What do policing and teaching have in common? Rachel Tuffin explains how two fledgling professional bodies can use evidence to support their members


© College of Policing

Rachel Tuffin

Depending on your point of view, you might think there’s not a lot of common ground between teaching and policing – although both professions try to make sure people behave themselves! From the public perspective, both policing and teaching are often seen as responsible for wider societal wellbeing, well beyond the more direct work they both do to protect young people. Over the past few years, police and teaching have experienced shrinking budgets and rising public demand and expectations, in the context of a rapidly changing society, both in terms of demographics and technology.

Setting professional standards

There is another thing they have in common – until recently, neither had a professional body with an authoritative independent voice, to set standards for professional development.

For policing, this has meant no established continuing professional development (CPD), despite police practitioners being expected to constantly adapt to changing threats and new forms of crime. The lack of standards in this area definitely contributes to inconsistency in the way members of the public experience policing. Perhaps most fundamentally, there has been no clearly labelled and comprehensive underpinning research evidence base for police officers and staff to use when deciding how best to deploy their resources.

Our organisation, the College of Policing, was set up to address these gaps.

We set up the college at the end of 2012, as the professional body for everyone working in policing in England and Wales. Our purpose is to provide officers and staff with the skills and knowledge necessary to prevent crime, protect the public and secure public trust.

CPD model

Over the last three years, we have worked to put in place what we see as the foundations of policing as a profession and have introduced a national code of ethics. We are in the midst of a consultation on setting formal educational qualification standards for all roles in policing and have developed a model for CPD that will provide clear standards for our members and for police forces.

At our core is the commitment to take an evidence-based approach, using the best available knowledge and research to inform decision-making and to set standards. We see our role as the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, part of the same network as the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), as fitting well with being a professional body. We are encouraging those working in policing to see research as just as much part of their CPD as a training programme. We can work with academics and practitioners to distil research, make it easy to access and embed it in each new piece of national guidance we develop for policing, from public protection to firearms.

To build up the policing knowledge base, we have followed EEF’s example in developing a toolkit that summarises the research from hundreds of evaluations, and which explores how, where and to what extent the intervention works to reduce crime. Again, similarly to EEF, we try to use the toolkit to make it easy for practitioners to use the evidence of what works, with all the information we can offer on risk, resources and context, and to encourage people to carry out new tests or research, as part of CPD, where evidence is lacking.

Important connections

For a professional body to be successful, it needs to represent all of its members and connect to all those working in frontline roles. To do that, it needs to demonstrate to members how it can make a difference to their professional development, and help them do their job more effectively. 

Making that connection isn’t easy. Both teaching and policing have rich histories and traditions, and a change, such as the introduction of a professional body, can be seen as a fad or a distraction. More to the point, people who work in policing and teaching are extremely busy, time-poor individuals. We need to do more to help tackle their day-to-day challenges and make this part of the offer. The launch of our web platform this spring, will allow us to connect directly to all those working in policing.

At the college, we have been fortunate to have a growing group of enthusiastic and proactive officers and staff (more than 3000 at the latest count) who have pre-registered for membership and who are keen to bring about change. There is a bigger challenge ahead of us: winning the hearts and minds of a much wider audience. The College of Teaching’s work in this area in terms of the surveys connected to #ClaimYourCollege and the ‘Big Staff Meeting’ have been helpful examples for us – we are borrowing with pride!

We also share our concerns and questions around the best way to fund our organisations to make sure we are, and are seen to be, independent. Grant aid is provided by government for our standard setting work, and some income comes from the professional development activity we deliver directly. We applaud the College of Teaching’s proposed approach in terms of crowd funding, so that people working in teaching will own their professional body from the beginning.

The focus on CPD is central to both of our colleges and we have already identified ways we might collaborate, through leadership development, and through What Works projects. While our young organisations have a long way to go, we are both confident the professional body approach can contribute to better public service, by providing evidence-based support to the independent decision-makers in two professions that have a direct impact on young people’s futures.

Rachel Tuffin is director of knowledge, research and education at the College of Policing, UK