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Teaching police officers on the PEQF: understanding the controversy

The police degree programme has attracted criticism very early in its lifespan. One study suggests a disjointed link between policing and academia but is this typical?.

Teaching police officers on the PEQF: understanding the controversy

Date - 8th December 2021
By - Ahmed Kadry and Jo Lambert
18 Comments 18 Comments}

In 2016, the College of Policing, the professional body in England and Wales that overseas training and development of police officers, introduced a new training delivery plan for all new police recruits: The Police Education Qualification Framework (PEQF). The PEQF laid out three new entry routes for new police officers, namely, the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA), the Degree Holder Entry Programme (DHEP), and the Pre-Join Degree. The PCDA sees new recruits study for their three-degree apprenticeship as they embark on their policing careers, while DHEP applicants study for two years as they have already attained a degree in a relevant subject. Pre-Join degree candidates have already studied for a policing degree and are therefore not required to undertake any additional academic study when they join the police service. The College of Policing state among the purposes of the PEQF is to “address the long-held deficiency in recognising the level at which police officers operate […and]  standardise the learning provision across all forces, in particular the initial learning for newly recruited officers”.

However, the introduction of the PEQF has not been without controversy and criticism. In July 2019, the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Constabulary, Bill Skelly, sought judicial review over the introduction of the PEQF which he claimed would lead to less police officers on front-line duties because part of their work time would need to be allocated to their degree study. The legal challenge was dismissed in December 2019. More recently, Chief Constable of Northamptonshire, Nick Adderley, was critical of the PEQF, stating that it was harming retention rates. He has since clarified his comments in a series of Tweets, stating “Over the past 2 years, Northamptonshire Police has recruited a remarkable number of talented, committed and dedicated officers, through the PEQF, who I know will go on to have incredibly successful careers in policing. Through PEQF (DHEP) Northamptonshire Police has seen remarkable success with its fast track detective programme both in terms of diversity, retention and transferable skills being brought into policing. It is my intention to hold 4 more recruitment campaigns for this programme.” This raises the question, why has the introduction of the PEQF been met with some criticism while it is still in the very early adoption phase?

One reoccurring element of confusion appears to be the misunderstanding that applicants must now have a degree to become a police officer and that this in turn eliminates a large number of prospective candidates from applying. However, the PCDA route is available to applicants who do not have a degree, and therefore not having a degree is not an obstacle to joining. For those who do already have a degree, they join a police force under the DHEP route, essentially utilising the skills they acquired in their first degree and applying them to modules on criminology and policing, hence the shorter study period of two years rather than three.

Some may still point out that the need to study for a degree may put off potential applicants but that assumption ignores how the degree programmes are intrinsically linked with the work-place rather than two separate entities. In other words, a better question may be: how does the degree help new recruits enhance their knowledge, skills and understanding of being a police officer, now and in the future?

The PEQF national curriculum sets out and standardises what topics and learning outcomes they want taught at each year, many of which are grounded in operational policing like previous initial police training programmes such as the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP) which the PEQF has replaced. Student officers as part of their degree study still need to demonstrate core policing operational competencies to achieve well-established milestones in their policing careers, such as Independent Patrol Status (IPS), whether that be evidencing they can establish grounds to justify an arrest or detention of an individual, or recognise and provide support to victims and witnesses. These may not sound like learning outcomes associated with studying for a degree, but under PEQF, it is, and that perhaps underlies some of the apprehension critics of the PEQF have when they hear and see the word ‘degree’ in that it somehow dismisses or ignores what you need to learn on the job rather than studying it.

The PM joins in with a recruit training session at Hendon 

Of course, there are many academic components on both the PCDA and DHEP, but again, these are not taught as separate entities to policing but rather with how academic theory and research can be applied to everyday policing. Modules focused on criminological theory and research are not taught as abstract concepts but applied to specific policing and criminal justice case studies. For example, when we have taught students about deterrence theory, this has been through a real-life police operation that sought to reduce commercial robberies and burglaries through deterrence messaging in the targeted areas. This knowledge of both the theory and how it can be applied could be very useful to new recruits when they eventually join a Neighbourhood Police Team where they will have opportunities to problem-solve crimes and issues in their allocated beats.  

Moreover, students are taught throughout both the PCDA and DHEP about evidence-based policing and research and the importance of putting mechanisms in place to evaluate the work they are doing. Again, this is not limited to the theoretical or abstract. Real-life examples are used where law enforcement-led interventions have not been evaluated but have actually shown to have done more harm than good. On both PCDA and DHEP, student officers also have the opportunity as part of their final assessment project to deliver a policing intervention that they will also then evaluate the strengths and weaknesses. At the Open University for example, we have worked closely with our policing partner to ensure that project titles do not just adequately assess the student’s ability to demonstrate their academic and work-based knowledge and acquired skills over the three years, but projects that can simultaneously confer a benefit in being able to serve their communities. For instance, rather than a student focusing on Anti-Social Behaviour or drug supply through county lines in theoretical terms, their project must seek to localise the issue and provide methods for how they wish their police force and relevant partner agencies to address the specific problem in their area.

