Never Say Never
Here are some words I really didn’t think I would ever say “I am going to attempt to get a degree.”
Yes – I know.
Let me start explaining myself by rewinding 26 years and to the time I started studying for my A-levels.
Back then I went to something of a traditional comprehensive school. The subjects on offer were what would be considered “standard.”
Vocational qualifications such as B-techs were relatively new and whilst they claimed to be the equivalent of 2 A-levels they were largely untested when it came to applying for colleges, universities or jobs.
My heart was in a B-tech in Performing Arts but again there was concern that this might turn out to be as much use as studying basket weaving and it would have involved leaving a school where I was comfortable and my friends.
It was a leap too far and so I jumped onto the conveyor belt and was carried on towards A-levels, University and a possible job.
Except…. Except…. Subject choice was limited and so I went with my strengths. History, English and (purely because I had somehow “overcome” years of struggling and got a A at GSCE) German.
History was broken into two parts – modern (World War 2) and medieval. I turned out only to be interested in the modern. English turned out to involve no creative writing and was, in fact, English Literature. I hated almost all of the texts I was required to study except Philip Larkin and Death of a Salesman. Chaucer was particular torture. German – well – all I can say about that is that the A at GCSE must either have been a mistake in marking or a fluke.
The consequence of all of this was that I rapidly lost interest or began to struggle.
To make matters worse, when it came to choosing a prospective university I left myself no options. My second choice wanted the same grades as my first choice.
Come the exams I crashed and burned. Badly. Missed my predicted grades by a country mile (barely passing all three subjects) and had nowhere to go.
Facing the prospect of UCAS clearing and going to a place I didn’t really want to go or a subject I didn’t like I decided to swallow my pride and do resits at a local college.
I lasted one day. I couldn’t stand the informality of the place and as I sat in the first history lesson I realised that all I was doing was returning to the same subjects I had struggled with. I was about to prolong my misery. So I bailed and spent a year in the wilderness of working in pubs.
I had always wanted to join the police since I was 3 years old so I decided to apply for that with what I had. I also applied for a university college place with the subjects I had. I got accepted into both.
Having had a brief taste of freedom and money and being given the option to pursue my dream job it wasn’t really a hard decision. I joined the police at 19 years old and the rest is a long and difficult history.
Everyone else in my family has a degree. My sister has two. My mum obtained hers as an adult. As my career in the police progressed I saw less and less point or need to get one myself and actually became increasingly convinced that they aren’t actually necessary to succeed.
Despite what I am about to do that view has not changed.
I have been very vocal about whether police officers need a degree. My personal view is that they do not and that the service would remain more inclusive and representative if they were not mandatory. I do not believe that having a degree makes you a better police officer nor do I subscribe to the argument that it equips you with skills or empathy over and above officers without one. It may teach you a way of thinking but I don’t believe that way of thinking survives the first few years of contact with the realities of policing.
However, it seems that some form of degree requirement is going to be mandated. If this is to be the case then I would be more comfortable if a degree were earned during the first couple of years of service and awarded on confirmation. Formalising training and learning into a qualification, if you like. I am still firmly against the idea of insisting that all potential new recruits must obtain a policing degree before they can apply for the job. Especially if they have to pay for it themselves.
I am not sold on the need for them at all but it looks like this is the path we are going down. I would still argue against it.
So – why on earth am I contemplating doing one myself?
Firstly, it is not for any prospect of career advancement. Most people I know who have undertaken degrees in service have said that it has made no difference on that front at all (most – not all) and some have even reported a hostile reception.
Secondly, it is not because I think I need one. That isn’t to say I don’t think I have anything to learn because I certainly do but I am genuinely comfortable with my ability to manage without one.
The reason has surprised me and it has involved a lot of soul searching and introspection before I have come to this decision.
Over the last few months I have had an increasing involvement in the world of academia. I have had the opportunity to attend some conferences (in my own time) as well as speak to students on a subject of interest to me (in my own time.) It has interested me and stimulated me more than I thought it would. A lot more.
Even then I have resisted. The scars run deep and, as stated, my overall view on degrees has not changed at all.
However, there is one aspect above all others which has convinced me to give it a try.
Debate. Discussion and debate.
At a level and on subjects that policing simply is not comfortable with despite claiming that it is.
I’ve listened to some academics talk on stage and thought “this is just a personal side swipe at other academics – you’re even calling them out by name” but it then dawned on me. Whilst it is a case of openly disagreeing with someone else in the same field this kind of thing would simply never be tolerated in policing.
Imagine publicly calling out a senior officer, with your own evidence, and saying that their policy or decision is wrong. Imagine even doing this privately and quietly.
There has been a great deal of talk about changing the police culture to make this kind of thing more normal. “Challenge everything” they say. The College of Policing even said they were looking for “canaries in the mine” – people who would openly challenge them if they felt they were heading down the wrong path.
But the reality is that we are a very very long way from this being how the police could function. I’m not sure we will ever reach that position. We remain a command and control organisation where disagreeing or challenging is still frowned upon and I don’t have long enough left to see this culture change take effect. It will take decades if it is going to happen at all.
In the meantime I have this burning desire to discuss and debate and whenever I do it (be it in real life or online) I feel I have to look over my shoulder. It is a horrible place to be mentally.
Having crossed the threshold and strayed into the world of academia I have found a world where this level of debate and discussion is encouraged. Not only that but I have found myself to be made more welcome than in any policing environment I have encountered in years.
I wasn’t expecting any of this. The fact is, however, that you can talk, you can disagree, you can have a point of view and it is a safe space in which to do so. Policing does not yet provide this welcome or safe space.
I crave this debate and discussion. I wouldn’t be blogging and using social media if I didn’t. I think it is vital for the future of policing but I don’t think policing is ready for it. It is uncomfortable with it. It will remain so for many years.
Meanwhile, there are hundreds of people talking about policing all over the country , influencing it, and yet many of these have never worn a uniform in their lives. This doesn’t make their contribution any less valid but there are people within the organisation who simply do not have a voice or that level of influence.
This is where the debate is – I didn’t realise this – and a part of me desperately wants in on it.
The question of whether this is right or wrong is something I can only experience by doing it.
But there is a more important reason. At a recent conference I saw the importance of research. I saw the distance between some academics and reality and I saw the real need to bring a practitioners voice into this rarified atmosphere. I also saw for myself that good research is being routinely ignored by the police.
If I am to undertake research I want it to be for the benefit of other officers and in particular, their wellbeing. My area of research will be focused here.
I am not yet 100% sure what this looks like but I will use this blog to keep you posted.