Joining the police is a controversial topic in 2022! This 7,000-word dissertation/blog aims to capture and summarise the zeitgeist of police degrees, the pros and cons, and why many may see them as ‘3rd class degrees’.
Whether you are an existing or aspiring police leader, this discussion is particularly relevant. For example, it will help Inspectors and Chief Inspectors (including aspiring promotion candidates) see the bigger picture of this contentious issue in police recruitment and training; maybe even helping to pad out your own personal policing PESTLE analysis. For Sergeants and aspiring PCs, you’ll find insights into common supervisory support needed to help resolve some of the issues presented.
For more senior officers, education providers and other stakeholders, it may hold some important reality checks within a balanced, independent strategic appraisal you won’t find elsewhere. It’s a meaty blog, so here’s an outline of content covered to see if it interests you:
- Summary of police entry routes and why they were introduced
- Salary & other financial perspectives of forces, universities, and officers
- Why it may be considered a ‘third-class degree’ and why it’s nothing like nursing degrees
- Who’s discriminated against and why
- Case studies of officers’ experiences
- The jury’s out – Pros and cons of police degree schemes
- The verdict: Are police officers now leaving the service in droves in their first few years?
- Potential enablers and solutions for the future
- Closing remarks and invite for podcast discussion(s)
1. Police Entry Route Insights: PCDA 3 Years, DHEP & IPLDP 2 Years…
“A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…” – Winston Churchill
With the many routes now available to join the police, some might think of it as an enigma, as Churchill once used to describe Russia.
For a start, there remains the ‘traditional’ Initial Police Learning and Development Program (IPLDP) still being used by several forces, though the scheme officially closes in March 2023. But the professionalisation agenda is well on the way to replacing this, with a specialist pre-join police degree provided by educational establishments, plus the Degree-Holder Entry Programme (DHEP) route for those holding a Level 6 qualification. Read more about each in my free guide on joining the police. Officers on these schemes complete their training and probation within two years of joining their force.
This blog however is focused on the controversies and challenges surrounding the three-year Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA), in addition to the requirement whereby police officers must now either have a degree or achieve one during their probation.
Why were police degrees introduced in the first place? It mainly relates to the ‘professionalisation’ agenda for policing, with the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) describing it back in 2016 as an essential part of ‘modernising the police service’. The College of Policing introduced them as part of the Policing Education and Qualifications Framework (PEQF), with the main rationale being:
- Consistency of standards between forces,
- Recognising officers’ training with qualifications, and
- Broadening the scope of initial training with an expanded syllabus of learning content.
The scheme also aims to attract a wider proportion of society into policing and increase diversity as part of the officer ‘Uplift’ programme (or more accurately speaking, I call it a replenishment of officer numbers). This meant funding 20,000 “more” (replenished) officers by March 2023. As at March 2022, the numbers game was on track, reaching 14,000 of the 20,000 required. That means this financial year, another 12,000 – 14,000 officers must be recruited to bridge the gap, accommodating what could reasonably be expected as 6,000 – 8,000 officers leaving policing through retirement or other reasons.
I’ve been compiling this blog over several months since April. In this time, the latest quarter as published by the Home Office in July, has shown some stagnation with just a few hundred more officers in the latest three months. Growth has therefore slowed and made the 6,000 officer gap to the March 2023 target date far less achievable.
The diversity improvements however have been noticeable, with 42% of recruits since April 2020 being female and 12% from ethnic minorities (excluding white minorities).
Recruiting these numbers in such a short space of time, within a brand-new initial training and probation framework, has clearly been a monumental challenge.
2. Show Me the Money!
“Show me the money!” – Jerry Maguire (film)
One of the reasons police degrees are contentious revolves around money and funding, from a range of perspectives. As with many things in this world, following the money motive can help understand the situation and context.
From a force perspective, there is the incentive of using PCDA recruitment to recoup their apprenticeship levy. This was a fund set up using 0.5% of each force’s budget that can be drawn down again to help pay for initial training of apprentices. Seems convoluted and in effect, it often mostly goes towards the fees of the university each force chooses to partner with. Each force generally partners with a higher education provider to deliver the more academic side of the degree, because most themselves cannot grant the Level 6 (degree-level) qualification to officers.
From the university perspective, the apprenticeship levy and other fees supplements their main business. A business it’s worth bearing in mind, is all about educating young adults not otherwise in full-time employment, which culturally may be where some of the support issues arise (more on that later).
