May the force be with you

4th May 2007 at 01:00
Strathclyde Police's pre-entrance test provides a useful model on literacy and numeracy

AN INNOVATIVE evening class to help budding police officers could become a national model for other professions. Strathclyde Police have developed a course, in conjunction with Glasgow Learning, the city's numeracy and literacy support organisation, to help applicants pass the police entrance exam.

It is the only force in Scotland, possibly in the UK, to offer such a service and to be in close partnership with education and careers services.

Three cohorts of 15 would-be officers have been through the six-week course, across the region. The first began in February and, out of the 45 people sitting the exam at the end, only two failed, compared with the average failure rate of 40 per cent.

Such clear signs of success give credence to plans for the project to become a model for other industries, both in the public and private sectors.

Becoming a police officer is a lengthy process, for which Inspector John Perry, of Strathclyde's recruitment team, makes no apology. He says the rigorous approach is crucial in making sure the force gets the right people. From first application, it takes about a year to join Strathclyde but that is relatively quick, with some forces south of the border taking three years to admit successful applicants.

The first hurdle in applying to become an officer is the Standard Entrance Test (SET) before a series of fitness tests, health checks, interviews and background checks can begin. The written exam focuses on literacy, numeracy and information handling and has a pass rate of 60 per cent.

No formal qualifications are required to join the police, although there is a national fast-track scheme for a limited number of graduates, and Inspector Perry points out that even graduate applicants have a 30 per cent fail rate. He puts that down to lack of preparation, which is why the force has created the preparation class.

He also points out that, with huge public interest in joining, Strathclyde did not need to create the course to boost recruitment levels. Rather, it was a way of ensuring the best potential officers did not slip through the recruitment team's fingers because of easily-resolved issues such as being nervous about returning to study after several years.

Inspector Perry says: "We had 1,500 people on a Sunday afternoon - what does that tell you? We are always the busiest stall at recruitment fairs, in my experience in recruitment over the last two years. There is an unprecedented number of people interested in becoming police officers."

Despite recent reports of a looming staffing crisis as many officers approach retirement age, Inspector Perry says the increasing volume of enquiries to the recruitment team should go some way to resolving any impending problem.

He dispels some of the common myths about recruitment, saying: "You don't need to be a certain height, and we have people joining in their 40s. We are also seeing a big interest in graduates wanting to join. I'm not sure why, but there are more graduates now in the workplace so it may be a reflection of that. But it's not about qualifications, it's about the people and their ability to do the job.

"A lot of the forces down south struggle to recruit but even the (London) Met is full at the moment and I've never known that."

He also stresses that Strathclyde appears to generate officer loyalty.

Certainly the force's investment, in terms of man-hours, in helping to create the course implies it is an employer with a people-centred attitude.

"A lot of those forces have significant attrition rates but we, in Strathclyde, don't have that."

Scottish Executive funding of pound;143,000, which has to be spent in this financial year, has come to the project through the education partner, Glasgow's Community Learning Strategy Partnership, which has brought together the literacy and numeracy teams from all 12 local authority areas within the Strathclyde force area.

Project manager Norrie Crocker, Workplace Literacies Develop-ment Manager with Glasgow City Council, is hopeful the model can be replicated across any employment sector which requires assessment or testing prior to employment. Another aim of the scheme, is to raise awareness within Strathclyde Police of the literacy needs of the general public.

Ultimately, it is hoped a guidelines document will be created, so the model can be replicated in other public, or even private, sector employment.

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