Considering how long I’ve been on the planet, I’ve had relatively few dealings with the police (see earlier post on disinclination towards grand larceny). There was the time when Old Mother Allardyce was mugged for a piece of jewellery, leaving her neck ringed with friction burns. And the occasion on which Mother-in-Law Allardyce was caught orbiting a roundabout so intently, that the Fuzz attached her to a breathalyser. As befits the circular motif, my only other connections with Her Majesty’s Finest are a few rozzer-related cylinders in the gramophone collection.
So I was surprised, the other morning, to find my interest tickled by the long arm of the law: more specifically, by news of a scheme called Police Now that hopes to reverse a national shortfall of 5000 investigators. Ever the solipsist, it was the familiarity of a name yoking a professional activity to an operative timescale that grabbed my attention. Police Now cunningly combines the syntax of grab-em-by-the-newbies Teach First with the lexis of only-a-few-years-til-retirement Now Teach, to target recent graduates and experienced career-changers alike. Expect Teach From Beyond The Grave to arrive at a school near you soon. If you work in one, it may well feel as if it’s already done so.
The similarities are not confined to nomenclature. Police Now, like its teaching equivalents, is a charity with a mission to “transform communities”, much as Teach First’s is to “change lives”. Now Teach’s aim – which is, more or less, more of the same – is channelled through its desire to “change the face of teaching” by recruiting “high flyers” in their 40s and 50s from other fields. Presumably, to counterbalance all those ne’er-do-wells, whose willingness to spend earlier decades educating the next generations confirms their status as bottom-feeding underachievers.
The schemes’ modi operandi are also strikingly congruent. All declare a dedication to working with society’s most disadvantaged. Training, too, is structured along similar lines: recruits to Police Now and Teach First attend intensive summer schools, followed by two years of on-the-job learning. Concurrent programmes of mentorships, lectures and workshops lead to recognised qualifications, on the back of which graduates can expect to be fast-tracked into leadership roles. Those who decide that whichever profession is not for them are designated “ambassadors”, and assisted into alternative careers.
And therein lies one of the reasons that I fear for Police Now. Because, a decade and a half after its inception, Teach First still boasts the highest drop-out rate of any Initial Teacher Training route, with 57% of its graduates
legging it embracing ambassadorship within two years of completing their training. As a result, it has proven to be one of the least successful, and most expensive, ways of plugging the growing gap in the qualified workforce. Perhaps because, by focusing solely on recruitment, as these things are won’t to do, it pays insufficient attention to the retention crises that necessitate it.
Angelina Dawson, a former detective, left the force after 10 years, citing the shortage of officers, consequent “massive workload”, and detriment to her health as her reasons for abandoning the career that had been “all I ever wanted to do”. Similarly, Simon Davison, another ex-detective, identified an “insurmountable” workload and “decimated” staff numbers as his reasons for leaving the job he’d once loved:
“They often got one detective sergeant and a trainee detective and that’s it for the borough. It only takes a couple of serious incidents and they are completely stretched. So I certainly noticed that going into the CID offices, that they just had very few numbers and you could sense the morale was quite down.”
Hello, hello, hello; what have we here, then? Departments, staffed disproportionately by cheap trainees, forced to work at the very limits of their capacities? So far, so familiar.
One can only hope that Now Teach doesn’t prove to be another pale pachyderm auguring Police Now’s chances of success. After its first full year in operation, 25% of its graduates have decided to abandon education – which, admittedly, is positively triumphant compared to Teach First’s parlous retention rate. Still, as co-founder Katie Waldegrave admits, “the data-led, assessment-heavy culture isn’t one [all recruits] feel comfortable in…[l]inked to that is the workload and flexibility issues that we all know so well.” I suspect that our erstwhile detectives might feel right at home in such an environment.
With our gaze repeatedly diverted from domestic affairs to, erm, other matters, the last thirty-odd months have been a good time in which to bury bad news. Like the fact that key public services are being driven to the point of collapse/increasing privatisation by the attritions of underfunding and cost-cutting – the latter, often at its most ruthless where the each sector can ill-afford it. That, and an increasingly dominant belief that, as long as steady trickles of recruits are willing to enter the services, it matters not a jot how quickly they reach their points of egress, or that they so often do so by force rather than choice, exuding ash and vapour from their burnt-out shells.
It’s a strategy that’s precipitated a mass exodus, and then used the same as its pretext for establishing a ‘new normal’ of de-professionalisation, short-termism and techno-panaceas. All of which, despite the assertions of ‘personalisation’, actually add up, too often, to an experience for service users that’s as fragmented as much of the previous sentence. So, as I wait for the next batches of entrants to appear over the brow of the hill, my gaze occasionally falls on a clock whose hands are moving inexorably towards the stroke of thirteen.
See you on the other side.