From the officers’ perspective, the degree qualification is often described as a ‘degree for free’ or ‘earn while you learn’, which would otherwise cost around £30k were individuals to have studied the Degree in Professional Policing before joining their force.
The joining salary remains a hotly contested topic since separate (yet coinciding) changes to the salary scale for PCs, impacting particularly upon those entering through the PCDA route in the early stages. In essence, this made the salary on joining much lower, whereby officers began on as low as £19k for the first 6 months of the PCDA programme. However, the prospect for reaching the top of the scale became much quicker, whereby officers can within 7 years reach £43k basic salary in the same rank (as at 2022, see image above).
In July 2022, the Home Office announced that all officers at all ranks would receive a £1,900 basic salary increase. The announcement also increased the woefully-remunerated Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship starting salary by 10%, to £23,566.
Despite the well-documented challenges upon officer finances, thankfully policing at least in this sense remains an attractive prospect; particularly for younger people and for certain parts of the UK, where the UK overall average salary in 2022 is £32k; a point reached by PCs within five years’ service. And officers can go well beyond this with overtime and other payments. For example, the Met Police’s top-earning PCs are earning £80k – £90k, while some SGTs are exceeding £100k in 2020/21, according to figures published in May 2022.
3. A Third Class Degree?
“The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” – Benjamin Franklin
So why all the fuss about these police degrees? Surely, it’s great to get a ‘degree for free’ as the College advertise? The main issue appears to be the support and ‘protected learning’ time afforded to officers to complete the various new academic assessments and assignments. Let me explain…
As the Peelian Principle states, ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’. However, policing (mostly!) attracts and draws upon conscientious people who want to help improve society, positively impact people’s lives, and generally do a diligent job. In stark contrast, local forces are motivated by staffing numbers to maximise the time probationer officers are available for duty following achievement of Independent Patrol Status (IPS), given the relentless pressures upon response policing (a key area Chief Officers decided to cut back their workforce, in response to national budget cuts and austerity).
Forces are mandated to allocate a minimum of 20% of the time to ‘off the job learning’, to fulfil the academic and apprenticeship requirements. This includes both time for training and completion of assignments. The justification seemingly being, it’s ‘just enough’ to ensure student officers achieve a ‘pass’ for their coursework, which for a degree is 40%.
Of course however, 40% is the standard of a third-class degree.
Even if it were enough time, few self-respecting officers want to attain a third-class degree, entering shoddy assignments that merely scrape through. They want to do well, yet clearly are not being afforded the in-work time to do so. This time also eats massively into officers’ down-time, around stressful and tiring shift work. Many new cops are still finding this isn’t enough; as alluded to in the memes above. This isn’t surprising when you consider the full-time nature of the degree qualification. There’s the rub, and the cause of massive stress and anguish upon officers; particularly upon those for whom academic study and written reports do not come naturally, clearly requiring additional support.
The full-time nature of the qualification is evidenced by the simple fact that universities offer a very similar qualification and syllabus as a 3-year full-time degree: the ‘Pre-Join’ policing degree route. Studying this alongside the full-time job of policing simply doesn’t add up. Sure, there’s always been academic elements of the IPLDP diploma (studying the various facets of law has always been no mean feat!). But the requirements of the new Level 6 qualification, combined with the insistence upon more academic assessment methods by the College and universities, are several steps beyond. Of course, this challenge applies equally to the DHEP course, with the exception that individuals on DHEP will be familiar with such academia.
This is one of the main differences between this degree and nursing degrees…
It’s also nothing like a nursing degree…
The new police degree approach is often compared to nursing degrees as a ‘nearest example’. Whether it’s in relation to the vocational nature, the level officers are operating at, or the rationale to standardise education and training across public sector employees. However, even a cursory glance shows they are nothing alike…
Pre-join degrees: Both the policing and nursing pre-join degrees are three years full time study. However, the government provides a £5k per year bursary for nurses to help fund studies, which isn’t an available incentive for students of the degree in policing. The nursing degrees involve gaining practical, supervised experience in the workplace for 50% of the time, unlike the overwhelmingly university-based and academic/theoretical policing degree. Finally, the nursing degree is a very popular route for becoming a nurse, whereas latest figures from the College suggest less than 1% of officers join in this way. Frankly, making it almost a waste of time for forces to accommodate.
