What a week it has been for the PEQF and for policing more generally. Firstly, we had news of the new PM’s pledge to recruit 20,000 police officers – or replace the officers lost perhaps. This news has received mixed responses with discussions focused on a number of issues around local infrastructure, facilities, questions about police staff numbers and many more factors. However, one of the features was of course about police training / education challenges which brings us right back to the argument about the PEQF.
Furthermore, this weekend the PFEW released their very interesting findings from some research they have conducted with new officers completing the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship. These findings (whilst the methods and numbers are yet to be published) mirror and perhaps triangulate those of our research outlined in the first blog. Whilst they are based on the perspective of the apprentice as opposed to those in supervisory positions and learning and development personnel the work evidences the issues with implementation, communications, knowledge, abstraction, study time and other factors relating to the relationship with and expectations of the HEIs involved in delivering the degree. This in our opinion needs further research sooner rather than later.
The complexity of this vast change to police training and the realistic delivery of its’ aims was discussed, by many, during the very early development on the PEQF. These issues were raised by officers (of all ranks), academics and general police commentators and anger about such challenges falling on deaf ears has been the focus of some debate on social media this week.
The purpose of this second blog, based on the small piece of research on organisational readiness for the PEQF (conducted at the CCPR), is to further the points raised by officers in the first piece about communications and professionalism. This blog concentrates on the implications of the issues raised, by officers and staff, for both the organisation, the individual and the success of the PEQF itself. It should also be read with the findings from the PFEW work in mind. (see here: https://www.polfed.org/news-media/latest-news/2019/officers-bearing-brunt-of-disorganised-degree-scheme/)
I must reiterate here that I am not against the aims of PEQF, particularly the RPEL focus to recognise the vast experience of current officers. I like to think that people reading this will interpret it as it is meant. It is not written to negate the work of the College of Policing, it simply captures and relays the voices of those we spoke to – not the researchers’ personal opinions of the PEQF.
The aims, methods and limitations of the work have already been noted, however we feel that the following issues raised by practitioners themselves, are important and indicative of the bigger picture raised by the PFEW. The factors raised link to risks around organisational and officer health and the legacy of the PEQF. Since the first blog was published other force areas (not involved in this research), have messaged me confirming similar issues. If this is as common as it seems then the concerns about the impact this will have further down the line should be heard.
Listening to the officers in this research highlighted issues about undervalued staff, what counts as priority work and officer wellbeing. This latter issue is often discussed in the context of increasing demand, less officers and the witnessing of horrific events in policing. Here however it was related to internal factors impacting on individual capability, a sense of identity, wellbeing and personal ability. Moreover, it was the organisation itself and the implementation of the PEQF that was impacting on their concerns. Please note that these issues are not mutually exclusive to the points outlined in the previous blog. They are linked, complex and need to be considered together.
Risks to the Organisation
Concerns about knowledge and the ability to support new ‘academic cops’ was raised in the previous paper. However, the sense of feeling undervalued was also related to current officers’ access to new forms of knowledge. Presenting new learning opportunities to new recruits, especially in the form of a higher education qualification, did not resonate with officers’ own experiences of being able to access further courses and learning. One senior lead in L and D conveyed this:
‘Some of them (the officers) will argue, I’ve not had the opportunities that, for example a Police Now or a Direct Entry, is getting. Because they are getting all the courses first. Why, how? What’s the rationale behind it? And as a line manager, as a second line manager I haven’t got the answers’
The PEQF states, as do many of us, that officers already operate at degree level, just without the certification to formalise it. Suggestions of how to bridge this gap focused on the messages around ‘professionalisation’ and the fair recognition of serving officers’ skills as equally professional. It was felt that the term ‘professionalising the police’ inferred that the force was not currently professional and this threatened officers’ sense of value:
‘The arguments that come out from the public and in policing itself of ‘oh you’re going to need a degree now’. I think we’ve always been operating at that high level and I think sometimes people do themselves a great disservice by not recognising that’s the level that they’re working at. I think it’s kind of like a perception that when we talk about the professionalisation of the police service it implies they’re not professional already’ (Senior lead – learning and development)
Concerns over the possible tensions created by this were thought to be addressed, in theory, through the Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (REPL) strand of PEQF. As one L and D lead voiced.
‘We need to make people aware of the availability of the credit estimator tool, and to start that conversation to say it’s okay if you want to develop yourself and get academic recognition for the fantastic stuff you’ve done in service.’
Investing in current staff is absolutely key for two reasons. Firstly, it portrays genuine and meaningful messages to current staff about their professionalism and, secondly, it will assist them with being able to help new officers to understand their learning in a practical context. The former blog raised the problems with time, communication and the limitations to CPD processes, however there are other issues that relate to changing priorities and the reactive nature of policing.
