The Police Education Qualification Framework: What do we know and where is it going?

by Dr Emma Williams, Director of Research and Strategic Partnerships, The Centre for Policing Research and Learning (CPRL) at The Open University and Jennifer Norman, Head of Policing Organisation and Practice at The Open University.

The Police Education Qualification Framework (AKA degree gate) remains a contentious subject. Recent commentary around the ‘degree debate’ was triggered by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s request in November 2022 for the College of Policing (CoP) to consider a fourth ‘non-degree’ route for new police recruits. This blog isn’t intended to provide an opinion on what a fourth route should look like, or in fact whether there should be a change. What we will do here is reflect on our involvement in the police education, research and learning sphere over several years. We’ve worked in operational and strategic policing environments as researchers. We have spent a large part of our careers as policing academics delivering policing degrees to serving officers/staff and conducted several research projects related to the theme of professionalisation in policing. It is this that the PEQF originally sought to achieve.

Some of the criticisms of the PEQF relate to the academic nature of the degree level entry and the lack of relevance to operational roles. We would argue, having taught serving police officers, that the theoretical understanding from policing research and scholarship, combined with the practical experience of officers working in the field is where the learning really happens.

Some of the themes covered in the PEQF curriculum provide the reasons and justifications for why elements of police work are so essential. For example, the role of community police officers, community engagement and the impact this has on police legitimacy, trust, and confidence. In addition, police officers often encounter individuals that present a number of complex issues related to vulnerability. The input of certain academic evidence can help officers structure the way they engage with these members of the community in inclusive and fair ways. Therefore, the key to making academic knowledge relevant, is to situate it in the context of what the police know and do every day.

Sometimes these positive aspects of the PEQF get lost in binary conversations and considerations about what academic level police education should be. Additionally, at a time when policing is trying to be more efficient and effective, focusing on what learning, education and research can bring to policing in positive way, can facilitate more objective discussions about the role of education in policing.

Themes that have arisen from the work we’ve done

Professionalism is linked to knowledge and officers feeling empowered, able and equipped to do their job. Research indicates that officers feel their decision-making is enhanced from the knowledge input, it can make them feel more confident to problem solve with partner agencies, and those with degree level education have an increased sense of professionalism.

Research conducted in specialist areas of the police also shows links to welfare, personal efficacy, and personal accomplishment in the role. Similarly with new recruits, national surveys demonstrate that those who have completed the PEQF feel more equipped to do their role compared to those cohorts of trainees who have completed the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP).

One of the distinct differences between the IPLDP and the PEQF is the level of learning delivered. The IPLDP requires officers to demonstrate their ability to ‘follow instructions’ at level 3. The PEQF develops officers’ skills at level 6, to think critically about problems they face and encourages them to use innovative practices beyond following instructions. Given the diverse landscape within which policing operates, it is essential that officers have the scope to move beyond a template version of policing practice and deliver context led policing which recognises difference and individual needs.

We have also recognised from a phased project we have undertaken for the Uplift Programme, that the support on the ground for both the new recruits and those constables who tutor them is inconsistent, can lack strategic support and vision, and often the tutors are not given the development they need to be effective in post. The learning time expected from organisations is often not guaranteed, which causes tension between officers trying to complete their academic study and the organisational need for them to be operational. Additionally, the research has found repetition in assessment processes which can cause frustration and confusion about where to prioritise their time. National surveys have found that this burden can have negative implications for the wellbeing of apprentices.

The original aim of the PEQF was intended to include supporting professional training and education for serving officers and police staff through the process of the recognition of prior experiential learning (RPEL). In our opinion, this work remains undeveloped at this time but is crucial for equity and accessibility to continued professional development (CPD). Furthermore, if forces are given the allowance to decide whether they run the PEQF locally, or remain with the IPLDP there is a risk that a two-tiered police service will prevail. Placing the learning entirely back to local delivery is likely to put significant strain on learning and development departments and limits both serving officers and staffs CPD. Furthermore, it will compromise the specialist courses required in some areas of policing such as investigating rape and sexual offences. Working with HEIs in a truly collaborative way with the police has been identified in some PEQF partnerships. These approaches should be harnessed and rather than focusing on the negative aspect of this field, the good practices in operation should be shared and developed further.

