In 2006 the Leitch Report recommended that universities needed to work closely with employers to ensure that the workforce had access to the provision of higher education to meet the skills and development needs for the economic growth of the country, given that the majority of those in need of HE were already in the workplace. The concept of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships builds upon these early thoughts and requires proactive engagement with employers for the co- development of a curriculum, which, as Bravenboer comments is a “no brainer”; for who best knows what needs to be included in the curriculum than those who are ultimately to employ them?” (2016). It also therefore follows that employers will be well aware of real work activity tasks that can be undertaken for assessment purposes (Boud and Solomon, 2001) as well as evidencing the acquisition of the skills and behaviours of the apprenticeship standard.
Partnership working is therefore a fundamental element of successful apprenticeship delivery, where the relevant expertise of each partner is valued and harnessed to provide a supportive environment for the development of knowledge at the appropriate academic level and the evidencing of this within the assessment of the skills and behaviours within the workplace.
At the University of Derby, this high quality partnership working has been demonstrated recently through The Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA).
The PCDA has just seen its first ever graduates and exemplifies how good partnership working can support excellent outcomes; twenty-three 1st with 9 distinctions in a cohort of 35. By drawing on the best elements and experience of both partners there has been opportunity to produce high quality learning opportunities that benefit both the individual and their employer. These apprentices have had to learn whilst working in a unique culture and often unpredictable environment – shift patterns; high levels of regulation and governance and, very often, uncooperative “clients”. Oh and yes- a global pandemic.
A key to the success has been the strong partnership working that exists between the forces and the university to co- develop AND deliver the PCDA. In 2010, a QAA demonstrator project (Whitemore and Minton 2010 ) identified 3 key areas for successful employer engagement: People, Principles and Practice.
Key staff are needed at all levels of both organisations to work together – from the VC and Chief Constable to the HR and admissions teams, and the academic and operational police officers, so that potential risks and challenges can be foreseen and mitigated, with the relevant experts working together to support the apprentices through their journey. The academic team not only understood the requirements for academic quality but were very comfortable and familiar with the role of the police constable, having served as officers themselves. They worked closely with the force tutors and assessors to keep themselves up to date in terms of practice, but also to share their knowledge of academic quality systems so that there was an understanding across the team. The apprentices recognised that their tutors, irrespective of employer had credibility in the profession to which they themselves were aspiring.
The operational officers had a clear contribution to make when planning the operational elements of the programme- the system of shifts had to work with the operation plan as well as attendance at learning sessions (university or training school) so that the on the job learning could be effectively managed to maximise the learning opportunities in a stressful and unpredictable environment. This interaction with section commanders and shift leaders is vital in the internal strategy for communication about this new type of trainee within the workforce, and in particular to discuss the many myths that were beginning to emerge in the media about 9-5 officers who could write essays but not engage with the public.
A steering group, chaired by a senior officer and attended by representatives across both organisations ensured that unexpected challenges were mutually shared discussed and a course of action agreed.
The fundamental principle of the PCDA programme is that there is no “academic” and “practice” element – they are symbiotic and feed into each other and both are of equal status and value. All elements of the programme reflect the expectations of the apprenticeship standard and the QAA level descriptors. The KSBs of the apprenticeship standard are closely linked to all elements of assessment, which is founded in real work activity, but requires the intellectual rigour that is characteristic of any HE programme.
We were clear that this was a joint development and that it should play to our joint strengths – drawing on the operational and academic expertise of our teaching team at the university and the practical expertise in police training from within the force. This was to be a truly work integrated degree apprenticeship (Lillis and Bravenboer, 2020) where theory and practice work together in symbiosis, complementing each other to enable the apprentices to understand the “what, why and how” to become and police constable. The teams worked together in parallel, so that knowledge of the law and criminological theory goes hand in hand with the practice. For example, when students learn about interviewing suspects, they learn about PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984) the legislation to govern their practice, they learn about criminological theories related to interviewing suspects and witnesses, including the potential for bias and the reliability of memory, as well as undertaking practical interviews using the PEACE model.
Occupational competence and academic learning were to be assessed together in the context of the subjects studied. This, in itself, led to interesting discussion with the operational officers and the professional standards team about how to deal with officers who are occupationally competent but struggling with academic study and vice versa.
Staff development and regular strategic and team meetings ensured that communication occurred, so that contemporary good practice both in teaching and operational policing were at the forefront of delivery
From the outset of the development it was vital that shift managers and inspectors were involved in the discussions about patterns of delivery, so that operational considerations could be considered and opportunities for learning maximised.
Apprenticeships offer a good opportunity to enhance diversity within the policing workforce, increasing both the number of female recruits and those from BAME communities. In our first cohort 19% of the recruits on the cohort are from BAME communities compared with between 7 and 10% in previous cohorts.50% of the cohort are female, compared with 30% in previous groups and 31.45% in force.
More than 50 % of the cohort are the first in their family to enter higher education with a variety of reasons for undertaking the programme. Most wanted to be police officers from a young age, but had not thought it possible, either because they thought that the police service wasn’t for people like them or logistically because they had caring commitments or other factors that they thought would be a barrier to joining the force. Mandy Crawford- Lee in her recent blog for FACE commented about the contribution of DAs, and in particular the PCDA, has made to social mobility.
An element of the EPA includes a work-based project – for the success of the apprentices, and the perceptions of the PCDA within the force, these projects have to be meaningful and relevant to current evidence based practice in policing. With the support of the operational managers, a range of project themes were discussed with the apprentices, who then chose from these an area that was of interest to them and relevant to their future career development within policing. The external examiner specifically commented on the range of topics, the rigour of the research process, but , most importantly the relevance and potential impact that the adoption of these projects could have on routine policing practice. Indeed already some of the recommendations from the projects are being implemented within the local force.
One apprentice began this programme 3 years ago with no qualifications and had a poor experience at school. He undertook maths and English L2 alongside the degree programme, which in itself is onerous, whilst carrying out the duties of a police officer. He policed the community in a full range of night and day shifts, attending sudden deaths, broke up illegal Covid gatherings, supported ongoing investigations and in his final year mentored a first year PCDA apprentice. He passed both English and Maths, achieved a first class honours degree and as a result of his project, is a member of a task and finish group, implementing the recommendations from his project across the whole force. In his own words he has gone from “zero to hero”, and provides us with the evidence that our approach to partnership works.
Blog by Associate Professor Ann Minton, University of Derby
Boud D and Solomon N (eds) (2001) Work Based Learning: a New Higher Education? Buckingham: SRHE & Open University Press
Bravenboer D (2016) “Why co-design and delivery is a “no brainer” for higher and degree apprenticeships policy” Journal of Higher Education , Skills and Work-Based Learning vol 5 (4)
Leitch S (2006) Prosperity for All in the Global Economy – World Class Skills (Leitch Review of Skills) December DfES
Lillis F and Bravenboer D ( 2020) The best practice in work integrated pedagogy for degree apprenticeships in a post -viral future. The Journal of Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning vol 10 (5)
Whitemore D & Minton A ( 2010) Rapid Response and Fit For Purpose Solutions for Employers, Which Maintain Standards York HEA