With the Home Office consultation having closed at the end of March, work is now presumably underway to finalise plans for the implementation of direct entry into the police service. In developing these plans officials should be mindful of one area of staff recruitment and retention that the police currently does well, but which rarely seems to get any attention.
Research by the Sutton Trust published last year found that only 13% of leading police officers have an independent school background, compared to 44% of all leading people’ in the UK and, for example, 63% of leading lawyers. With attendees at independent schools making up just 7% of the school population, senior police officers are therefore closer to being representative of broader society than almost any other profession. This suggests that the police service is enabling social mobility and ensuring that senior police officers come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, something that many other organisations aspire to.
This is likely to be due in part to the fact that there is a single point of entry for police officers, enabling promotion by merit throughout the service. By comparison, in the armed services, which enable people to join directly as officers, 60% of top people attended an independent school. With this in mind, there is a risk that direct entry could actually work against one area in which the police service does perform well by creating an officer class’ that dominates senior positions and limits opportunities for talented police officers that have entered as constables to rise up the ranks.
This would be a mistake. When direct entry schemes get underway in the coming months those responsible for their design and delivery must therefore ensure that routes are kept open to enable officers from all backgrounds to reach senior positions in the police service.