Ultimately, whilst the findings of this research and other pieces of work have been conflated here, we hope that they feed into ways forward for improving the police education landscape for both the individual officers and the police organisations themselves.

It seems ironic that we operate in an environment that puts onus on evidence led practice, efficiency, and the correct deployment of resources and yet with reference to the Home Secretary’s announcement, it seems equipping officers with the skills to understand research and evidence and how to apply it in practice is being undermined. Developing the skills needed to draw on different forms of knowledge from research and other formal / informal sources arguably aids the ability to think widely and objectively about different problems. After all policing is about people. It is about risk and harm. If we don’t equip officers with this kind of knowledge from the start, we maybe doing them a disservice when they are on the frontline.

From PC to HE

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!

Facing the future: Police learning in the metaverse


by Simon Hull, Lecturer in Work Based Learning at The Open University

There’s always a lot of hype surrounding new technology, how it will work and evolve and often accompanied by claims as to how it will improve our lives. But one vision of our digital future has received increasing exposure in the popular press in recent times that doesn’t yet appear to be fading away: the metaverse.

I’m intrigued by the metaverse. I’ve long since had an interest with virtual reality (VR) and its application to learning in work-based settings, not least operational policing. Indeed, The Open University has made great strides into teaching with VR through the Open Justice court room application, in which learners can explore a court building and learn about how it functions. But the metaverse takes VR several steps further, potentially opening up new avenues for immersive police education and training.

Whilst many people may be new to the term, the metaverse is not a new concept. The idea was first introduced by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel called Snow Crash. Stephenson envisaged a digital 3D world called the Metaverse that runs parallel to our own and where its real-life users have avatars that carry out their day-to-day lives in virtual reality. More recently, Ernest Cline’s novel (and subsequent Steven Spielberg movie) Ready Player One depicted a type of metaverse in which society worked, studied and played. The term then gained publicity in 2021 when Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the company was being renamed Meta and would focus upon building ‘3D spaces in the metaverse will let you socialize, learn, collaborate and play’ (Meta, no date).

Academic discussion around the implications for using the metaverse in education is not a new concept (Tlili et al., 2022) and there have been many attempts to define what the metaverse is. Mystakidis (2022, pp. 486) defines it as ‘the post-reality universe, a perpetual and persistent multiuser environment merging physical reality with digital virtuality. It is based on the convergence of technologies that enable multisensory interactions with virtual environments, digital objects and people such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)’.

This is quite a mouthful, but many people will be drawn to the idea of existing in a shared virtual world where they can live and work together, building communities that thrive and challenge us just as any other does.

As Mystakidis suggests, the metaverse isn’t really one technology. In 2006, a research body called the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF), set out a roadmap in which 4 types of metaverse were conceived, combining real life and virtual reality.

• Augmented Reality can be seen in games such as Pokemon Go and head-up displays (HUD) found in some cars

• Lifelogging, where people capture and share aspects of their daily life through technology is ubiquitous via applications such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and also through wearable technology like the Apple Watch

• Mirror Worlds such as Google Maps and Google Earth reflect the real world but add in additional layers of information

• Virtual Reality can be seen in cases including Roblox and Minecraft (Kye et al, 2021).

Howell (2022) links these four concepts to how the metaverse could be used in education, picking out VR as being a crucial aspect in the application of the metaverse in educational settings and it’s VR that many people picture when they think of the metaverse.

