Teaching Student Police Officers: Breaking down barriers between academia and operational practice

By Ahmed Kadry and Jo Lambert

In 2016, the College of Policing, the professional body in England and Wales that oversees 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 College of Policing state among the purposes of the PEQF is to “standardise the learning provision across all forces, in particular the initial learning for newly recruited officers”.

PEQF Controversy

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 fewer 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.

As the PEQF is still very new, research into the impact of the PEQF has so far been limited. One recent study, however, highlighted some disconcerting findings, albeit a small sample size of students at one police force. The research found that 30% of those interviewed felt like “not being able to transform their academic learning into operational practice”, while more concerningly, 100% of student officers interviewed felt the programme was “disjointed due to poor relationships between policing and academia”.

The PEQF at the OU

In 2019, the OU won the contract to be the university provider to North Yorkshire Police (NYP). Scholarship and research projects are underway to gain an understanding of our current strengths in delivering and areas for improvement. But after 22 months of our very first cohort starting, we have begun to identify areas of success along with the challenges that lay ahead in ensuring students and police forces utilise the full value that the PCDA can offer.

One recurring theme we have found is that students can feel overwhelmed with the task of learning everything they need to know as new police officers (think legislation, officer safety training, various IT systems and criminal databases, and a whole lot more), coupled with needing to stay on top of their degree studies, including Tutor-Marked Assignments (TMAs) across two modules each year and many Interactive Computer Marked Assessments (iCMAs). In short, they have a lot going on in their professional lives. Built into the PEQF and in our partnership with NYP is a 20% allocation of work time where students can focus on their PCDA study. However, this time alone is unlikely to be sufficient for students to complete everything they need to, especially in the first year where they will be less efficient at completing assignments.

Figure 1: Student officers have to balance their operational practice and their degree studies. Image provided by our policing partner, North Yorkshire Police.

Another challenge we have observed is that student engagement with their Academic Tutor can be limited where some student officers are engaging with their degree study from the practical perspective of completing TMAs and iCMAs when they are due, but no more. Tutor Group Forum activities for example have thus far tended to be populated by three or four students from a cohort of fifteen, with the remaining students only engaging with their Academic Tutor when an assignment is due.

We have had a similar observation in relation to scheduled day schools where a select few are actively participating, with some students emailing ahead of time requesting permission to not attend. That is not to say that those who don’t engage on the forums or ask about not attending a day school don’t score good marks on their assignments – some clearly do, but they are very much focused on what is needed from them rather than the maximum they can get out of each module, part of which will be through discussion and engagement with their Academic Tutor.

We have begun to see student officers understand how they should view their degree study and operational practice as one entity rather than two separate vacuums. Part of this has been achieved by ensuring that TMAs require students to apply their degree study into their own workplace, allowing for specificity for each student officer to apply their learning to real issues in the communities they police. For example, the first TMA in their year 1 academic module requires students to identify an issue or crime in their local area and create a stakeholder map that highlights the actors and agents needed to alleviate or resolve the issue. Rather than a student focusing on Anti-Social Behaviour for example in theoretical terms, they must localise the issue and provide a rationale for how they wish NYP and relevant partner agencies in the area to address the specific problem.

Another encouraging sign has been the partnership with NYP and their help in ensuring that assignments do not sit solely in the vacuum of students completing their degrees but where possible, can have a direct impact on their police force. For example, a TMA in year two asks them to evaluate NYP’s internal threat assessments in relation to future threats in policing. However, beyond the mark awarded to each TMA, NYP have also expressed an interest in being given sight (with student permission) of the TMAs that provide a thorough critique of the threat assessment as an avenue of feedback for those who have produced it. For example, have students identified an issue which hasn’t been included but should be? Have the documents highlighted an issue which may be national but will likely not impact North Yorkshire?

The partnership element is perhaps the key to maximising the student officer experience. With the two organisations working closely together, a continuous feedback loop has arisen where the OU’s degree component and NYP’s operational component speak to each other, which in turn should make it clearer to the student officers how their degree studies enhance their ability to fulfil their role as police constables, now and in the future.

Ahmed Kadry is the Qualification Lead for the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship.

Jo Lambert is the Teaching Director for Policing.

This blog represents the views of the individuals, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

This entry was posted in e-learning, e-teaching, feelings, General, HE, Open University, School for Policing, Uncategorised and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *