aims of the PEQF, the opportunities to communicate this to lower levels was restricted by the unknown ground they were involved in themselves. This was related to the complexity of building relationships with HEIs and the lack of central guidance they had received about implementing such vast change in their organisation.
‘They (the COP) think we are a ‘can do’ organisation but this is such an enormous change and we need more support from the centre. All our time is taken up on managing HEI stuff and there has been no communication locally as a result’ (L and D rep)
Communications plans were in development within four of the forces but generally other factors had taken priority locally. Comparably, 51 (76%) of the survey respondents suggested that neither central or local information had been forthcoming about the PEQF or information about what it would mean for their role in supporting the new recruits.
As seen in recent debates on social media the concerns voiced by sergeants were mainly about staffing, resources, time and workload. The serious implications of this on officer wellbeing, for example, will be addressed in the next piece. It must be noted that L and D were aware that workforce planning and other operational issues had not been considered to the extent they should have been because of the issues raised above. One SLT member mentioned the absence of any analysis on how to effectively prepare for this huge change and this had further impacted on misconceptions about the PEQF spreading.
‘If you find anyone who’s done an organisational analysis, if you wouldn’t mind sharing it that would be great! Someone’s, one of us, is going to the national L&D leadership meeting in a couple of weeks and we’re hoping to raise this with them, one of us must have done a learning needs analysis for the rest of the organisation – we haven’t because we’re all just run ragged’ (Senior lead)
Impact on individual professionalism (again)
The lack of information about the PEQF and the effect this was having on supervisor ability to assist and update their own staff was clear. One area L and D rep voiced their desire to be able to deliver face to face information sessions with all staff but believed time constraints made this impossible. Therefore, supervisors felt ill-equipped to filter any information down. This was exacerbated by confusion about the range of diverse ways individuals can now enter the police.
‘It’s going to be really difficult, because a lot of my colleagues including me, you look at Direct Entry, you look at Police Now, now you’re looking at the PEQF, it just seems like there’s so many ways to come into the police service now that it’s getting quite confusing’ (sergeant)
Perhaps what is more important is how sergeants felt about advising the potential tutor constables about their role in supporting new recruits; how they would assess their work and what training they might receive to assist them in doing this. This was further linked to them not having an academic back ground themselves.
‘What are the performance expectations of that tutee and how could I get that tutor constable to understand that? I think the only way you can do that is get those tutor constables to be trained not just for three hours. But whether they go away for a week and learn what those expectations are, because if you don’t know that… without understanding that, we can’t really offer the support’ (sergeant)
One area had discussed giving all staff access to the HEI learning materials for upskilling, fairness and development purposes. However, the broader issues with CPD were raised by a member of SLT.
‘We have a huge issue with abstraction – everyone is struggling with it. We can say to them all we have this CPD model, this will really help you, but we don’t have training days. We’ve got gaps everywhere on the front line, we can’t recruit quick enough and getting them through training, so you know it’s like chicken and egg’
The broader issue around what counts as credible knowledge also shone through in the research. This is central to the debate around implementation. In our opinion the argument goes well beyond potential implementation failure and is something that might take many years to change.
Receptivity to new knowledge
What counts as good knowledge in policing has been debated over many years, particularly relating to what knowledge makes someone a professional officer. This has been a contentious part of the PEQF and needs raising here.
‘(The PEQF) devalues the experience you’ve got on the job. We have learnt from failures, taken bollockings and developed ourselves’
‘How do you deal with a violent person? It’s not to do with a having a degree. It’s about being able to speak to people’
Officers we spoke to were in favour of specialist knowledge being imparted, about specific areas of need and demand related issues. For example, cybercrime and CSE. However, the idea of needing this new knowledge generically, as a response officer, was not understood. Such cultural notions of what is ‘good police knowledge’ are likely to have an impact on a recruit’s opportunity to utilise their new knowledge in practice.
Additionally, officers raised vital points about the structures and processes in place within policing that hinder decisions to be brave, use innovation and try new ideas. This is central to implementation and highlights the need for the College of Policing to perhaps offer support to local areas about what might work best to encourage this. The barriers are clearly articulated by a sergeant here:
‘You go to a domestic you fill in a form. You go to another job and you do that again regardless of the circumstance. The use of discretion is drifting away and that comes from the senior levels…. you won’t be able to use (the degree) in practice’.
Further to this 58 (87%) of survey respondents also reported that they had received no training about how to support new entrants which will further compound new officers’ chances of practical applying their learning.
‘I think it’s imperative that we look to update the tutors before to make sure they do not feel the student has more knowledge than them’ (sergeant)
Sadly, the wider issue and controversy about the PEQF and ‘professional officers’ is already out there – and remaining. This sense of de-professionalisation could have very negative implications on current officers and their own sense of ability. This very clearly highlights the significance of getting communications right from the onset in preparing for the arrival of the PEQF and in fully investing in tutor constables (and their supervisors) before the recruits arrive. Further issues around these aspects of the research will be addressed in the next blog.
This first blog is a whistle stop tour through two themes arising from the findings of our small piece of research. The next one will focus on organisational risks, the wider risks to the success of the PEQF itself and some recommendations identified by the research team.
Massive thanks to the constabularies involved and more importantly the officers and staff who spoke to us with such honesty and reflection!
 data collected from 19 participants in 4 focus groups, 11 interviews with representatives including learning and development (4), Inspectors (8) and SLT (3)