It’s also with VR that my own intrigue around how the metaverse could be utilised in police learning is tweaked. VR already allows people to train in unfamiliar environments, becoming proficient in using tools and dealing with situations that may be dangerous, complicated or costly in real-life (think surgeons performing a life-saving operation or firefighters searching a blazing building). The metaverse takes this concept and allows multiple users to exist and collaborate in the same VR world.

I wonder, could this approach be applied to policing?

Communication is a key aspect of policing, not least amongst internal staff. By training together in the metaverse, greater understanding could be achieved and collaborative methods explored, accelerating learning opportunities and providing rich educational environments. For example, rather than training individuals to secure and investigate a crime scene, real-world mimicking simulations could be created in which response officers attend, talk to victims and witnesses, integrate and work with colleagues from specialist units and brief supervisors of their actions. They can also build knowledge as well as skills, learning about the forensic qualities of different materials and objects as they encounter them. Team de-briefings can be held and the scenario could be carried through the full investigation cycle, ending up presenting evidence in court.

Other potential uses could include where police officers and staff  practice conversations that they may undertake in the workplace that are relatively infrequent but that have very high-stakes when they do, such as delivering a death message, talking to a victim of domestic abuse or conducting a disclosure briefing to a  defence solicitor in a custody suite. Learners could learn about psychology and criminology as they walk through crime case studies. Metaverse technology will give a safe space to acquire knowledge, practice skills and discuss the outcomes with colleagues, delivered efficiently without the need for lengthy abstractions from duties.

Of course, there are significant challenges attached to the development of the metaverse and its application to education. Data security, regulation (who will police the metaverse? That’s another question), inequality in access to educational opportunities, and costs (headsets and software development are expensive) (Davis, 2022) are all relevant and could lead to a less than enthusiastic take-up by the public services.

The effect on learners’ mental health through being detached from the real world should not be overlooked. In the metaverse, people can present themselves as they wish to be seen, rather than how they actually are, and lines between the virtual and real worlds may become blurred (Kye et al, 2021). Protecting the welfare of learners will therefore become increasingly valid as opportunities to exist in the metaverse increase.

So, is the metaverse a fad or is it really the next big thing in online technology? Meta are by no means the only company to be investing in this brave new world. Gaming company Roblox already has a significant foothold in the metaverse and Microsoft and Fortnite, amongst others, are developing the technology. The metaverse has the potential to impact upon all of our lives; whether it does so in police learning, virtually or in reality, remains to be seen.


Davis, L (2022). How the Metaverse Is Shaping the Future of Education. Available at: (Accessed: 6 May 2022).

Howell, J. (2022) Metaverse For Education – How Will The Metaverse Change Education?. Available at: (Accessed: 6 May 2022).

Bokyung, K., Nara, H., Eunji, E., Yeonjeong, P. and Soyoung, J. (2021). ‘Educational applications of metaverse: possibilities and limitations’, Journal of Educational Evaluation for Health Professions. 18(32). Available at: doi:10.3352/jeehp.2021.18.32 (Accessed: 8 July 2022).

Meta (no date) Connection is evolving and so are we. Available at: (Accessed: 6 May 2022).

Mystakidis, S. (2022). ‘Metaverse’ Encyclopedia 2(1), pp. 486-497. Available at: (Accessed: 8 July 2022).

Tlili, A., Huang, R., Boulus, S., Liu, D., Zhao, J, Hosny Saleh Metwally, A., Wang, H., Denden, M., Bozkurt, A., Lee, L-H.,  Beyoglu, D., Altinay, F., Sharma, R.C., Altinay, Z., Li, Z., Liu, J., Ahmad, F., Hu, Y., Salha, S., Abed, M., & Burgos, D. (2022). ‘Is Metaverse in education a blessing or a curse: a combined content and bibliometric analysis’, Smart Learning Environments 9 (24). Available at: Is Metaverse in education a blessing or a curse: a combined content and bibliometric analysis | Smart Learning Environments | Full Text ( (Accessed 25 July 2022).