After twenty years as a police officer, most recently in what has felt like a lottery- winning role as a new-recruit trainer within the Learning and Development Department, I would never have imagined that PC 3057 would contemplate a secondment within Higher Education. Yet, as a module team member within the Policing Organisation and Practice (POP) department at the Open University (OU), I write this post, not from what was my comfort- zone of classroom L5 at Police Headquarters, but from seat L5 on the train, as I return from a two- day trip to campus.
Reflecting on an earlier exercise regarding the POP social media strategy, I ponder how little I knew about the OU before I applied, and whether I would even have pursued such an opportunity, had it not popped up in front of me on the force intranet. The answer is a resounding ‘no’! I joined the police to be an operational officer and have never applied for anything else in the last 20 years, except for my highly – prized job in training, and there I was content. Furthermore, social media and police officers traditionally were never a good mix; until now this has been my stock answer for non-engagement.
Drawn in by the advert for a secondment to the OU as a police lecturer, I subconsciously ticked off the criteria, feeling excited about the various aspects of the role, some of which were areas that I had identified and hoped to develop one day. I appeared to fit the bill; pardon the pun! Since this was a secondment opportunity open to 24 partner forces, I considered the fact that I even got to the interview stage a huge personal achievement. With just 24 hours to prepare, GCSE results day and a family holiday putting paid to any hope of my usual meticulous preparation, I set out on a new and exciting journey with the OU. The ‘five P’s of preparation’ that I instil in my students soon paled into insignificance, as I was offered a nine-month secondment…And then I panicked! The imposter syndrome I had suffered during previous encounters with higher education, was back with a vengeance, and even the mere thought of temporarily leaving the police felt like an utterly outrageous prospect.
But, as stated by Richard Branson (in a very non-academic quote), ‘it’s only by being bold that you get anywhere’, and so here I am months later, having had two fabulous days at the OU campus in Milton Keynes. I’m buzzing with excitement and positivity, as I reflect on the experience so far and consider my future.
The role allows me to work from home, affording me priceless benefits as a working mother of two. The return to once- a- month attendance on campus, however, has enabled me to meet face-to-face with the amazing team of talented academics and practitioners from across the country, whom I’ve got to know ‘virtually’ in recent months. Each one of them has a fascinating background, their own unique experiences, and areas of research interest.
As I’ve learnt more about the OU, I’ve been consistently impressed by the rigour involved in producing and presenting the PCDA programme. The expertise involved at each stage is phenomenal, incorporating many layers of quality assurance. Collaboration with other specialist departments enables the central academics to produce and deliver a high-quality programme of study whilst providing outstanding support to police apprentices.
From a personal perspective, I have found my knowledge, skills, and experience to have been truly valued and my output thoroughly appreciated. I completely underestimated the value of my police officer skill set and it’s been a privilege to share what the head of POP, Jennifer Norman recently described as an ‘invaluable practitioner insight’, with such a talented, forward thinking, and positive group of colleagues. I must admit, I have also enjoyed the use of a very nice laptop, and the mini-Cornish hamper sent at Christmas was an unexpected treat.
Austerity and a selection of age-related injuries in recent years (and more recently my battles with Microsoft Teams) have caused me angst; at times I’ve even questioned my future in the police. This experience has given me a new perspective and I feel genuinely excited about where the journey will take me.
I came to the OU expecting that nine months later, I would take away with me a tangible product, a piece of research perhaps, or a study of some sort, that I would have completed during my secondment, but it will be much more than that. I have gained a far deeper understanding of many aspects of higher education than I could have imagined in such a short time; invaluable considering that three years ago, many of us within the training department had never stepped foot in a university.
Furthermore, my interactions with research colleagues and the Centre for Police Research and Learning (CPRL) have given me an appetite to engage with research; something which I feared when I first set foot in higher education. I have been fascinated by the various research articles and presentations that I’ve been exposed to, and I genuinely believe that this insight will enable me to take a more evidence-based approach to problem solving and decision-making in both my police work and my teaching.
The OU mission is to be open to all and this has certainly been demonstrated in my case. I may not have had all the desirable academic qualifications for my role, but the experience and potential of PC 3057 were recognised, and I was given a chance to step out of L5. I only wish I hadn’t waited for this life-changing opportunity to present itself to me; if I hadn’t, I’d be well on my way to a PhD by now, studied through the OU of course!