Listening to the Canaries
A few weeks ago, I wrote what I consider to be one of the most important and heartfelt blogs (not relating to mental health) that I have written. It was an open address to the College of Policing. I was contacted by the College straight afterwards and they expressed their wish to respond to the blog. They have every right to reply and I am pleased to say that they have. In detail. Not only that but the author is none other than the interim CEO Rachel Tuffin.
This is a long reply but I have chosen to publish it in full rather than break it up over a few blogs.
I am grateful to Rachel for this detailed response, for her time and consideration, and I publish it for you – in full – below.
Breaths of fresh air
I’m writing this blog on the College of Policing with thanks to Nathan Constable for his ‘Canary in the Mine’ post. His blog gave me the motivation to share more about what we are doing, about the dilemmas, and as we announce our new CEO, to reflect on what needs to happen next. To test Nathan’s metaphor to its limit, it’s like taking a breath of fresh air to keep the canaries alive. Two apologies up front, I’ve written it myself as Interim Chief Executive as a small sign that we take this seriously and are listening carefully and responding, but it’s taken me a while and it’s quite long, sorry! Also, while I don’t shy away from difficult truths, I do have a natural tendency to look on the bright side – so apologies in advance if that winds any readers up.
Facing the facts
The bottom line is that in the College, we will always have to balance different perspectives, and that’s a potentially tricky position, but it can’t be avoided. It’s true that the College was set up to champion professional development for officers and staff, and it’s also the standard setting body. That combination in a professional body is quite unusual – and can cause tension but there’s a great potential benefit. In the longer term, our system can mean that our own professionals, as part of their development, will build the evidence base and help set the standards. Internationally, and in other sectors like teaching they’re envious, because they see the potential even if it’ll take years for it to be the norm.
For now, when policing sets standards, in anything from undercover to domestic abuse, College staff draw together operational expertise, research – where there is any, the perspectives of partners, voluntary or third sector groups, government and the public. We try to balance protecting the public and protecting professionals by making our standards workable on a day-to-day basis. Then the content needs to be communicated to all those audiences and more, and they all have different perspectives and needs. It isn’t simple and it’s easy to get the tone wrong.
Often specialists in one area of policing will feel frontline officers and staff need to do things better, while the frontline feel demands on them are unrealistic, and the restraint video stems from this tension. The background was that in the light of a highly critical review of the use of restraint, the professional lead and the custody officers felt it was right to share some of the key warning signs. The video was reviewed by police officers, but because they were custody specialists, my guess is that they took it for granted that the suspect would already be under control. Given the clip didn’t actually show that context, the frontline reaction is understandable. It’s a reminder that we have to user test and not only rely on specialists.
Listening to the canaries
Nathan’s blog is a constructive challenge and while it’s kind of him to recognise the potential impact of challenging feedback, people working in the College understand that tough words mean people care and it can help us make things better. I think what they find harder, is that some more positive aspects of our work consistently attract less attention. Take recently where my naively phrased comment on pay (more on that below) and the recent restraint video received negative feedback. Over the same period there was the announcement of the College bursary winners, the launch of a tool to recognise officers’ and staff’s prior experience and learning, and the award of £7.5m to help deliver police welfare and well-being. Of course negative stories are more newsworthy, and that’s an issue in policing more generally – it can affect all of our motivation over the long run. It would be great to learn via the same direct and immediate feedback about what’s well received as well as what doesn’t work or people find frustrating.
You find there are always different viewpoints to weigh up as well – on pay some thought the professional body had to take a position and some thought we shouldn’t say anything. In my comment, I meant ‘encouraging’ in terms of a possible signal on the public sector pay cap, but I understand that’s not how people read it – or how it played out.
Independence, international and leadership
So what about this Home Office issue? I was around during the negotiations to set up the College and I didn’t sense it was just some kind of challenge to policing. There was a consensus that an organisation was needed to set standards, champion professional development in policing, and take the evidence based policing agenda forward. So we’re publicly funded by government to set standards and we were also set up to be independent and support members. It can create a difficult tightrope to walk and I can understand why some people think we should push for greater independence.
And how independent can we be? I know some members think we should charge for membership, to break the link to government. If we continue with the standard setting work though, some links would have to remain – and if we don’t do that work, it will happen anyway but the profession would lose authority. Longer term, perhaps we should be formally commissioned to set standards by government, and expect clear separate payment, and poll the members on what they think about funding.
We also make income from international training, but we don’t do the work just for the money. In our connected world, the country’s security, prosperity and freedom is linked to that of others. Our work is referred through the International Policing Assistance Board (IPAB), which assesses all requests for support against British values and in the context of maintaining UK security. I suppose it depends on your perspective again – on balance is it better to make a statement that you won’t work with some countries, and take a stand by not conducting training there? Or should we try to promote improved policing by working with overseas leaders, including a strong human rights focus in the training?
