The competition for Sergeant promotion across UK police forces heated up in 2020, with over 4,200 extra candidates qualified to apply for posts following the legal exam results in England & Wales. With the national ‘uplift’ programme, there will be more opportunities in 2021 and beyond. This blog shares some facts and figures relevant to Sergeant promotions, with a focus on the results (by force, sex and race) of the most recent Sergeant legal exam.

How Many Police Officers and Sergeants Are There? 

UK police officer numbers total
Number of officers by UK police area (multiple sources)

The public (and the police) often ask: How many UK police officers are there? UK policing totals approximately 166,000 officers. I’ll blog separately on the subject of officer numbers soon in another ‘Stats Corner’ themed post, given it seems no-one has done a complete UK-wide analysis on officer numbers before. But for now as a summary, this 166,000 police officers consists of: 

129,000 in England & Wales (of which 18,600 are Sergeants)

17,000 in Police Scotland (of which approx. 2,500 are Sergeants)

7,000 in Northern Ireland (of which 1,050 are Sergeants)

13,000 in UK national and specialist local forces (e.g. CNC, BTP, Jersey and others, for which there are approx. 2,000 Sergeants)

That’s around 24,000 Sergeants! With regular turnover (including onward promotion to Inspector) and uplift, there are thousands of opportunities for promotion every year. For example, see below which shows the number of Sergeant promotions in England & Wales each year. Note that since 2017, these figures don’t include the Met Police (the biggest single UK force), so are missing . Along with the promotion processes in the 43 England & Wales forces, there are hundreds more being promoted in Police Scotland, PSNI, and other forces around the UK each year. What an opportunity for aspiring Police Constables!

Police Sergeant Promotions
Number of Police Sergeant Promotions for E&W Forces (Source: Home Office)

For context, here are the number of police officers at both the Constable and Sergeant ranks by year for England & Wales, as published by the Home Office. There tends to be a lag in promotion of Sergeants compared to increases in recruitment of additional constables, as forces realise that they need additional supervision with the role of Sergeant. With the ‘uplift’ now in progress, this will bring additional opportunities for Sergeant promotions in 2021 and beyond.

Total police officers constables sergeants
Number of PCs and Sergeants in England & Wales by year (Source: Home Office)

What are the steps for promotion to Sergeant?

For the 129,000 officers in England & Wales police forces (plus those within various national police forces such as BTP), the College of Policing officially outline the steps to achieving promotion within the Federated ranks through the ‘National Police Promotion Framework’ (NPPF). The NPPF is broken down into four ‘steps’:

NPPF Step 1: Competence in current rank (usually determined by PDR assessments)

NPPF Step 2: Legal & procedure exam

NPPF Step 3: Local selection process (a real ‘pick n mix’ of competitive promotion processes!) & matching to vacancies

NPPF Step 4: Temporary promotion (12 months) and a work-based assessment, culminating in a police management qualification

UK Police promotion insights
Get prepared for Sergeant promotion at:

Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) have a similar process for their 7,000 officers, involving a legal exam before aspiring officers are assessed through a series of interviews and a bespoke assessment centre. Interestingly, whereas the 2020 legal exam for England & Wales forces was administrated online for the first time, PSNI continued their legal knowledge exam at physical assessment centres.

Police Scotland totals 17,400 officers and includes other qualifications (such as a Diploma in Leadership and Management) as prerequisites to applying for a formal promotion process and onward competition through the Police Scotland National Selection Assessment Centre (NSAC). Note that in outlining their promotion policy, Police Scotland (with another example of the pick’n’mix promotion process) reserve the right to promote anybody up to Chief Superintendent at the discretion of the Chief Constable:

“The Chief Constable has the right to promote any officer outwith this process, to ensure organisational efficiency.” – Police Scotland Promotion Process caveat

In this free ‘Journey to Success’ guide, I outline the common steps to promotion across all forces and the challenges that may be encountered along the way. Some forget about the NPPF step 4 element, and whilst this may be viewed as less intensive once through the challenge of local force selection processes, with some being signed off in six months instead of twelve, that’s not the experience for all. For example, maintaining a focus on CPD and self-reflection are necessary to complete the NPPF steps.