PCDA vs. RNDA: The Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship appears to be the most comparable scheme between nurses and police officers. The glaring difference between the two is that nurses achieve the RNDA in 4 years, whereas the PCDA is compressed into 3. The pressure therefore is clearly felt more acutely by PCDA officers. In effect, they are completing a full-time degree alongside a full-time job a point alluded to by Mark Jones, Secretary of North Wales Police Federation at the 2022 Police Federation Conference:
“There is no cognisance of the fact they’re doing a full-time job alongside a full-time degree… This isn’t sustainable.”
As an additional difference, the nursing degree only requires a Level 5 qualification for the ‘degree conversion’, rather than the Level 6 required for the DHEP entry route for policing.
In terms of salary, there is a big difference to police officer salary bands at the rank of Constable, to the Band 5 and 6 ‘equivalent’ (i.e. non-supervisory) for nurses. Here’s how they stack up, excluding any additional allowances / weightings provided by some forces:
- Police Constable: Begin on minimum of £23.6k salary, rising to £43.0k within 7 years (as from September 2022)
- Band 5 junior nurse: £25.7k starting salary, rising to £31.5k with 7+ years’ experience
- Band 6 specialist nurse: £32.3k starting salary, rising to £39.0k with 5+ years’ experience
Police Constables are therefore better financially rewarded than junior nurses, without the need for job changes or promotions to progress to over £40k in quicker timeframes. For context, here’s more info on the nursing salary bands. Keep an eye on my UK police salaries by rank page for the latest information and infographics.
In today’s world where police are under increasing scrutiny, pressure, and allegations of institutional discrimination, Sir Robert Mark’s observation below reverberates loudly through the generations of cops…
“The police are the anvil on which society beats out the problems and abrasions of social inequality, racial prejudice, weak laws and ineffective legislation.” – Sir Robert Mark, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police 1972 to 1977
It’s no surprise therefore that the police degrees themselves harbour elements of discrimination towards different groups, hampering forces in fulfilling their equality duty and improving representation…
4. Who’s Discriminated Against and Why?
As with any major changes in policing, the PEQF attracted an Equality Impact Assessment by the College. Forces themselves also conducted local EIAs on their specific implementation considerations with their chosen Higher Education provider. The current national EIA identifies several positive elements to the new entry routes, such as:
- The opportunity to embed equality, diversity and human rights considerations and evidence-based policing within core, standardised initial training curricula.
- Increase choice for candidates, which was believed to widen access to policing across various (unspecified) public demographics.
- Professionalise the service to gain respect of the profession among communities where it was not seen as such.
- Increased educational level could make policing a more appealing career choice for those in minority ethnic groups.
While recruitment towards the ‘Uplift’ (replenishment!) has seen increased focus upon attracting and recruiting underrepresented groups, particularly ethnic minorities and women, there’s no evidence to suggest these improvements have anything to do with the PCDA itself. Rather, it’s more likely a result of the increased focus on diversity in recruitment by forces in recent years, regardless of entry routes. I.e., using ‘Uplift’ as an opportunity to improve representation. Furthermore, the EIA ambitions listed above remain relatively unspecific and unevidenced. Ironically, this is contrary to the renewed thrust upon ‘evidence-based policing’, a cornerstone of the new curriculum!
On the other hand, there are clear inequalities emerging as officers get to grips with the higher amount of academic workload that comes in their first three years. Supervisors, tutors, and the student officers themselves are experiencing this baptism of fire. By way of example, here are three prominent protected characteristics being clearly affected…
The College EIA acknowledges the potential bias towards younger applicants and lack of appeal to candidates aged 25+. They mention perceptions and marketing of ‘apprenticeships’ as a career prospect in people’s decision-making to join the police. However, the biggest impacts are time and money. The lower starting salary often offered by forces, although recently somewhat alleviated, is much less appealing to people with established careers and financial commitments. Older adults tend to be higher earners, so the pay drop for the first few years at least would be particularly accentuated. Further, and as discussed in the ‘Third Class Degree’ section, the life and family commitments make the prospect of finding free time for academic studies a much higher burden. So, the discrimination is happening both before joining and in learning.
