Force ends mandatory degrees for officers in favour of on-the-job training

Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Constabulary is to allow its recruits to abandon the compulsory police degree in favour of ‘learning on the job’ to free up 100,000 hours of officer time.

Mar 28, 2023
By Paul Jacques
PCC Donna Jones and Chief Constable Scott Chilton

Chief Constable Scott Chilton said the current police entry system was “sucking the life out of the force” and he is “determined to revive it”.

The force unveiled its new Policing PLUS scheme on Monday (March 27), which not only enables officers to join via a non-degree entry route, but also allows those currently on the degree course to transfer onto the new programme.

It is the first scheme of its kind in the country, allowing recruits to “leave the classroom behind” to instead have an apprentice skills-based focus of learning on the job, in particular investigative skills.

It is affiliated to the IPLDP+ programme under extended licence from the College of Policing.

The move follows the Home Secretary’s announcement in November 2022 that she was ending the compulsory roll-out of police degrees, with the traditional police entry training “outdated” and not covering new legislative updates.

In an open letter to student officers announcing the changes, Mr Chilton said: “My focus is being tough on crime. I expect my cops to take direct action against criminals, and to do high quality investigations. That requires us to train them in the right way. This change delivers that, and gets hundreds of the extra police officers that we have recruited on our streets quicker.

“For a force like Hampshire, with a high percentage of student officers, this is a game-changer, freeing up to 100,000 hours of police officer time. Those who remain on our degree programme will be fully supported but we are losing too many competent operational officers who are either not ‘academic’ or too pressured when faced with a degree and being a full-time police officer.

“Others, who would be great operational cops, are being put off from joining. Our communities can’t wait, that’s why we are getting on with this innovative new approach to training.”

Previously, ex-Armed Forces and those not wanting to study for a degree have been put off applying, he said. The new scheme, launched by Mr Chilton and strongly advocated by police and crime commissioner (PCC) Donna Jones, “meets that need and is designed to fulfil the requirements of 2023 and beyond”.

Since taking office in May 2021, the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight PCC has campaigned for the end of the compulsory police entry degree, believing “practical common sense life skills are as important in policing as academic ability and that UK policing needs both”.

In Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight, more than 750 of its police officers (out of 3,300 overall) are students. More than 550 officers are on the police apprentice scheme, and a further 200-plus on degree holder entry (those already with degrees).

Ms Jones, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners national victims lead, said: “Modern policing requires a mix of skills; common sense, people skills, academic acumen and a will to make a difference.

“Unfortunately the compulsory police degree has put off a number of highly skilled men and women who would make brilliant police officers. Giving people a choice whether to complete a police degree or not, is the right thing to do.

“It’s more equal and will appeal to more diverse communities. We want to attract good people from a range of backgrounds. I’ve ensured Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary has the money to over-deliver on our police Uplift numbers by a further 100 police officers.

“The public don’t want police officers sat in classrooms beyond their short initial training period, they want them to be out on the streets as soon as possible, fighting crime, arresting people and making communities safer.

“That’s why my message to the chief constable from day one has been to review the entry route into the force and I am delighted that he has made this decision and quickly.

She added: “Policing PLUS makes the most of the Home Secretary’s decision to remove the requirement for a degree, and it will deliver more police officers & police hours for communities. I hope that it helps to shape national plans for police entry routes too.”

The initial reaction is that Policing PLUS is being widely welcomed by student officers who have relayed stories about competent operational officers leaving due to the pressure of juggling a full-time degree and a full-time job.

Currently, all degree entry officers have one fifth of their time reserved for ‘protected learning’ (to allow required studying and essay writing, alongside being a full-time police officer). This will end for those moving from the degree programme, freeing-up what is expected to be up to 100,000 hours in the year from June 2023.

Key points of the new Policing PLUS scheme include:

  • At the end of year one and year two (of the current three-year degree programme), student officers will have the chance to leave essay writing behind and focus entirely on policing. They will have to complete the year they are in and will keep the credits they have earned banked, and a relevant qualification. They will not earn a degree.
  • Those joining as new non-degree student officers under Policing PLUS will have a full 15-week initial training programme, aligned to those doing the degree option so that quality of learning in the early stages is not lost.
  • Students who choose to leave the degree route move onto a bespoke programme that does not involve a university. It uses IPLDP+ as the basis but on top of that focuses on further developing practical policing skills on the frontline, with a real emphasis on effectively investigating crime.
  • The new scheme will run in parallel to the degree programme. The force recognises that many students signed up in good faith and getting a degree was part of that decision. For some officers it is the right entry route and officers choosing to stay on the degree path will be fully supported.

This is the second major announcement made by Mr Chilton since returning to his home force from being chief constable of Dorset Police in February. His first was the return to an ‘area model’ that prioritises neighbourhood policing and visibility.

Ms Jones also recently announced the return of the traditional ‘bobby on the beat’, and the re-opening to the public of a number of police stations.

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