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Interview: South Yorkshire's PCDA lecturer and special constable

Craig Batham has been a Special Constable with South Yorkshire Police for almost 15 years. He initially worked on the PCDA as a work-based learning coach, and around two years ago he took up the full-time role of lecturer on the force’s PEQF programme.

“The joy with policing is that it’s an academic area that is pretty much being written as we speak,” Special Constable and PEQF lecturer Craig Batham tells Police Oracle.

Since its inception, the PEQF has faced its fair share of criticism from various corners of policing. Whether it be concerns over timing pressures on students, the risks that come with attrition when you offer a free degree, or the alienation of potential candidates.

Along with these issues, one concern that crops up frequently is that of a gulf between academia and policing – how well do university studies tie back into operational policing and how can lecturers accurately convey the ins and outs of the job?

Craig Batham in this instance stands in a unique position – both a Chief Officer of South Yorkshire’s Special Constabulary and a lecturer on the force’s PEQF with Sheffield Hallam University.

Mr Batham has a background in NVQ assessing and delivering qualifications on retail, business and management. At the same time he has volunteered as a Special Constable for almost 15 years.

He is not alone in South Yorkshire in having insights into both areas – all the PEQF lecturers at Sheffield Hallam have some background in policing whether as police staff members, PCSOs or policy advisors.

“If the focus remains on the PCDA being a degree, and less on it being a degree-apprenticeship where it's about the application of the theories you learn […] the students are going to complain that they don't know how it links to policing and they don't feel as though they're doing a policing degree,” Mr Batham says.

“By having people with that background and skill-set, they can take a lot of the criminological or sociological theories students are assessed on and apply them.

“What I’m teaching them - can they either apply it at two o'clock in the morning when it's pouring down with rain and most of the lecturers are in bed?”

It also means lecturers can illustrate how certain academic practices could feed into the role. Mr Batham gives the examples of academic referencing and ties it to the chain of evidence, or testing academic credibility with the ability to question the credibility of victims, witnesses or suspects.

The PCDA aims at setting officers up for their whole career in policing – Mr Batham explains that some of the things the students are learning now they might not implement until they’re a Sergeant or an Inspector.

It’s one of the benefits he sees of the programme.

“Academia and operational policing are becoming closer and closer.

“We talk in policing about gathering information and intelligence – actually some of that may come from the academic world such as problem solving initiatives.

“If we look at burglaries, traditionally the solution to that has been to flood the area with a lot of officers and [potentially] displace that crime to other areas.

“We're starting to see different initiatives come through with new ways of working.”

Mr Batham has lectured across a range of modules from Counter Terrorism through to risk and vulnerability. He has led modules on academic skills and professional standards.

He believes the curriculum should be seen as a “baseline” and that universities and forces should be creative with what additional elements they can include.

The length of the course means that lecturers have the space to deliver things differently – integrating role play or knowledge checks for example. It also means students return to the university and to studying after periods on the job.

“We’re starting to talk more around internet-enabled and internet-facilitated crime, about spam, phishing, potential sources and the use of digital forensics.

“Because students have been encouraged to go and explain it, not only is it linked back to operational work but it's also starting to get students to look at things such as internal threats - why are people accessing systems that they shouldn't access?”

Police Oracle asked about concerns over abstractions and Mr Batham said that HEIs and policing need to have an awareness of the other’s role.

In South Yorkshire, changes have been made this year to ensure that in the first year of the course students are taking five out of six of their assessments whilst in their initial 21 week training period. The sixth assessment is the only one they will complete while working operationally and it constitutes a reflection on how they have used the academic learning within the job.

Assessments for the new structure are not due until November but anecdotally, Mr Batham has said the feedback has been good.

“We’ve implemented PEQF in the last few years but have we really given it the opportunity to embed itself or given it the chance to be improved and updated yet?" he said. 

“We have to be upfront and honest with people during the degree apprenticeship and what it involves.

“Is there a willingness from the police to understand the university regulations and our university work? Is there also a willingness from the university to understand the police regulations? And is there a willingness to both to understand the apprenticeship regulations?

“We’re in two heavily regulated fields – this partnership has got to be balanced, it's got to be collaborative and it's got to be a true merging of both.”

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