For example, this means policing may well be missing out on literally an army of former-military personnel, who could be commandeered to support the ‘uplift’ operation tomorrow. These suitable candidates may be less attracted to the rewarding career change and so policing is missing out on such skills. As a former Royal Marine who then came into policing, this is sad for me to witness. This option is generally not being exploited, however Notts Police and GMP appear to be bucking the trend with government/military covenant initiatives.
Interim figures from the College (based on their Police Workforce Census, 2020) suggest only a marginal reduction in age for the attraction of candidates into the new schemes vs. IPLDP, as summarised in the table below by age group. However, the impact once in the job is apparent to those older, as the ‘case studies’ later on demonstrate.
I recently made my own FOI enquiries with several larger forces as to their recent joiners and leavers. This included the Met Police, GMP, Merseyside and others, accounting for nearly half of officers in England and Wales. I also included Police Scotland as a comparable benchmark, given the PCDA has not been introduced north of the border. There appears to be little difference overall in the average age of new officers recruited, however West Mids and West Yorkshire do appear to have recruited younger since the advent of PEQF. Below demonstrates the overall trend in the age profile of new recruits for the last 5 years, plus detail where available by each force…
Forces may well be discriminating on this characteristic in relation to mental health, given the accentuated pressures and demands of fulfilling the degree workload alongside full-time policing demands. This is summarised for example in the following tweet:
The College’s DIA doesn’t account for this aspect of on-the-job demands. Instead, the focus is more upon whether people with other disabilities (e.g. neurodiverse conditions) are still attracted to entering the new schemes compared to IPLDP.
The full-time job itself can already be a disproportionate challenge upon women, as I outline in my Women in Police Leadership dissertation of blogs. The impact of completing the equivalent of a full-time degree alongside the full-time job of being a police officer must no doubt intensely magnify such challenges to work/life balance. This is particularly emphasised and indicated within the 2022 Police Workforce Statistics, whereby female officers are over 15 times more likely to be on a part-time working pattern than their male counterparts.
The burden is particularly accentuated for single parents, who don’t have access to the childcare and other practical arrangements to make time for all necessary commitments. Of course, the majority of whom are women.
5. Case Studies – Six Degrees of Separation…
“Nobody could do all the work required whilst maintaining a full-time job, even with the limited study time given.” – Wellbeing Cop (tweet)
On a personal level, I’m incredibly proud my daughter has followed the policing path. Joining on the PCDA scheme, she recently submitted her last dissertation. With a final presentation and a panel interview to go, she should complete the programme by September 2022.
Having seen her apply herself through the last three years and following various conversations, I know this has been a very challenging achievement. Especially as she has completed research, assignments and coursework whilst working as a full-time response officer. My daughter is fortunate to have a support network. It includes my wife and I, and her husband (also a serving officer), helping look after our grandchild to provide ‘clear’ study days and thinking space. This is not the case for some of her colleagues who do not have similar support; their experience has been different in terms of personal, mental, and physical stress to meet the requirements of the scheme.
This reflects common anecdotal evidence arising at this year’s Police Federation National Conference. For example, highlighting the lack of support from universities, forces and supervisors, a lack of time to conduct academic studies, and the stress and pressures the degree places on top of the day job.
The PFEW conference provoked tweets articulating the extra pressures on officers, including mental anguish, forces / universities / the College not listening to the growing evidence base of feedback, a lack of support, and a general lack of empathy to officers’ plight. This provided a fundamental insight into police leadership and management and is a main reason that why Rank Success exists: to support and improve police leadership (including emotional intelligence) for the future.
However, there are of course positive case studies. As always, it depends where you look and upon how effective your local force/university have been in implementing the new scheme. The College recently for example published the experience of PC Michelle Wright, of GMP. She describes excellent local tutoring support and positively describes policing generally as “everything I expected and more”.
Clearly, it’s an indication it can work when done right. However, the more general feedback appears less positive than that promoted by the College themselves. I’ve compiled this blog over several months since the Federation conference, and so have compiled an array of officers’ experiences and issues. A typical array of opinions are shown in the tweets below:
6. The Jury’s Out: PCDA Pros & Cons
“Everything has pros and cons. Become a pro in handling the cons!” – Bhareth Jackson
We’ve looked at the rationale for introduction, elements of apparent discrimination, and examples of struggles faced by officers. This section summarises the various pros and cons of the PCDA scheme, the case for and against, to hopefully help build a bigger picture of this controversial subject for the strategic-thinkers out there…
For the Defence: Pros
- Degree qualification without financial outlay / student loan debt for officers.