Another question of perspective is Direct Entry – I appreciate it can be seen as an automatic criticism of the existing system. However, you could see it simply as a way of bringing in outside perspectives at senior levels. In fact, the way we dealt with the Home Office request to introduce Direct Entry is typical of how we try to handle the independence tension overall. We are usually willing to try out a new idea, whether it comes from the Home Office or a policing partner, with the condition that it’s evaluated. The issue with DE is that it’s a long term programme, and we’ve needed to give it time to evaluate it properly. When the proposal was made to expand to Inspector, we took on board the interim findings of the evaluation, and it meant we could test it further. We’re three years in, and a report is due by 2020.
Nathan’s quite right that we were not able to influence the pre-charge bail legislation decision. We are always active with the Home Office and HMICFRS to get the evidence base understood, but we can’t force the outcome. What I’m proud of though, is that he knows that we didn’t agree – I see that openness on the work we did and how we set out the position as the positive here. We then used the opportunity to develop online learning that was a bit different, which we did with disclosure as well, and it’s had some really positive feedback. We’re working with forces to share ideas in this territory, as a lot of the e-learning officers do is actually developed by their force rather than the College.
Now you see it, now you don’t
If you work in policing, whatever your role you will have come in to contact with our work, but it’s probably not obvious. People working at the College create thousands of pieces of material to support officers and staff – and only a tiny amount of it is, or I suppose should be, visible on a day-to-day basis.
Our work on bail is probably the best known online learning material we’ve done recently, but it might have mainly been noticed by those working in custody. When you apply to join as a constable, the selection process is designed by the College, and depending on your force, also delivered by College staff. Your training’s delivered in force, and the College creates the programme, sets the level, and provides forces with 35 weeks of materials, so officers working across boundaries and in response to critical incidents have common standards. If you are a response officer you will have been trained (in force) to College standards throughout your career, and the same goes for investigations and major incidents. We accredit firearms and public order training and are piloting something similar in vulnerability.
Because I’ve not been an officer myself, I’ve shadowed officers on shifts over the years, including lates and nights, to get some understanding of the challenges. I noticed a good example of why some of what we do is invisible while out recently. Take College Authorised Professional Practice (APP), the official source of professional guidance on policing. It is a huge body of work, more than 300 products on a branded website, which we try to keep up-to-date. It uses police expert knowledge, relevant research evidence and consultation with partners and public to make it as robust as possible. It’s often invisible when used though, because forces have written it into local policy so it’s not College branded. We also get feedback that it tends to be the manual for specialists and not much accessed by frontline officers. When I’ve tried to use it in a hurry, it’s obvious why – it’s not easy to see what’s most useful to the busy officer or member of staff.
Responding to feedback
We’ve been trying out a new approach to creating guidelines which uses frontline feedback and experiences, as well as sifting through all the relevant research evidence. The idea is for relevant police specialists, outside experts and observers to work with users, such as frontline response officers and staff, all the way through the development. It’s been a really painstaking process, but there seems to be a positive response from those involved, so we’re looking forward to sharing the tester versions. The first is on how to get the best possible information from victims and witnesses in initial accounts.
We’ve taken action in response to your feedback about the Managed Learning Environment (NCALT), replacing it with ‘College Learn’ – the ‘beta testing’ version is live now and can be accessed here (login required). This new system can be accessed on your mobile and will give you a choice of products – videos, interactive scenarios, games, infographics and online assessments, instead of click through e-learning courses. Again, feedback shows different perspectives, some people love learning through a game, and some say they find it patronising.
On leadership development, historically we have offered much more nationally to senior officers and staff, from Chief Inspector and above and especially if they get onto the Strategic Command Course. We’ve reviewed that this year, and we’re planning a new model to offer at development at every level of leadership starting with Constable and staff equivalent.
The same standards, guidance and training all apply regardless of how people are promoted or enter a role. I talked earlier about Direct Entry and we don’t try to give them anything extra, it’s more that what they do get is concentrated, as they try to cram in learning and policing experience into their short period in formal training. We’re doing some work comparing the cost of Direct Entry learning with the more standard route to Superintendent to check. The place where we’re sharing extra development tools and opportunities is on the Membership website, to encourage people to join. Direct Entrants do volunteer to help develop national work as part of their development – and we’re always keen to get volunteers for national activity, so email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
I suppose what I’m trying say is: Yes, we don’t always get it right, but we probably do more than you think and you might like some of it!