There is no doubt that over recent years policing has had to become even more reactive, with most officers delivering less proactive work and even much police research being focused on symptoms of problems over the long term factors affecting criminality. Additionally, the expectations about where police should focus their attention becomes more complicated when there is less resource to achieve it all. The ability of officers to do ‘anything properly’ was raised in the context of CPD by an officer involved in the implementation of the PEQF.
‘We are developing CPD officers… But then the bit that is really difficult is the other stuff this competes with. DA matters are really important, safeguarding is really important, disclosure’s really important. We’ve got all these big legislation things that HMIC’s beating us with, and then we’ve got the organisational development stuff like the PEQF and transformation. Then we’ve got the leadership capability assessment that we’re doing. Police officers will only focus on the legislative piece. So the biggest challenge is getting them to understand everyone’s own professional development. It’s not just about catching baddies in policing because your organisation still needs developing’
Whilst this raises huge questions about the policing mandate and current paradigm which is relevant in the argument about the 20000 new officers, it highlights how CPD for serving officers can fall off the radar with all the other demands policing has. Indeed, the lack of focus on valuing and developing current officers and the impact this has on wellbeing was a significant part of the research outlined here.
Risks to officers – new and old
Wellbeing was at the forefront of discussions. Issues related to concerns about growing workloads and increased responsibility for line managers and tutor constables. Plus, the new recruits and the added work, they had with their extra academic assessments was also raised. Wellbeing is a huge issue currently in policing and this needs further consideration. As one sergeant stated:
‘If you have a meltdown the tutor is the first person you will go to. It’s very stressful for the tutors especially if your student is struggling – our tutors struggle as well because they are carrying the extra burden on top of their day job and it puts a lot of stress on them – we have to support them as well as the student’
On top of the normal stresses of the police role it should be recognised that the introduction of the PEQF apprenticeships will add new stresses to staff. As one sergeant voiced:
‘In the future you might have 20 people across a number of different rotas who have come in via five different entry routes, they have different shift patterns, they have different protected learning time and they are learning at different speeds, they’ve got different requirements for when they go out in terms of what jobs they need exposure to. That’s quite a headache and actually just resourcing teams takes up a lot of time’
Investing and planning the role of the tutors was raised in the first blog but this version highlights the criticality of this even further. Our survey reinforced these findings, with 70% of respondents discussing issues around staff wellbeing or morale and 84% being concerned about the impact of new recruits and their required study time on team resilience and current staff workload. Indeed, officers raised the importance of understanding wellbeing as being central to the new recruits learning programme.
‘I’m not sure how much input they get in terms of wellbeing, the stress of the job, and those kinds of things. Because you can’t easily learn that from a book. Someone could be stabbed outside this door here and you might look at me and say what do I do, and I could give you a book and say follow those points, and you’d be able to deal with that. But what about the wellbeing of you, the officers dealing with such an incident, all those kinds of things. I think it’s good that we’re professionalising the job but I don’t know how they’d deal with those other important issues just because of the variety of things that you can deal with and the way that impacts on you as an individual, and wider than that, how it might impact on your family and the community as well’ (Inspector)
There is already a wealth of issues in policing with absenteeism, leavism and officer wellbeing. There has to be a recognition that some of these factors presented by the PCDA and PEQF may add to this unless they are forecasted, recognised and sufficiently addressed.
The risk to the aims of the PEQF
There is no doubt that all of this risks the PEQF achieving its aims in practice. Officers did raise discussions about the opportunity for diversity with the new educational standards in policing but the most common issue raised related to ‘academic cops’ and the lack of evidence in place to support the implementation of the PEQF.
‘Why hasn’t there been a pilot’ (Sergeant)
‘Why have we not had better insight into how the training was planned and a more pragmatic description of content and methodology’ (Sergeant)
This of course might be related to the lack of knowledge many have of the purpose and aims of the new curriculum but it also reflects officers’ perceptions that new graduate knowledge offers little to policing as it stands. Just 19% of survey respondents believed graduates would offer new insights into police business.
The role of experience in learning policing was held high by our respondents and this is vital in understanding the long term success of the PEQF.
‘A degree isn’t going to help when they are in the middle of a fight on a Friday night. It is I being able to work with your colleague, it is being able to make sure everybody’s safe and that type of thing and I don’t think that can be taught in a classroom really’ (Sergeant).
In order to ensure that new recruits feel comfortable when using their knowledge in their role there needs to be a wider shift in thinking about learning and the value of other knowledge types in the policing sphere. Valuing both taught knowledge and experience is critical to this. Ensuring that current and new staff are given the proper time to reflect, learn and support each other is vital.
Given the current research findings from this and other work it seems we are a way off making this happen effectively. Sadly, that puts the opportunities offered by the PEQF on the growth of a learning culture and the recognised value of current officers’ skills and experience at risk.