The College of Policing recently announced and published the 2021 NPPF Step 2 Inspector Legal Exam results for participating candidates from England & Wales forces, British Transport Police and Guernsey. This blog is an interest-piece looking at the results achieved by aspiring Sergeants, proportionality across the protected characteristics of sex and race using the figures published by the College and Home Office, while also considering the wider context of the ever-increasing promotion competition.
This blog will be of particular interest to UK officers aspiring to Inspector: not just for the results themselves, but in starting to take a strategic view of issues in policing while also helping you get to grips with numerical reasoning, which may form part of your future promotion assessment!
Pass or Fail, You Will Prevail: Headline Results
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” – Henry D. Thoreau
The above graphic demonstrates that overall, 53% of candidates passed the NPPF Step 2 Inspector’s Legal Exam of the 2156 candidates who attempted it. This is a critical point for aspiring officers on the four-step National Police Promotion Framework set out by the College, predominantly for England & Wales forces. The pass mark was a challenging 65%, though 4% of officers exceeded 85%, a score the College rightly describe as exceptional.
For context, the 53% overall pass rate is lower than to last years’ exceptional high. As shown on the green line in the graph below, this is more in line with the general trend of the last decade. This also means an extra 1136 Sergeants were added to the pool of successful candidates now eligible to proceed to the next step.
If you were unsuccessful this time, commiserations. The sting of disappointment will be palpable, but shorter if you take a growth mindset. There are also various study support materials to help you prepare for next time, e.g. Blackstone’s Police manuals. Consider this an opportunity, or ‘failing to better yourself‘ as I’ve described it before. Your continuous professional development should also continue to support you in becoming a more rounded police leader. Your wider police career development activities need not be put on hold until you’ve done the academic studies. Developing your mindset is key to refocusing and then ‘going again’, just as many aspiring candidates have done before succeeding: Fail, learn, succeed.
If you’re one of the 1,136 people who passed, congratulations! Enjoy the moment, but realise it doesn’t stop there; the hard work you put in just got you a ticket to where the real competition begins. Welcome to ‘the room with a queue’…
Forces for Courses…
It is interesting to compare and contrast pass rates between forces, particularly given they vary wildly.
The above bar chart nicely organises for you the pass rates for each force, from highest to lowest. Sitting on top of the pile is Suffolk Police and North Wales, both having over 70% of their Sergeant candidates pass the exam. Not far behind them were Surrey Police, Merseyside, West Mercia, and Thames Valley Police.
The Met Police fielded over a quarter of all candidates, with over 600 people taking the NPPF step 2 legal exam, however their pass rate was lower than average, with just 43% achieving the 65% pass mark. West Mids and Hampshire Police officers scored similarly, while only a third of officers in South Wales and Durham were able to make the grade.
I would be interested to know what support is available and approaches to CPD there are in these forces; maybe there is the opportunity to share learning in future. It at least highlights where there may be good practice and/or opportunities for better support for candidates on this early step on their journey to promotion.
Competition is Heating Up
“Tests ain’t fair. Those that study have an unfair advantage. It’s always been that way.” – Allan Dare Pearce
The competition for Sergeant to Inspector promotions is always growing. Succeeding in your legal exam (or achieving your leadership qualification in Police Scotland) is simply the first step where you’re competing with yourself. When successful, the competition in the promotion process is with others.
Home Office workforce statistics show that there were 945 promotions to Inspector last year (though note they do not include Met Police figures which would push this over 1,000). Still, this is dwarfed by those already seeking promotion plus those being added to the pool of competition each year, having passed their legal exam.
This demonstrates the need to get ahead of the curve, or as I say, ‘prepare now, get it right first time’. I’ve blogged extensively on how you can prepare, and I provide a myriad of free resources to help you get started, to raise your awareness and hit the ground running. For now, here’s a good place to start.
The number of promotions overall has started to increase in recent years as shown in the Home Office chart above. This will continue to rise in future, because the national officer ‘Uplift’ (aka replenishment!) programme will also require more Sergeants and Inspectors to lead teams. Career progression opportunities will continue to present themselves; the question is always, will you be ready, or sit idly like a ship in harbour?
Diversity of NPPF Legal Exam Success
The College give some indication of relative pass rates between male, female, white and minority ethnic candidates.
Let’s start with those overall pass rates, as I’ve summarised in the chart above. Note that non-disclosed characteristics and those with too few candidates to draw any meaningful insights (e.g. ‘Intersex’) are excluded from this analysis.
Women slightly outscored men on the exam, with 56% of female candidates successful compared with 52% of men. This is in line with long-standing academic achievement differences between the sexes. However, the main difference comes between what the College categorise as ‘White’ compared to ‘Ethnic Minority’ candidates, with the latter passing at a rate of just 39%, compared to the 54% success rate of their white counterparts. This is a longstanding gap on the legal exam for both the Sergeant and Inspector ranks. Ultimately (as we shall soon show) this in turn impacts on representation at the next rank. Whether the issues are having English as a second language (which would also affect ‘white other’ ethnic minority groups counted under ‘White’, such as Eastern European) or something else, it requires remedial work, focus and support by forces. This might for example be in consultation with the Police Federation, Black Police Association, Muslim Police Association, and other police support organisations who will be aware of their members’ challenges. It would be helpful in future for the College to break down the figures into more precise categories to understand this further and better inform supportive positive action.