A qualified answer
The complexity of policing now seems to be no longer in question, in that officers and staff have to be prepared to deal with everything from terror incidents and complex mental health crises, to domestic abuse and preparation of case files. We want to give officers and staff the preparation they need to face all their experiences. I think the core of the argument here is about what development officers, in particular, deserve.
How qualification levels are described nationally is really telling here – a level 6 prepares people for a role where they have to make decisions in complex and unpredictable contexts, solving problems and using personal judgement, whereas a qualification at level 3 basically prepares people to follow instructions. The latter fits with what some senior officers still say to me – a variation of “they don’t need to understand what they’re doing, they just need to do it”. This approach just doesn’t make sense to me – we can all follow a process, but what happens when it doesn’t fit and there’s still a decision to be made.
To sum up, when I look at what officers already do, it is clear to me that they are expected to work at degree level, so they deserve both the level of professional development and recognition that entails. Perhaps this is best argued by the academics who speak cop, as Nathan pointed out these are often police officers first.
When considering the work, Chiefs agree that it will better equip officers and staff for their challenging roles and most are supportive of developing entry into the service through a degree apprenticeship route or graduate entry. Many chiefs agree about the level of qualification which fits the senior ranks, but the majority did not feel they could support the College’s proposed timetable for the senior qualifications, so we suggested that we do some further work and bring revised proposals for consultation in the New Year.
Current officers or staff won’t be required to get a qualification – it’ll be about what they want. Feedback from the PEQF consultation showed about three quarters wanted externally recognised and transferable qualifications, even where they didn’t necessarily agree with the level we were proposing to set.
We have developed a website where you can use a credit estimator to calculate how much of your existing experience can count towards a qualification. You will be asked a series of questions about your role and at the end you will be provided with a summary which can be saved or sent to a course provider.
I was pleased to see the reference to new research centres being set up in Nathan’s blog – and of course I would want people to note that 14 were started up with College support! We did this through establishing Innovation and Knowledge funds, with support from the Home Office and the Higher Education Funding Council. Findings from our survey on the Knowledge Fund suggest that academics are learning as much from it as the police.
In the Police Knowledge Fund more than 30 forces are working with a similar number of universities to contribute to the evidence base in priority areas of policing such as cybercrime and mental health. The first of the three aims of the fund was to make sure that frontline officers/staff were directly involved. We held a showcase event and heard how much of what’s been found out was directly with or relevant to the frontline. The tools produced include an app to guide the collection of digital evidence, a tool for prioritising the investigation of online offenders, an online game to learn more on child interviewing. Hundreds of officers and staff have been on programmes which have got them interested and overcome their initial concerns, so that they’re now confident and using evidence in their work.
So we’re working hard to get more people involved. And we’re also trying to make it easy for people to access resources. As part of our delivery as a what works centre, we started off with a bit of ground clearing – getting the best available evidence on what reduces crime into a toolkit. That can only cover the existing research, so we’ve also worked on how we can help when there is very limited research. Firstly, there’s the Knowledge Bank on POLKA, you can ask colleagues for an answer. We’ve also pulled together information in some specific common topics, like body worn video on the membership site. The information ranges from tactics recommended by colleagues on how frontline officers and staff can disrupt serious and organised criminals and a cost benefit tool to help estimate the size of savings made by avoiding or preventing crime.
We certainly don’t assume it’s going to be easy, so we’d be delighted to support anyone in policing who wants advice on using the evidence base. Please email email@example.com As an extra benefit, you can get personalised support, if you’re planning a project, and you want to test its impact, or you’re doing research in your studies – book your research surgery slot via the website. It doesn’t have to be for everyone but it’s an option for officers and staff if they would like to increase their evidence-based knowledge, skills and how they solve problems.
Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow
I have to admit we’ve been slow to get going in some areas – but why? There are a few, mostly quite tedious reasons, so it’s probably good to give an example. Getting people to join as members is the obvious one. We wanted an online platform for sign-up where we could share products and resources, and allow people to upload their professional experience. If we were a start up, we might have been able to get it done in a few months, but working with the checks and balances of the public sector system is a whole different story. As it is, to get the system through procurement (many months), security accreditation (many more months) and data protection (over a year) so as to be able to invite people to join directly, seemed to take forever.
We are testing as we go along, in terms of adding new things onto the platform – hot issues explained by officers have been posted recently. Whether you use our services once a year, or on a daily basis, our aim is to have what you need, when you need it, so your feedback on what you would like to have to benefit your career and development is crucial.