Police promotion UK
FREE guide: Journey to Success

NPPF Step 2 Results: Sergeant Legal Exam Success Rates

Sergeant Legal exam pass rate
NPPF Step 2 Legal Exam: Sergeant Pass rate by year (Source: College of Policing)

Earlier in 2021, the College of Policing (CoP) published the results of the NPPF Step 2 legal exam. This was taken by officers aspiring to promotion across England & Wales in 2020. It was the first time the NPPF Step 2 legal exam was conducted online, prompted by government restrictions in response to the Covid pandemic.

Although there was a great deal of concern at the time, including a mini ‘Twitter storm’ of criticism and officers who experienced technical difficulties, the exams were held online, avoiding the need to have hundreds of officers congregating in exam halls. As shown in the chart above, the online method saw a record success rate at 68%, with a record number of officers (4,225) achieving the required 55% pass mark for the NPPF Step 2 Sergeants exam.

The inter-force comparisons make for an interesting read, despite the clear variation in the numbers taking the Sergeant’s exam. For example, the top three forces with the highest comparable success rates were as follows:

  1. Cheshire Police (85% passed)
  2. Dyfed Powys Police (84% passed)
  3. Thames Valley Police (84% passed)

The three forces with the lowest comparable success rates were:

  1. Derbyshire Police (57% passed)
  2. Gwent Police (60% passed)
  3. Metropolitan Police (61% passed)

Below is a snapshot of the force success rates, where forces with very low numbers of applicants (not comparable with other forces) are blanked out (Source: College of Policing NPPF Step 2 Exam Results report)…

Sergeant legal exam NPPF step 2 results 2020
Source: College of Policing

NPPF Step 2 Results: Sergeant Legal Exam Success Diversity

NPPF legal exam sergeant 2020
NPPF Step 2 legal exam results by sex 2020 (Source: College of Policing)

In terms of diversity, the CoP analysis showed female officers achieved a slightly higher success rate than males. Only 30% of the applicants were female, which doesn’t bode well for future representation in more senior ranks, given that 31% of all officers are female. The number of Intersex candidates were too few to make a reasonable comparison.

Sgt NPPF Step 2 by ethnicity
2020 NPPF Step 2 Legal Exam success rate by ethnicity (Source: CoP)

In relation to the protected characteristic of ‘race’, 12% of legal exam applicants were from a ‘minority ethnic’ background. This is higher than the general proportion of minority ethnic officers (7%), therefore more positive for the promotion pool diversity in relation to this protected characteristic. On the other hand, the success rate for ‘minority ethnic’ constables was 60%, slightly lower than that for ‘white’ candidates and that of candidates whose ethnicity was not recorded or stated.

It is worth bearing in mind that public authorities (including this CoP report) are in the habit of reporting only non-white minority ethnic groups as ‘minority ethnic’; all other ethnic minorities (e.g. Gypsy/Traveller, Eastern European), for which the police service is also aiming to increase representation, get broadly categorised with the majority ‘White British’ category under ‘White’. Forces may soon wise up to this, not least when CoP and other research has also previously shown that success in competitive selection processes can be hampered for candidates where English is not the first language; a common challenge faced by many minority groups, regardless of race. 

The College report does not provide pass rate information about other protected characteristics, such as Religion/Belief, Disability or Sexual Orientation.

There are currently many diverse support associations in policing, all jointly concerned to identify the fairest ways to promote officers. It’s an ongoing debate and conversations about the validity of an exam as part of the process are abound. Exams have featured in police promotions for many years and are here to stay at least for the immediate future. With that in mind, it is helpful to be able to look at published information to help inform the search for that ‘holy grail’ – The perfect promotion system.

In future ‘Stats Corner’ blogs, I’ll share more information of interest in policing and the topic of promotion. I hope you found this post useful. In the meantime, if you are currently aspiring to the rank of Sergeant and would like a comprehensive guide to get ahead of upcoming selection processes, you can download your own Sergeant’s Promotion Toolkit.

Kind Regards, Steve

If you found this blog helpful, you can hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, attend my Police Promotion Masterclass or contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a bunch of free videos, guides plus free blog content both here on my Rank Success Blog and via my Police Hour articles.

Solid examples Sergeant promotion
Solid examples of what works for Sergeants, part of the full Sergeant’s Digital Promotion Toolkit
Sergeant promotion toolkit