One challenge is ensuring consistency in how Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and police forces work together across 43 police forces in England and Wales and how they deliver their degree programme to student officers. This will naturally be difficult to achieve in totality as each HEI and their partnering police force will have their own unique plan for delivery. However, the College of Policing do assess each programme through their Quality Assurance Process (QSA) where they evaluate strengths and weaknesses of each partnership and provide feedback. This takes place prior to the commencement of delivery but monitoring continues on an annual basis.

The delivery of online assessments has been positive 

As the PEQF is still new, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in disrupting initial delivery plans of HEIs and police forces, research and evaluations of the framework have only just begun to reveal initial findings. For example, a recent study showed some positive findings in delivering online assessments on the PCDA where the original plan was for the assessment to take place in a classroom setting. The increase use of online delivery due to the pandemic may well have limited some of the concerns over new recruits having less time on front-line duties due to being able to more easily integrate scheduled lectures into shift patterns without needing to allocate travel time. Time will tell how much of this online delivery will be kept in place in the future by HEIs in order to reduce abstraction times for student officers.

Another recent study highlighted how student officers at one police force reviewed their own experiences on the PCDA so far. Some of the findings include 30% of those interviewed feeling like “not being able to transform their academic learning into operational practice”, while more concerningly, 100% of everyone interviewed felt the programme was “disjointed due to poor relationships between policing and academia”. This is one study on one partnership between a police force and HEI, but it nevertheless illustrates the challenges that lay ahead in ensuring student officers fully benefit from the new degree programmes and be able to understand and apply the knowledge and skills they acquire into the workplace.

As more research and evaluations take place, opportunities should arise in order to amend and enhance each entry route, as well as the various forums that are currently being used by HEIs and police forces to share their experiences in order to create a community of practice. It is very natural for such a large and new framework like the PEQF to be subject to scrutiny, and rightly so, and it will no doubt go through iterative processes in the coming years based off findings and feedback.

However, amidst the controversy and scrutiny, some of the benefits may have been too easily dismissed by its sceptics because of terms like ‘degree’ and ‘academia’ and the struggle to understand what they have to do with real-life policing. However, the academic component and the practical policing component form together to become part of the degree, and with that viewpoint, the academic component should not be viewed as replacing a century worth of practical policing knowledge and experience, but as a compliment and enhancement to that knowledge and experience.

About the authors: Ahmed Kadry is the Qualification Lead for the PCDA in the Faculty of Business and Law at the Open University.

Jo Lambert is the Director of Teaching for Policing in the Faculty of Business and Law at the Open University.

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john.xmp - Thu, 06 January 2022

I am speaking from the position of a crime trainer having completed my police service came back as police staff to give something back to a career I thoroughly enjoyed.

I was a qualified police trainer with Cert Ed, yet with the introduction of PEQF this was not good enough and I was told "get a degree or change roles..." so, in fairness, the job has paid, and I am nearing the end of a two-year BA in policing studies. From a personal perspective, I have enjoyed learning, yet thinking about whether this would have improved my abilities as a police officer/detective, overall, it is a resounding NO. Yes, critical thinking may have assisted in some of my investigations and decision making but that is all. Additionally, most of the work has been in my own time in addition to my normal workload, I, therefore, feel it is comparable to that which a new officer would go through. It has not been easy.

I agree it is necessary to raise the status of policing academically, but this should not be to the detriment of practical policing. Policing today is becoming increasingly complex and more difficult for officers. I have read the research paper on PEQF performance, which was mentioned above and although no specific force is mentioned I know it is the one where I am employed. The paper makes interesting reading and there was a link in the policing insight magazine before Christmas. The lack of practical knowledge the students' officers raised was concerning, especially when considering after their tutor phase, most would be working single crewed.

Going back to the academic aspect the Universities successful bid to run the PEQF when this was put out to tender was not expected when a considerable number of our retired senior officers took up posts there beforehand.
I had heard that the Open University had bid as well but cannot confirm this. So, the thought of nepotism may be unfounded or not.

The actual running of the courses has been fraught with problems, Uni staff changing dates, times and lessons unexpectedly, not good for students, nor the police trainers trying to manage a 26-week programme. This is incredibly frustrating as the force was in consultation with the Uni for almost 6 years prior. Although teething troubles can be expected with anything new surely an effective timetable could have been produced in time. All the planning seems to be completed "on the hoof".

It is too early to assess the retention rate in my force, but I would anticipate this will be quite low. Next, we commence the DHEP direct entry for detectives so again this will be interesting due to the high level of vacancies we have in detective roles.

I am ranting but it is just frustration. Any learning can be good but the effectiveness and results in producing better-equipped officers to deal with the public and criminals are what we need to see and now I am not certain that we do.