- Research (by the College themselves) found that the new routes better prepared them for the job with the skills needed compared to IPLDP.
- Formal recognition through the higher-level qualification of the extensive training, learning and level at which officers operate (studying the legislation in initial training has always been a challenge).
- Elevation of written, communication, problem-solving, evidence-based policing, presentations, and other skills officers will need in any case throughout their career.
- Attractive salary, benefits, annual leave, and career prospects, particularly for young people when compared to other professions.
- Fresh perspectives upon initial training by introducing university relationship, making policing less insular.
- Introduced opportunity to expand the curriculum, including the challenges faced by policing today.
- Increased evidence-based policing local research available to forces, arising from student officers’ third year theses.
- Literal professionalisation of the role, improving perception of policing to the public and in turn, the opportunity to increase diversity by appealing to different people in society.
- Transferable skills and consistency of level of training across emergency services.
- The scheme is embraced by many (often more academically-competent) officers who seize upon the opportunity.
“When I joined policing more than 30 years ago there was an emphasis on personal courage, vocation, and commitment, and that has not changed. We need those qualities just as much today, but they need to be built on with sophisticated training to protect the public and bring offenders to justice.” – Chief Constable Andy Marsh, College of Policing CEO
For the Prosecution: Cons
- A degree is now mandatory to becoming a police officer, which may be a blocker to those previously attracted to policing as a more practical vocation (e.g. ex-military).
- There’s discrimination, as outlined above for women and the over-25s, largely due to the additional time needed for studies outside of the day job.
- Forces receive less time for operational duties from new officers during their first 3 years than under IPLDP, given the need for additional learning/assignment abstraction (estimated by the College as 25% off the job across the PEQF routes). The return on investment for the initial training and qualification therefore also takes longer.
- In addition to less physical operational presence, probationer officers may be less mentally committed during their first few years of operational duties, given the widely-reported worries of assignment deadlines and evidence to gather for their portfolios.
- It’s been implemented badly across the 43 attempts, with varying levels of success and support across forces and their education partners; this goes against a core purpose of its introduction: national consistency.
- Few forces are actually using the students’ ‘Evidence Based Policing’ dissertation projects done in their 3rd year, or capturing the research in any meaningful way to inform policing.
- Massively complicates initial training at a time when forces are under pressure to deliver the higher-priority throughput of ‘Uplift’.
- Pressure to do well conflicts with physical lack of time to do well for many officers. The many anecdotes of mental anguish caused is palpable, with reports of officers leaving as a result (though not leaving more than used to under IPLDP).
- Gulf of disparity between force training departments and commissioned education providers.
- For a time, there was a perception among forces that individuals would join to earn the ‘free degree’, then take that into another career. However, there’s no evidence this worry has played out in reality.
- No evidence to date it has benefited forces in terms of diversity, public confidence/respect for the profession, or in actual policing outcomes. I.e. the intended benefits have not materialised. In fact, no clear return on investment has ever been outlined.
- Attracts slightly younger candidates (in some forces), who are perceived by some as being less experienced or adept as those who come in with more life experience. I say perceived, because this is often no more than hypocritical conjecture by more experienced/retired cops, who themselves joined the service decades ago in their late teens or early 20s. Is this a ‘rose-tinted glasses’ view of the past, or are they saying that they themselves weren’t up to the task until getting old and grumpy?
Can you think of more?
The jury’s out on this one. Let’s recall them back for a verdict…
7. The Verdict: These Boots Were Made for Leaving?
“When will I see you again?” – The 3 Degrees
Change always attracts heated debate from all sides, with the victims and critics of change often particularly vociferous. The proof however will be in the pudding; in this case, I see the pudding as being the answer to the following questions:
- Are police officers leaving the service at a significantly increased rate?
- In particular, are the newer-in-service cops ultimately voting with their feet and leaving, before forces see a return on their investment?
When keen officers aiming to make a difference strap up their Magnums for the first time after a tough recruitment selection process to get into the job, they think those boots will carry them through the exciting police career they joined up for. Not carrying them out the door again within a few years, disenfranchised with the learning process or worse, with policing generally.
