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Police degrees: a 'rear mirror' review of costs and abstraction rates

The College of Policing has produced a report on the early implementation of the Police Education Qualification Framework (PEQF) which indicates officer abstraction rates are as predicted by critics.
Published - 16/06/2020 By - Gary Mason and Chloe Livadeas

In 2018, the College committed to producing a ‘rear-view mirror’ report on the new PEQF initial entry routes, following at least one year of force delivery.

The result of that commitment is Learning to date: development and implementation, 2016 to 2019, looking at data and participant feedback from the forces who are already implementing PEQF.

The College stresses the findings are preliminary and only give a picture of the forces who have adopted PEQF, which is less than half.

But it seems clear the stresses on forces adopting this major change in training have been added to by the 20,000 officer uplift which has forced some to continue using the old system for longer in order to funnel through the new intakes. 

The Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) is live in 19 forces and the Degree-Holder-Entry Programme (DHEP) in seven. The PCSO Apprenticeship is live in three forces.

The college acknowledges in the report the fears expressed by forces that abstraction rates due to study would have a significant impact to frontline staff levels.

The report states: “Everyone agrees that there can be no compromise on the need to provide a consistent minimum standard of frontline operations.

"For many forces, abstraction and workforce planning were serious concerns that needed to be understood and planned for, ahead of implementation.”

The most notable objections have come from Lincolnshire Chief Constable Bill Skelly. He took the college to a judicial review over the requirements which was dismissed for a second time last December.

Last summer he accused the college of “ignoring growing evidence that demonstrates their impracticality”, and called for the scheme to be paused until 2023 to allow for “legitimate evaluation of the new system”.

CC Skelly commissioned his own research into the potential abstraction rates within Lincolnshire under the scheme. The study indicated abstraction rates for the PCDA would be around 40 per cent for year one and 20 per cent for years two and three.

Higher abstraction rates 

The DHEP was predicted to cause student officer abstraction rates of around 40 per cent for year one and 20 per cent in year two.

The college’s own analysis shows that the average Protected Learning Time (PLT) – a reason for an abstraction from normal duties - for PCDA students in year one is 43 per cent, 16 per cent in year two and 17 per cent in year three.

The average for PLT in DHEP in year one is 47 per cent, while the average for year two is 14 per cent.

There is the additional abstraction rate for tutor officers, with participating forces reporting an average of below 10 per cent. However, the highest average in participating forces was between 16 and 20 per cent, according to the CoP report. 

The college said: “We will continue to develop the abstraction modelling tool that helps forces better understand their abstraction levels. Through scenario planning, forces can use this to identify peaks and adjust their plans to minimise the impact on frontline operations.”

The report said that the current Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP) which dates back to 2006 is no longer fit for purpose because it “has not kept pace with the demands of frontline policing”.

It addes: “A newly-recruited constable must acquire and apply high levels of professional knowledge to a range of challenging situations, across increasingly complex and diverse communities.”

Prolonged life for old system 

Yet the College admits that some forces are experiencing "exceptional difficulties"  in transitioning to the new system forcing a bit of a rethink. 

The College says it has supplemented the IPLDP curriculum to address some key elements of the new police constable curriculum and allow some forces to continue to use the old system for longer. 

The deadline for the end of the IPLDP training programme has been extended from December 2019 to June 2020 after a number of forces indicated they were not ready to transition. This has now been moved again to June 2021 but the college said while a force can continue to recruit officers on the IPLDP it will not be accredited beyond this point and can only be used alongside the PEQF route.

The Metropolitan Police is continuing to run the IPLDP alongside the PEQF. The college said “like other forces, the Met is currently benefitting from growing officer numbers, which makes a strengthened probationer journey more important than ever” and that the continuation of the IPLDP will “support this growth, and ensure a smooth and structured transition to PEQF”.

A total of 27 forces have taken the extension from December 2019 to June 2020, and 19 are using the longer one until June 2021.

Costs are apparently in line with predictions, but the college claims it is not possible to compare them with IPLDP as there were too many varying factors.

The average first-year direct cost associated with PCDA for English forces is £2,342 per officer. This does not take into account apprenticeship levy funding got back from universities, which is £2,970.

The average first year direct cost for both PCDA and DHEP for Welsh forces is £4,963 per officer. 

Welsh forces are not able to gain back the levy funding from the universities and must cover all of the costs themselves. They therefore pay a discounted amount to the university. 

Indirect costs for PCDA and DHEP for all forces which includes things like the cost of abstracted tutor officers from frontline duties, is £6,426 per officer. 

PEQF critic: Chief Constable Bill Skelly 

Critics of the scheme have also voiced concerns around a narrower recruitment group. CC Skelly claimed it would put off applicants from an older demographic and those from a military background.   

The college said: “In accordance with Policing Vision 2025, securing a representative workforce is a priority.

“We recognise that the new entry routes may influence the police service’s ability to achieve this crucial objective, and we are committed to supporting the police service to meet the requirements of the public sector equality duty.”

The report says the college's ability to assess the impact of diversity of recruits is currently limited due to a lack of national data. 

It went on to say that the college are working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the Home Office to improve the national collection of diversity data in the police.

Students apparently enjoyed lessons with obvious links to policing delivered by those with experience in the field and sometimes struggled with parts of the curriculum such as criminology or sociology which “may initially seem less relevant to day-to-day policing”.

Lincolnshire’s research claimed that the college have not modelled the impact of the failure of officers completing their studies or leaving the service early.

The retention rate – not taking into account disciplinary exits – is over 95 per cent for forces implementing the PEQF scheme according to the College.

Tutor officers are crucial

It is also clear from this early report that the role of tutor officers is both crucial to the success of the programme and there will be a major pressure on forces to 'professionalise' the role.

The college said: “Forces have stressed the importance of selecting tutors who are open-minded about the programme and can serve as advocates for the new routes.

“In recognition of the importance of the tutor role, we are developing a suite of products to support tutors and forces, including a new professional profile, a learning standard and training programme, and guidance on the role, with information on attracting and retaining the right individuals.”

The Met has already recognised the crucial nature of the tutor officer role and their importance in ensuring that student officers are ready for front line duties and independent working. 

In March this year the Met introduced a ‘consistent street duties course’ across all 12 of their frontline Basic Command Units (BCUs). This involved creating New Learning and Development Teams and 280 tutor constables, a brand new role to “ensure that all of our recruits are supported by some of the Met’s most experienced officers during their transition to frontline policing duties and gaining Independent Patrol Status”.

This new course will be delivered during an officer’s probation and will cover investigation, violence suppression, safer neighbourhoods and emergency response.

Alex Walsh, Director of Learning and SRO for MPS PEQF Programme, said: “This will help them to attain operational competence and confidence, and will allow them to contribute actively to policing outcomes at the earliest opportunity.”

The forces who have already implemented PCDA are: Avon & Somerset, Cheshire, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon & Cornwall, Dorset, Dyfed-Powys, Gloucestershire, Gwent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Merseyside, Northamptonshire, Northumbria, Nottinghamshire, South Wales, Staffordshire, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands.

DHEP has been implemented by Cumbria, Devon & Cornwall, Dorset, Dyfed-Powys, Gwent, Lancashire, South Wales, Staffordshire, Sussex and West Midlands.

PCSO Apprenticeships are live in Surrey, Sussex and Thames Valley.

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