Jostling for Space: ‘teaching about policing’ or ‘teaching for policing’?

Looking historically and at current developments within policing today, we suggest there is a (soft) distinction between ‘teaching about policing’ and ‘teaching for policing’.

SCharmanSSavageSarah Charman and Steve Savage are Reader in Criminology and Professor of Criminology respectively at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth.

In this piece we situate ‘teaching policing’ within a longer term historical framework and on this basis reflect on the current challenges of teaching policing in the light of the Police Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF) and the status of higher education institutions (HEIs) alongside that agenda. In both respects we suggest a (soft) distinction between ‘teaching about policing’ and ‘teaching for policing’.

To clarify, ‘teaching policing’ should be seen as much more than teaching police officers or police staff about policing. It is of course significantly concerned with teaching those directly involved in policing, but it also embraces teaching programmes concerned with policing and related subjects within other undergraduate or postgraduate degrees, most commonly criminology degrees – many students from which become police employees in due course. We would argue that the content of teaching policing to police officers (increasingly ‘for policing’) should not depart too much from the content on offer to the non-police officer students (‘about policing’). We will explain later.

To begin, we can look at the long history of teaching policing in the university context. As one of the authors has argued before, we can, at the risk of some over-simplification, periodise university provision for policing (and more generally police working relationships with universities) into three phases: the ‘sponsorship’ phase; the ‘partnership’ phase; and the ‘contract’ phase.

The ‘sponsorship’ phase dates back to the 1970s and ran until the late 1980s, and relates to the secondment of individual police officers to universities to study on a degree of their choice as a full-time (but salaried) student. The best-known scheme of this type was the ‘Bramshill Scolarship’, but a number of individual police forces, mainly the larger metropolitan ones, ran schemes of their own. Those chosen were typically at sergeant or inspector rank, and the ethos at the time was to give opportunities for university study for ‘high fliers’ who did not have that opportunity when younger – this was after all a scheme which ran at a time when the graduate was almost an unknown figure in the police. Often, they chose to study Law, and often at leading universities. A generous scheme indeed for the very small number lucky enough to be selected.

The ‘partnership’ phase ran from the late 1980s (the University of Portsmouth began its first such programme in 1988) and is only just being fully replaced by the machinery of the PEQF. This involved universities forming partnerships with police forces to deliver jointly designed or agreed policing related education to selected cohorts of police officers (whose fees were often paid by the force as part of continuing professional development), normally under the banner of degrees in policing or police studies. A key feature of such programmes is that they typically covered police-related themes that were not covered in police training itself. Subject areas such as criminology, criminal justice, the politics of policing and the sociology and psychology of policing were examples of this.

Growing financial constraints for police forces, rising part-time student fees and an increasing emphasis on ‘value-for-money’ meant that not only did partnership schemes lose the financial basis on which they partly depended – force funding for student officer fees – but all educational schemes were placed on a ‘return on investment’ basis, often narrowly so. This opened the door to the ‘contract’ phase in which a partnership relationship was giving way to a ‘client- contractor’ one, with the police as commissioning client and HEIs as contractor. Early versions of this appeared with some of the ‘foundation degrees in policing’ where the degrees in question were designed as integral to police training within the client forces. Furthermore, they were often delivered in the universities by recently retired police trainers. Was this in danger of becoming ‘business as usual’ as a form of ‘police training on the university campus’?

Of course, the PEQF has taken the contractual model very much further. Police forces, or groups of forces, have been putting the police constable degree apprenticeships and degree holder education programmes out to competitive tender with (some) HEIs competing to run them. More will follow with Masters level programmes.

We would argue that this longer-term trajectory has involved a transition from HEIs offering teaching about policing to them being increasingly contract-bound to deliver teaching for policing. Teaching-about-policing is about content being primarily academically driven according to subject disciplines and assessed primarily through theoretically informed critical analysis. Teaching-for-policing is about teaching being directly driven by police sector defined professional competencies and approved on the basis that it does so. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. Teaching-about-policing has usually had one eye on ‘what police officers might want to know’ to aid professional development. Furthermore, many recent teaching-about-policing programmes have included teaching-for-policing elements such as the pre-join Certificate of Knowledge in Professional Policing offered within criminology degrees. Nevertheless, there seems to be no doubt that the balance between the two has shifted towards the teaching-for-policing end of the spectrum.

Many within the HEI sector have welcomed this shift and some indeed have played active roles in programme design on that basis. The HEI sector, or at least parts of it, has exhibited support for this agenda shift by actively seeking to play a part in the PEQF. The PEQF, after all, does institutionalise and formalise a central role for HEIs in the police learning and development scene – in place of the voluntary and permissive relationship between the police service and HEIs typified even within the ‘partnership’ model outlined earlier. However, we would just urge that as the shift towards ‘teaching-for-policing’ progresses we should not lose sight of what ‘teaching-about-policing’ has contributed and continues to contribute to our understanding of policing and that we avoid as much as we can a continuation of existing models of delivery rather than transforming to alternative methods of delivery.

There is therefore a potential danger that what is taught and how it is taught within the ‘teaching-for-policing’ agenda may drift towards ‘business-as-usual’ and not the fully transformational shift which many of those behind the design of the PEQF have been seeking. Inevitably, the anchoring of policing degrees in pre-designed professional competencies places major constraints on the curriculum and its assessment with the potential to sideline critical reflection.  The achievement of these competencies becomes the only desirable outcome of the learning process; the ends are therefore all important, the means become largely irrelevant.   However, there is some degree of flexibility within those constraints in terms of what is taught and how it is taught and by whom.

There is a case for claiming that criminology should be as central to police education as medicine is to nursing.  Indeed, it is encouraging that criminologically driven concepts such as procedural justice and restorative justice are now mainstream within police learning and development design. These are theories whose origins lie in research allied to ‘teaching-about-policing’. As sociologists and criminologists (we would say this wouldn’t we?) we would make a plea that criminology, the politics of policing and the sociology and psychology of policing, all get fairly and fully represented in teaching-for-policing programmes, whatever the time and space constraints of a curriculum which must deliver professional police competencies.

 

Contact

Dr Sarah Charman, Reader in Criminology, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth.

Professor Stephen P. Savage, Professor of Criminology, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth.

Emails:

sarah.charman@port.ac.uk

steve.savage@port.ac.uk

Twitter:

@sarahc2612

 

Images: courtesy of the authors