To answer the first question generally, we can look to the standard Home Office police workforce statistics, to see whether there’s now a higher turnover of officers compared to before PEQF for example. As shown in the charts below, there doesn’t appear to be a mass exodus. Further, those leaving tend to be more advanced in their career and are leaving for other reasons, such as retirement, other opportunities, or have frankly had enough of the myriad of other challenges facing policing today! And bear in mind, that nearly 25% of those leaving in the year to March 2022 were from ranks above PC.
This shows that despite the rising cacophony and claims of officers leaving in their droves, nationally the basic figures show this appears not to be the case. No more officers are leaving now than they did before overall. In fact, the overall turnover rate has reduced compared to five years ago, now that overall officer numbers have increased.
In Police Scotland, the overall officer turnover rate in 2021/22 was 5.4%, very similar to the 6.0% reported for the same year across forces south of the border. So, the England & Wales figure doesn’t seem exceptional when making these more strategic comparisons.
Let’s now zone in on and be a little more precise by reviewing voluntary resignations. We can’t determine from Home Office figures the precise reason cops left or whether it was during their probation, however we can at least test whether officers are resigning in their droves…
The PCDA scheme sporadically began in 2019, but most forces didn’t adopt or use for any significant number of recruits through this method until 2020. The Met Police apparently began in 2021. Surprisingly, voluntary resignation turnover rate reduced for 2020/21. There is however a slight uptick in the most recent year, with around 1,000 more officers resigning than usual. It is likely that most are more experienced/advanced in their careers and are leaving for a mix of reasons. However, it could indicate an uptick in newer officers leaving too, and so is worth keeping an eye on for officers recruited during this ‘uplift’ era.
While there may be issues now, as reflected earlier and recognised by the College, the actual turnover for voluntary resignations does not in itself suggest a crisis with the PCDA, in terms of causing officers to quit with a revolving door between recruitment and retention. Despite a slight increase in leavers for a mix of reasons, recruitment has now seen policing in England and Wales hit over 140,000 officers, for the first time since 2010; albeit that a third of cops now currently have under 5 years experience.
Whilst looking at the leaver stats, it’s also interesting to note that thankfully, there were no apparent spikes officer deaths in service for the years of or since the recent Covid-19 pandemic; particularly given vaccines remained unavailable to policing during this period, a decision slammed as ‘shameful and perverse’ by the Police Federation at the time.
Let’s now be more precise and explore question 2, whether those in probation are voting with their feet and leaving. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been more precise data published on this question nationally! So, in my FOIs discussed earlier, I also took the liberty of asking the eight large forces around the country (including my local force of Devon & Cornwall Police) how things were faring compared to pre-PCDA days. I also requested information from Police Scotland as a comparable benchmark. Here’s the results…
(Notes: Forces in England & Wales sample excluding the Met Police are GMP, Devon & Cornwall, Kent, Merseyside, TVP, West Mids, and West Yorkshire. Merseyside, Kent, and GMP aligned their data to the nearest financial years (Apr-Mar), whereas all others provided calendar years. Most recent year for GMP temporarily estimated, as not yet provided by the force at the time of writing.)
So let’s interpret this first chart. I’ve separated out the volumes for the Met from the other 7 large forces. It shows an increase in the most recent year for forces in England and Wales, of officers with less than 3 years’ service. However, this increase began in 2019 for the E&W sample forces, and 2020 for the Met, preceding the bulk of new entry routes. This contrasts with Police Scotland, who are seeing fewer new officers leaving.
What does this mean? Well, the general picture is that there are more newer officers leaving than usual than was the case 5 years ago. We could also infer that around 50% more officers are leaving in their first three years than they were in 2019 before PCDA started in anger. Whether this is to do with the new entry routes, or specifically the PCDA itself, is up for debate. Judging by the prior myriad of case studies and experiences, a proportion of those leaving must be because of the new scheme. They could however also be leaving for other reasons. For example the wider net cast by ‘Uplift’ and its more aggressive marketing campaign may have attracted more individuals surprised by what the job entails. There have certainly been a myriad of other stories, including probationers leaving early on because they hadn’t accounted for the shift pattern! Only force exit interviews/surveys (which few actually do or use the results from!) would indicate for sure in a quantitative manner.
Here’s a final graph, which in essence tries to standardise the ‘leakiness’ of force recruitment schemes. For each year, it shows those leaving within 3 years (the probationary period of PCDA) divided by how many officers were recruited in that given year. The Met Police is suffering a high leakage rate for newer officers, however this is not unprecedented for them prior to PCDA. That for England and Wales forces (excluding the Met) has also continued an increasing trend, now standing at around 15%.
