On the EQF – Mythbuster 2

I’ve kept out of the debate on the EQF over the preceding days. I tried last time around to have some discussion, but by and large, emotion is running high and where emotions are involved it’s difficult to find balanced debate. The feedback has been extremely negative on social media despite this being out in the public realm for many months; it seems that some will hate the change that is coming, and see it as an attempt to impose barriers on an open profession that has stayed in some families for generations.

As an officer with a degree, people ask me if it has ever been of use regularly. It’s a hard question to answer, because I can’t consciously tell you what happened to my brain processes during the 3 years at uni. I can’t tell you if when I make a decision, I am employing skills that I have learned specifically whilst learning in higher education. It just happens in my head, and this is a point at the crux of many arguments.

I’m going to try and take a selection of criticism and discuss what the rationale is behind the changes, in a hope that it adds to the official line a little and helps to deal with some of the confusion.

  • “Education won’t make me a better officer, I’m good at my job already.”

To be fair, no one has said that anyone is bad at their job. This has never been part of the reason for the EQF and it never will be. It’s an argument that seems to fit the emotion of the moment though, and much like the arguments that fit the emotion of Brexit and the American Election, they have legs. This statement has the strangest logic about it, because it is kind of saying that higher education won’t help improve anything, often without the people saying it having experienced it. How can anyone know if something will help or not if they haven’t done it? Some of the best courses in policing change the way that people operate in their jobs forever, and these are only a few weeks long. What may happen with knowledge gained over several years?

If you’re a cop already, you won’t have to do anything differently, but you will have the option of accrediting experience you already have. Just to make it very clear, it will not be compulsory for serving officers.

  • “Policing is about experience and common sense.”

This has been said about any profession that has undergone Professionalisation – and please note the capital ‘P’ (see below). Experience is the cornerstone of learning, and common sense is indeed needed in vast quantities. The decision making in policing contains significant risk, and it has to be communicated in a way that the public interacting with us understand. A liberal dose of common sense doesn’t just come in handy, it’s essential. The argument above is valid and it won’t change, I would say however that adding in ‘education’ doesn’t exactly reduce the above to a poorer version of itself. Being able to supplement the experience and common sense with understanding that isn’t present in current training can only assist? Could it mean that our decisions become more informed? 

Stating that experience and common sense are mutually exclusive of education is actually quite insulting, as it suggests that all graduates lack life experience and can’t relate to public facing work… I’m really sorry, but this isn’t only untrue, it insults most of the NHS, social workers, the legal profession, teachers and many other public facing occupations. Personally, I think we can – and should – be better than this. 

  • “But I am professional…”

A ‘Profession’ (capital P) is an occupation that has key characteristics, including an established knowledge base, a formalised and standardised route for qualification, established and monitored continuing professional development, and a dedication to improving practice (list is non-exhaustive). You may have seen that all of these factors are currently being developed by the College of Policing. A Profession is therefore a different thing to being professional, which I think of as doing your job well and having pride in your work – both of which are present in policing in abundance.

I think the communication in this area has been lacking in parts, not just centrally, but within individual forces too. Cops I have spoken to have taken this to almost be punitive – as in, ‘You aren’t professional enough so we are bringing in this to sort it out etc..’ If this is the narrative going on behind the changes,  is it any wonder that it is landing as it is? I would feel aggrieved too if I believed I was being called unprofessional…

No one is calling anyone unprofessional. Becoming a ‘Profession’ is very different to people being professional, and conflating the two leads to really dangerous misunderstandings.

  • “How will sitting in a classroom help anyone? You learn on the streets.”

Again, in fairness, there is a lot of truth in this statement. A lot of good learning has been proven to be context specific, so you learn whilst you do. I’m a little surprised to see this argument used at all, as for the first 6 months of police training, I sat in a classroom. The training consisted of learning legislation by rote and applying it to written down scenarios, along with lifesaving and defensive tactics. I found this method of training very painful and still do – which is why the College is designing the courses with Higher Education institutions to incorporate large sections of learning whilst doing. A vocational degree like nursing has a large percentage of its course situated in the wards where they will eventually work. The policing degree will be a mix of actual policing and learning on the job,  supplemented with some classroom work that will hopefully be ten times better than learning legislation by rote :-/

The old fashioned idea of a degree gained by sitting in a dusty library discussing obscure theory is not applicable in this context in any way, and suggesting that it is is nothing but hyperbole.

  • “This will not help our diversity at all. It’s another barrier and only makes thing worse.”

This is a valid opinion, it is possible that this change may affect diversity. It is important however, to realise where we are critiquing from. We have a a very unrepresentative workforce, and we have some way to go before the service reflects our communities (whether we should be aiming for that is a whole other blog). The diversity profile of higher education is far better than that of policing, and we must remember that a good proportion of officers will still enter through the apprenticeship route. We can’t guess how the EQF will affect our diversity profile, it may even improve it… it is however a legitimate risk and people are right to raise it.

People looking for answers in this area may be disappointed, it will be a complicated issue that will need a lot of unpicking. 

  • “I wouldn’t be here if this was in when I became a police officer, and I’m good at my job.”

This has been a very common rebuff, and I’ve spoken to a lot of people who joined decades ago that simply would not be in the service if it was degree entry only. The thing is, *apologies for the bold text* POLICING WILL NOT BE DEGREE ENTRY ONLY. This has been much discussed and it needs to stop. Apprenticeships will be available that allow those without qualifications to join the service, just as the paramedic career pathways allow. In truth, this will mean that those without qualifications will leave the service as a graduate. I think this is entirely appropriate for the actual work that an officer undertakes and think it is a hugely positive step.

 

So, what do we know?

We know that initial police training will rise from being at level 3-4 standard, to level 6.

This means our officers will receive higher levels of training and education, that prepare them for not just taking action, but also understanding the wider context that the service sits within. I could discuss critical thinking and reflective practice, but both of these terms are often referred to as jargon, are poorly explained and often taken as an insult (I’m already critical etc.). The truth is that decision making at the sharp end is getting more difficult as we start to interact with risk and vulnerability more and more. In the past, when we knew less, this was OK,  as we acted on the information we had. This is changing, and as a knowledge base builds, you can’t ignore it or refuse to use it. There must be a mechanism of passing that information to practitioners, and training as it stands won’t quite cut it.

Training is currently also variable, and this means that probationers in Constabulary 1, have less training than Constabulary 2. Not only does this put practitioners at some risk, it also provides a differing level of service depending on where you live (the use of Restorative Justice is a classic example). Let’s get our act together on this and admit our system is fractured? The EQF stops this in its tracks and establishes national standards that uniformly equip our officers. It establishes a common language and framework of understanding, a base level of knowledge, and introduces all officers to continuing professional development before even joining the service.

Contrary to the *academics are ruining this job* mantra, you can bet that faculties up and down the country will be mixed, with criminologists, researchers, police officers/ex-police officers and students all working together.

 

OK,  so it’s not perfect. It will have its challenges and it will have its speed bumps. It does however form a huge part of any Profession. It’s not about officers being unprofessional,  incapable,  or about the academic illuminati taking over, it’s there to raise initial levels of understanding and acknowledge the complexity of police work.

When in doubt, listen to Albert:

And before anyone says it, I’m not saying officers don’t think, only that our current system of training often doesn’t train the mind specifically to do it 🙂 I hope this blog clears up a few things/helps,  and as usual I’m always available on Twitter if you want to feedback/comment.

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