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PEQF: myths and mixed messages

A webinar on officer degrees, hosted by the consultancy company Bluelight, discussed with policing academics from across the country the merits and myths of the Police Education Qualification Framework (PEQF).

The College of Policing is imposing the PEQF requirement on all forces, which means new recruits must already hold a degree or be willing to study for one on joining. This has created new entry routes that combine degree study and operational training through apprenticeship schemes.

Policing lecturers from Staffordshire, Portsmouth, York St John’s and Christ Church Canterbury University joined Bluelight’s Brendan O’Brian for a webinar last Thursday (16 April) to discuss what this means for the profession and those hoping to join.

One of the questions frequently asked about the PEQF scheme is whether its mandatory introduction implies that past and serving officers without a degree were not "professional" or properly qualified to do the job.

Claudio Cox is a Senior Lecturer in Policing at the University of Portsmouth.

She said: “Up until this point police officers have been working at degree level.

“They have been developing exceptional skills, taking on immense amounts of really complex knowledge and having to process information quickly and gaining all of these skills, this knowledge and demonstrating all these behaviours and not really being recognised for it.”

Dr Lauren Metcalfe, Policing Lecturer at Staffordshire University, echoed this view and said: "I agree with the point that it's not a case of saying that policing wasn't professional before. It's about honouring those people who do the job and giving them that accreditation to say that you've got something to show for it now.”

She added: “The focus on technology, digital technology in policing and the safeguarding aspects of mental health is huge. And you'll see that throughout the curriculum, all those things are coming in.”

The panel championed the benefit to an individual coming away from their policing career with a degree to show for it.

Martin Holleran, Senior Lecture in Policing at St John’s University who served as an officer for 32 years, said people these days were more likely to “dip in and out” of a policing career than they were before, and that they should be able to walk away with a recognised qualification.

Bethany Hepher, Recruitment Development officer at Staffordshire University, agreed. She said: “The skills that you're gaining as part of that are totally transferable. And they're not just transferable outside the police service, they're transferable inside the police service as well.

“So if you decide to specialise in a certain area or go into a certain department, the skills that you've acquired prove that you are more than competent, both operationally and academically to take on the world and in policing or outside of policing.”

Mr O’Brian asked the panel whether the logistics of PEQF had been communicated well, and said he was aware of the belief that if you did not have a degree you could not join the police service. He said the “pitch” should focus more on the fact you can join under the police constable degree apprenticeship and get a degree in the process.

Mr Holleran said “perhaps the marketing hasn't gone as well as it is it could have” but that misinformation has been put out by “right-leaning” media outlets.

He said the rhetoric had changed from "You need a degree to be a police officer’" to "You need a degree to become a police officer".

Mr Holleran went on to say: “When you’ve got 43 police forces they're often doing things in very separate ways. It just becomes a bit of a muddle and there isn't a clear message from a police force, there’s 43 different messages, plus the superintendents plus the NPCC plus the College of Policing.”

Ms Cox said there was misunderstanding about what the modern process of obtaining a degree looks like, and it was so much more than writing essays and sitting in lecture theatres.

She said she gets fustrated when people say: "You learn policing by doing policing, you don't learn policing by sitting in a lecture theatre."

"The entire point of the degree apprenticeship is about learning in the workplace,” she said.

Ms Cox said that her apprenticeship students at Portsmouth were out operationally after 9 to 10 weeks.

“Getting them to learn by doing - that it is at the absolute heart of any degree apprenticeship not just a policing one,” she said.

“They go out and they learn from experienced officers, and then they demonstrate that they're developing those skills, that knowledge, those behaviours, through their operational competency, through assessments and get the degree and then they're signed off.”

“But yes, it's frustrating when we hear ‘Why are you pulling them off into universities, they should learn by doing’ and I say ‘That is what my students are doing.”

The panel also discussed the disquiet and confusion among applicants about the fact different forces and universities require different UCAS points entry requirements.

Mr O’Brian highlighted how Northumbria Police required 120 UCAS points which is the equivalent to three Bs at A level whereas Merseyside Police, for instance, requires just two GCSEs, one in Maths and English.

“I’m sorry, but Northumbria Police and Merseyside Police are pretty much the same in terms of operational challenges,” he said.

Ms Hepher called it “quite a severe shift in terms of entry requirements”.

The College said in a statement that it “has not made, or recommended, any changes to the entry requirements that are set out in Police Regulations”.

“Each force undertaking the new training has entered into a partnership with an education provider and they will have worked together to determine and agree the most suitable arrangements to ensure that they meet force operational needs.”

Ms Hepher went on to say: “Anyone who's watching this and thinking ‘I don't know, if I'm eligible’ - don't just sit and Google it and try and work out yourself. Please, please get in contact with the force that you are wanting to apply to, go to recruitment events and ask them and you may find that if you have that criteria, you just maybe haven't quite realised it.”

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