There are however some exceptions among the England & Wales forces sampled, which may point to the effectiveness by which different forces have implemented the schemes and supported new recruits. For example, there’s been no apparent increased wastage in Kent and West Yorkshire, whereas other forces have seen a big spike in ‘leakiness’ for the most recent year (see below).
For comparison and as another benchmark, for the 1,433 officers recruited by PSNI from between 2016 to late 2019, 121 left before completing their probation, an attrition rate of 8.4% across the timeframe.
Together, these forces represent nearly half of the total E&W police officers, so we can be confident the sample size accurately represents the general trend among forces. However, other research reported by the Police Federation in March and based on slightly earlier figures found a 9% wastage rate for probationer officers across England and Wales. This varied from a low of 4% in Cumbria and North Wales, to highs of 19% in Northants and 17% in North Yorkshire. Such wide variation again suggests differences in local factors, for example how forces are respectively implementing the schemes and/or supporting their officers in the early probationer years.
In conclusion, therefore, let’s cut to the chase with what can reasonably be concluded from the research above:
- It is inconclusive whether police degrees themselves are causing more new officers to leave the service at an unsustainable level. While there was a slight increase for several England & Wales forces in 2021, it is not clear how much of this relates to the degree itself, its coincidence with the broader recruitment net cast by ‘Uplift’, and/or because of other policing pressures changing over time. It is certainly not enough to significantly undermine the replenishment of officers as part of ‘Uplift’, however needs to be closely monitored.
- Forces vary wildly in their retention of new officers, and presumably, their implementation of the police degrees and new entry routes. This is evidenced both in the statistics and the widely-reported testimonies of those officers. For example, some forces are now better retaining their probationer officers compared to before police degrees existed.
- Since implementation of the PEQF, the average age (and associated ‘life experience’) of new officer recruits remains relatively unchanged.
- The PEQF entry routes openly discriminate against numerous protected groups and those who struggle with academia.
This doesn’t mean the vociferous concerns and case studies highlighted earlier should be dismissed with glib remarks such as ‘teething problems’ either. There clearly are a significant cohort of officers discriminated against and/or simply struggling to cram everything into their 24/7 lives. Even the College recognise there are serious issues.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of forces are also reopening the traditional IPLDP schemes, pushing the boundaries with the College’s stated mandates. However, the College recently asserted that these IPLDP routes will most certainly close in March 2023, following an associated change in Police Regulations effectively archiving IPLDP. Only time will tell if this revised ultimatum sticks!
We should recognise that the degrees aren’t a nightmare for everyone, and there have always been those who struggle with the academic/theoretical aspects of police training and probation. For example, with the copious volume of legislation to learn and technical systems new officers must become familiar with. This struggle will no doubt have been accentuated with the new degree-level scheme, over and above the previous Diploma-level qualification. However, the extra proportion who will struggle remains unclear and has yet to be determined, be it 5% of joiners, 10%, 20% or more. I tend to agree with Mr. ‘Retired and Angry’, who recently concluded in a very well evidenced and articulated blog, that the jury’s out until next Spring. We shall see then whether this concerning and increasing leakage trend continues.
Despite a lack of a tangible quantifiers, it doesn’t stop you as a police leader, manager, and supervisor from positively contributing. For example, by supporting officer wellbeing and offering reasonable adjustments or flexible working approaches for disadvantaged groups, all while balancing the strategic pushes and pulls upon you as a leader.
On this note, I’ll close with several suggested areas of ‘enablers and solutions’ to consider in relation to the PCDA and new police qualifications…
8. Enablers and Solutions
“If you choose not to deal with an issue, then you give up your right of control over the issue and it will select the path of least resistance.” – Susan Del Gatto
It’s easy to identify and complain about problems, but few offer any real solutions. Considering one of policing’s core functions is ‘problem-solving’, maybe there’s an opportunity to do better? Here are some of my suggestions from reading the tapestry of qualitative and quantitative intelligence which forms the national picture. I hope they’re of interest to the College, Force decision-makers, supervisors, and other cops alike. You might have your own ideas and if so, great… don’t forget to share them in your promotion board and/or presentation when discussing how you will paint a brighter picture for the force in future!