It would also be good to see the College compare other demographics and protected characteristics in line with the Public Sector Equality Duty, for example Sexual Orientation, Religion / Belief, and Disability. The latter for example might prompt enquiries for where positive action and workplace adjustments may be beneficial for neurodiverse officers.
A Deeper Dive on Diversity: Aspiration & Progression
Overall pass rates between (limited) demographics give some interesting results, but they lack context of the bigger picture for progression and promotion of underrepresented groups into police leadership positions. In this section I hope to shed some light on this broader perspective.
We can go beyond this surface-level comparison of applicant demographics by including the context of existing rank demographics. This can give an indication of the relative levels of aspiration of these officer groups and onward journey of progression and proportionality through the ranks.
First, let’s compare aspiration levels, which can be inferred from the chart below. It shows the proportion of Sergeants in each group actually seeking promotion by completing the 2021 Inspector’s exam (sourced from Home Office workforce stats).
There appears a somewhat higher aspiration among females, with a greater proportion of female Sergeants taking the Inspector’s exam (13%) compared to their male counterparts (10%). As we’ve already seen, women are also then able to better convert this higher aspiration into success, which appears to bode well for the inclusivity of the exam when it comes to sex. Minority ethnic groups have an even higher aspiration for promotion to Inspector, but as we have seen, there is a massive gap between aspiration and exam success, which will have detrimental impacts on representation within the Inspecting ranks.
Now, let’s compare the promotion journey. The charts below demonstrate the representative demographics from the starting position (Sergeant) to the representation at key points of the promotion journey: taking the exam, passing the exam, getting promoted, then finally the proportion at the Inspector rank. This puts the recent Inspector exam results in a broader context with the key goal of improving representation in the leadership ranks; deriving from our 200-year-old tenet of diversity and inclusion for UK policing: The police are the public and the public are the police.
Sex: For female officers, representation at Sergeant and Inspector ranks is clearly lacking, with only 1 in 4 officers in these leadership positions being female, compared to 1 in 3 PCs (of those stated). On the plus side, there is a clear desire for women seeking promotion to Inspector, forming 30% of the NPPF Step 2 candidates, 31% of those passing the exam, and 29% of those eventually being promoted (note that the Home Office does not publish promotions by rank and sex or gender, so the overall rate of female promotions has been used here).
Although the number of promotions is higher than those within the next rank, it is not by much. To make a difference on underrepresentation within years (rather than decades), it would need to be much higher at around 40-50%. In a forthcoming blog series, I will be outlining some of the hurdles and challenges, while offering some support and solutions to specifically help women achieve promotion within the Federated ranks… watch this space!
Race: For minority ethnic officers, the representation at both Sergeant and Inspector ranks is also lower than that for PCs (nearly 8%), which in turn remains lower (though growing) compared to that of the working-age public. There is a much higher proportion of minority ethnic candidates taking the exam, however this drops to 7% of those who pass; the ‘aspiration vs. achievement gap’ highlighted earlier. The remainder of the process then appears consistent, with 7% of candidates then going on to achieve promotion based on 2020-21 workforce statistics (though bear in mind this is likely slightly higher, because the Home Office exclude the Met Police from promotion diversity data).
So as with female officers, the situation remains bleak for anyone expecting to see changes soon; without some tailored positive action (not the wholly illegal notion of “positive discrimination”!), it would even be difficult to simply have the Inspector rank reach the representation of minority ethnic groups seen at the Police Constable level. And remember, none of this addresses additional underrepresentation among (non-visible) ethnic minority groups, which the Home Office, College, and others seem to continue hiding within the ‘White’ protected characteristic grouping.
Some Key Take-Home Points on Diversity…
To summarise, here are the key take-home points in relation to these aspects of diversity we can assess based on available information from the Home Office and College of Policing:
Female officers have a slightly higher aspiration for promotion to Inspector, achieve greater success than their male counterparts in the exam, and so representation at Inspector level is growing – albeit very slowly and inadequately to address underrepresentation.
Minority Ethnic officers have a much higher aspiration for promotion to Inspector, though candidates appear adversely hindered by the legal exam step. Representation at Inspector is still growing, though very slowly and again inadequately to address underrepresentation within a reasonable timespan.
Whatever someone’s protected characteristics or other, non-protected demographics: Those who have a springboard, an opportunity to benefit from bespoke promotion support, frequently report feeling more confident and knowledgeable about the process, then in turn are better equipped to achieve success.
“There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in, or you’re out. There’s no such thing as in-between.” – Pat Riley
For further reading on diversity and support through the promotion process and understanding of all protected characteristics (not just ‘race’ and ‘sex’), see my in-depth blog series on Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion in Police Leadership.
In a follow-up blog on the 2021 NPPF Step 2 results, I will share similar findings and analysis from the Sergeant’s legal exam run earlier in 2021, again with insights into the implications for equality and diversity. Watch this space for more!
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 or download my Police Promotion Masterclass, or contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videos, eGuides, a podcast, plus free blog content both here and via my Police Hour guest articles.