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PCDA case study: Hampshire Constabulary and Middlesex Uni

The PCDA route into policing has been met with criticism and concern. Police Oracle explores what the programme looks like on the ground in one force

The end of IPLDP was formally confirmed in June as forces have spent the past few years gradually moving over to degree-led training. 

The transformation has not been without criticism, with some senior police figures expressing concerns about workload for both probationers and tutor officers and the difficulty in finding the right balance between academic study and practical street duties. 

Police Oracle has explored a specific force-university partnership to see exactly how those concerns were playing out on the ground. 

Hampshire’s PCDA delivery lead Inspector Andrew Clinton told us. “Some of the challenges and arguments that have been raised on this programme are probably very valid. This is probably the biggest change in police training and police culture and we want to see immediate effects," 

“With policing, we want everything overnight, and it's got to be perfect.

“If you took the timeline of the nursing degree, and the challenges they faced in implementation, and you timeline-d that, you would see that it took 15 years to get to a programme that is well established, balanced and meets the needs of the student nurse as well as brings in all the areas of learning. 

“If two - three years on, there are still question marks, I think we've got to be a little bit kinder to ourselves in terms of what has been achieved and the direction that we are going.”

Hampshire is one of three forces, along with Surrey and Sussex, who deliver their PCDA academic offer via a consortium of four universities (Middlesex University, Canterbury Christchurch University, University of Portsmouth and University of Cumbria).

Contracts go through Middlesex as the lead university, but each partner university delivers an equal share of the provision. Rolling cohorts of students from each of the forces are allocated to one of the four universities on an equitable basis.

Any changes to the programme are co-designed and co-delivered by universities and the forces. All PCDA provision has to be approved by the College and a licence is issued via the force, rather than the university.

Police Oracle spoke with the Director of Apprenticeships at Middlesex University, Darryll Bravenboer, and the PCDA delivery lead at Hampshire, Inspector Andrew Clinton, on areas of concern that have been raised around the PCDA route into policing.

Bitesize approach

Insp Clinton explained that laying an academic framework over policing unsurprisingly “wasn’t a snug fit”, and instead the three forces, in partnership with the universities have opted for what they call a “bitesize approach”.

It sees officers learn then experience then go back to learning on repeat. At the start of the course, the initial programme that had been designed was a nine-week training programme which was theory and law-based, and then the officer would go out and experience policing first-hand.

They have now adapted it to a 15 week training programme which incorporates practice learning within it.

“You can’t put a nurse in A&E if they have knowledge of blood, but have never seen blood,” Insp Clinton explained. 

“We’d fallen into the trap of thinking we can send a police officer out after 40 weeks and expect them to be as good as a 10 year cop.

“Because of those demands placed on policing, we are sometimes drawn towards a resource-led demand. We’ve got to be brave, slow down and allow these officers to develop naturally.

“Otherwise all the challenges around police culture that we face – these officers will just get drawn into it because they’re not being given the time to rationalise, think, question, challenge and make mistakes.”

Assessment burden

Assessment frameworks have further been adapted since the programme began as the partnership moves towards more “blended approach”.

One change was granting credits to those who get their independent patrol status at around week 30/40.

Achieving that is now worth 20 credits – it has meant a reduction in the assessment burden on student officers, but it has further added value to the practical parts of the course.

Mr Bravenboer spoke about another example – that initially the occupational competence portfolio side of the PCDA was a force-led assessment.

He said that drove a separation between the academic side and operational policing. Plus the evidence they needed to prove they were competent was the same thing they needed to produce for a module on the academic side. They’ve now collated that and require officers to submit only one set of evidence for both requirements but the force retains the primary role in determining it.

Mr Bravenboer said overall they have reduced the assessment load by about a third since the start of the programme.

Why a degree at all?

“You cannot get away with the fact that when you're providing evidence, whether it be on statements or case files, if it is well presented, then the chances of it being evidently sound improve,” Insp Clinton said.

“The example I give all the time is when you have to fill out an exhibit label. You have to make sure that your initials are correct, that the dashes are in the right place. That is the equivalent to referencing in academia. Although people may go well, I don't see the point of referencing as a police officer, there is a tenuous link there around attention to detail - if the ‘.com’ doesn't go in the right place, then it doesn't conform to what's required.”

Critical thinking is another area he underlines as a valuable skill gained throughout the degree process. He told Police Oracle that sometimes officers won’t always be able to think ‘black and white’ and they’ll find themselves in situations where they have to make their own decisions.

“Theoretically, with a stop-search, your grounds will generally be based on information you're given. And the information may be that you've got a knife in your right pocket. A witness has seen that, so I come up to you and I want to stop check you. Everything that I’m seeing tells me you have a knife on you.

“I search your right pocket, and there isn't one in there. Now, from a legal perspective, I should walk away. However, that grey area is, I think you've got a knife on you, so I'm going to carry on my search. And I'm going to check your left pocket and your back pocket.

“If you look at it [in black and white] I've got no information that tells me you got a knife in your left pocket, but I am not willing to let you walk away and potentially stab somebody.”

Attrition and wellbeing

Hampshire has an attrition rate of around 12 per cent. Insp Clinton explained that the resignations were pretty spread in terms of the timing and students’ progress within the programme. Exit interviews also demonstrated a variety of reasons for leaving.

It does include those who have said that have struggled with workload but also a variety of other things including physical injuries, those who change their mind and those who can’t attain their independent patrol status.

All apprenticeships have a statutory requirement of 20% of their normal working hours being dedicating as ‘learning time’.

The wellbeing offering is expected to take into account when students can meet deadlines for reasons including late shifts.

Hampshire has further completed surveys on why students opted into the programme and Insp Clinton said there were none who cited the free degree as a reason.

“Some will openly turn around and say I wish I wasn’t doing the degree […] but I see every single student that comes through here and the motivation of doing this solely for the degree is very far removed from what I see.”

Mr Bravenboer added: “We know that the operational requirements of police forces will have to come first. So we need to be able to support student officers progressing on their programmes even when those operational requirements come into play.

“We're not requiring everybody to get on a bus or come to Middlesex on a Tuesday afternoon - all of our provision is delivered either on force premises when it's face to face, or it’s online.”

Middlesex are also working with forces to develop a part-time route for the PCDA which they hope to provide for existing force partners but are also liaising with the College on what it might look like nationally.

For Mr Bravenboer: “The PCDA is about learning on the job, it’s just that that learning gets formally recognized as meeting the requirements for the award of a degree

“It isn't to decry anybody else's experience or their previous training or anything like that. It's just actually a recognition of the value and complexity of policing.”

Insp Clinton concluded: “Personally, I think that some of these officers they should get degree certificate and a medal at the end of their time. They will be the most resilient, robust officers that we will have in a generation.”

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