How should we judge how it’s going? So it’s only since we got the site up and running that we can really count. College membership was launched in October last year and has grown steadily to over 23,000 members. Although the model’s quite different, nurses have had a professional body since 1916 and after its first year – without the internet of course – there were 2,500 members. Today it has more than 435,000 members who benefit from its professional and personal support. The College of Teaching began with a blueprint in 2014 and was able to adopt a Royal charter which had existed since 1870. They launched in January and are free to students, with a charge of £45 for active teachers – they have 10,000 members so far. We’re trying to draw on the experience of other sectors, whilst recognising that policing is special and unique and cannot simply have others’ experience pasted over the top.
Some officers and staff have said that they think it should be compulsory, arguing that we shouldn’t allow access to the resources unless people join. We understand the argument, but we don’t want to exclude officers and staff who can help ensure we get our offer right . We want to encourage people – offer things which you can access if you are a member, but don’t stop people from operating if they don’t want to join. Many professional bodies operate the no choice model – and it means members can have a more powerful voice in the direction of their organisation, which is something policing might find attractive longer term.
Connecting with the frontline – membership and non-membership
We really do get the connection issue. College staff are really keen to connect with individual officers and staff, and we do – through membership I’ve got a buddy ambassador, and someone I mentor. Part of it is just simple maths, there are 600 of us and 22,000 members, with over 200,000 potential members. And only a few of us are ardent Tweeters. We do get to meet more of you at conferences and events – I met a great PC at the College conference who was keen for her colleagues to get similar professional development opportunities. And some will meet us through specialist training such as in covert and senior investigation, but it’s just a small subset of course. The new leadership development model we’re working on that I mentioned earlier should really help develop opportunities for you to get to know the College.
It’s certainly not hopeless now from my perspective, the key lies in Nathan’s blog – it’s getting members to really feel they are part of the College and they can influence nationally. We’ve had officers writing perspective pieces on the members’ site, and through ambassadors and other members we can crowd source more material. Many of you already ask and answer questions on all sorts of issues on POLKA. You are always free to contact College staff directly, and there are three more structured ways for officers and staff to make sure their voices are heard.
- College Ambassadors can be found in every force – they are a group of frontline officers and staff who as well as their usual role, provide a link between you and the College to help shape what we do. You can find your College Ambassador on the Membership website or email firstname.lastname@example.org – for any other query too.
- We know you want to be heard and have an independent voice. The Members Committee are providing that independent and challenging voice – which reports direct to the Board. They are there to shape and challenge their professional body. The committee is made up of 14 officers covering five different ranks and four police staff, working across nine forces. At their recent meeting, they were pleased with progress on the RPEL and welfare bid, but frustrated by the pace at which we’ve been able to take on their suggestions in terms of connecting with the members. I hope this blog will also signal to them that we take their views very seriously.
- We have four Professional Community Chairs for the College, who bring the voice of the members to the Professional Committee – which is the group who help set priorities and standards on behalf of the College Board. They are all serving chief constables, Steve Kavanagh, Olivia Pinkney, Andy Rhodes and Giles York and respectively have a specific responsibility – crime, uniformed policing, organisational development and professional development. You can contact them to influence priorities, get advice or give feedback on our products and materials.
Shadowing the late turn van driver or the College CEO
For people who join us who aren’t secondees and haven’t worked in a force, it doesn’t matter how many documentaries they’ve seen – their eyes are always opened when they go out with frontline staff, so we recommend it when they join us. We’ve made it a standard objective for College staff whatever their role, to take part in one CPD activity every year to deepen their knowledge of policing. About 80 staff are buddies to the College ambassadors and they spend time meeting and shadowing them. We visit for mentoring too, my last trip was to Northumbria and I get College ambassadors to come to events with me. One of them, who’s a dog handler, turned out to be a bit of a celebrity with senior officers, through their twitter feed.
As well as us coming to you, we’d love you to come and visit us. We have bases across the country in Harperley Hall near Durham, Harrogate, Ryton near Coventry, London and Basingstoke, so hopefully there’s one not too far away. Whether you want to come and shadow a member of staff (I’ve had shadows during both CPD weeks and would be happy to welcome more), meet the membership team, our press team, our trainers, the psychologists who develop the assessments, or the researchers who look after the What Works Crime Reduction toolkit, we can arrange that. If we get enough interest, we could put on some bigger, more formal, ‘Get to know the College’ events.
I’ve also been a real fan of getting and using evidence – and Nathan’s blog was evidence that I needed to speak to you directly. To get us more evidence, please respond to the College survey whether you’re a member or a non-member – it will give us a really important take on what we need to do next. The College has to be a work in progress, because there’s never been anything quite like it in any sector. We have to test as we go along and your feedback will help us learn and develop faster. If you’re part of it, you can help it be what you need. Thanks for reading.