Firstly, why not extend the scheme from three to four years, making it more truly like the nursing degrees to which the PCDA is often compared? Or even five years, given the lack of study time afforded? It’s clearly impractical and unsustainable to do the equivalent of a full-time degree alongside a full-time (and full-on!) job / shifts. There’s no apparent good reason that the culmination and award of the BA (Hons) Degree in Professional Policing Practice needs to be tied to an officer’s probationary period. The two-year DHEP could equally be extended for a year.
Akin to most other degree qualifications studied on a part-time basis (for example as many do with the Open University), why not therefore extend the timeframes slightly? This is already a tried and tested method suitable for working adults. There is precedent and this isn’t a new concept, for example, I recall Devon & Cornwall Police ran a five-year BA (Hons) in Criminal Justice Social and Organisational Studies degree in the 1990’s; I know, because I did it! Many experienced officers continue to achieve business and other qualifications around the day job, often sponsored by their force or via the College itself. The extended timescale may also support officer retention in the early years, as officers’ stress is reduced while also having a longer-term goal to work towards, helping to inform the PDR process. This also clearly still fits with the College / NPCC ‘professionalisation’ agenda.
Secondly, there is a clear need for greater protected learning time for officers to conduct their assignments, recognising the workload pressures upon officers. However, forces do not generally have a good track record for managing even experienced officer workloads, as they generally demand more of response, neighbourhood, and investigation functions (while simultaneously also depleting such frontline resources over the years by creating specialist functions and resourcing pet projects!). The downside of greater protected learning time for student officers of course is reduced operational availability (usually on response/neighbourhood) for those initial years.
Of course, forces could learn again from the nursing qualifications and make the assessments more practice-based than theory, and so scaling back the volume and/or length of the written assignments required to fulfil the syllabus learning objectives. I’m sure this would be welcomed by officers and the Police Federation alike, though would require some flexibility and reduced focus on academia by the College and forces’ university partners respectively.
Another suggestion relates to the rub of it being mandatory. Why not make it optional? It seems forces are fighting for this option in any case. The IPLDP qualification should be enough for the College to accredit officers to perform a range of standard duties as a PC. The degree-level qualification could then be achieved thereafter, possibly as a means for those who wish to take their careers further, towards promotion, or to open up options into lateral specialisms or dare I say it, enhanced payments. There is precedent for this; Police Scotland for example require officers to achieve a leadership qualification before they can go for promotion. The Police Federation however would likely argue against any enhanced pay or career prospects aligned to those choosing to achieve the police degree in service having done the IPLDP ‘basics’. However, something’s got to give to help alleviate the situation.
My final suggestion, again learning from the nursing example, would be to make the pre-join degree option less of a waste of everyone’s time, becoming more attractive to individuals and forces alike. Firstly, by offering a bursary to attract a reasonable number of candidates. Secondly, ensuring the degree is 50% practical, strengthening this route into policing and ensuring forces engage and actually offer positions to successful graduates.
That’s me done for now, but please feel free to comment below with any potential enablers and solutions you see to these issues!
On a related note, and for some leadership reading CPD for the line managers and supervisors out there, here’s some really interesting research by Oxford Review on psychological contracts and organisational change. It looks at shared mental models, trust, and things that predict people’s intention to leave organisations during change.
9. Closing Remarks…
This blog has amassed a collection of thoughts and an analysis of the zeitgeist of issues with the police degree and PCDA scheme. I hope you’ve found it helpful. As a big-picture, strategic view, it will of course be of particular interest to aspiring Inspector promotion candidates. For example, when painting a brighter future under your leadership, demonstrating how you can recognise the issues facing policing, and how you can support and develop new officers through the challenges to become great cops of the future. It’s also relevant reading for aspiring Sergeant candidates, for example in providing effective supervision through wellbeing support, and with empathy towards your team’s experiences / plight.
The Police Federation, College of Policing, forces (both senior officers and training departments), higher education partners, government, and of course individual officers themselves, may well have a range of views and perspectives on these issues, so please do have the courage to speak up before your retirement!
For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion and exploration of the pros and cons of this case in this court of public opinion. If you have any additional evidence or grounds for appeal, feel free to state your case by commenting or getting in touch!
Kind Regards, Steve
Want to go further? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, attend or download my Police Promotion Masterclass, or contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videos, eGuides, a podcast, plus free blog content both here and via my Police Hour guest articles.