I recently conducted and published an analysis of the 2021 Inspector Legal Exam results. In this blog I turn to the police Sergeant NPPF Step 2 England & Wales results and conduct a similar review that you won’t see elsewhere. Although these were announced earlier in 2021, the relevance of diversity trends for sex and ethnicity remains constant; particularly as we head into the new year, PCs across the UK are busy studying in preparation, and the Sergeant legal exam registration opens soon on 10 January 2022. Again, I use the available data produced by the College of Policing, along with other Home Office statistics, to compare the promotion competition over time, success rates, and the level of leadership aspiration among officers. I hope you find it useful and of interest!

Sergeant Legal Exam 2021: Headline Results

Sergeant NPPF Step 2

“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” – Bobby Unser

The above graphic demonstrates that overall, 59.5% of candidates passed the NPPF Step 2 Sergeant’s Legal Exam. 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 55%, compared to a pass mark for the 2021 Inspector’s exam of 65%. This might explain the higher rate of people passing this promotion step than I reported for the 2021 Inspector’s exam (52.7%). Over 1,000 officers scored over 75%, a threshold the College rightly describe as exceptional.

For context, the nearly 60% overall pass rate is slightly lower than last year’s exceptional high (68%), as shown on the graph below. The graph also shows however a record number of qualified officers now eligible for the next step of the Sergeant promotion process (the step where Rank Success provides comprehensive support), at nearly 4,500.

Sergeant exam pass rates by year

If you were unsuccessful, I’m sure sting of disappointment was palpable. But hopefully you took a growth mindset to help you succeed next time, considering this a learning opportunity for 2022 (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. For the nearly 4,500 officers who passed, the hard work earned you a ticket to ‘the room with a queue’, where the real competition begins…

Solid examples Sergeant promotion
Solid examples of what works for Sergeants

Sergeant Legal Exam Results by Police Force Vary Wildly

2021 NPPF sergeant legal exam by force

It is interesting to see pass rates varied wildly between forces. The above chart organises pass rates for each force, from highest to lowest. Sitting on top of the pile is Norfolk Police, West Mercia, Lincolnshire, and Dyfed Powys, all achieving over 80% Sergeant exam success rates. Not far behind them were Durham Police, Wiltshire, and Thames Valley Police.

The Met Police fielded over a third of all candidates (see chart below), with nearly 2,800 people taking the NPPF step 2 legal exam. Their pass rate however was lower than average, with less than half achieving the 55% pass mark, therefore skewing the all-force average downwards. Humberside Police, Cleveland and Northumbria also had relatively lower pass rates. This comparison at least highlights where there may be good practice and/or opportunities for better support for candidates on this early step on the journey to promotion.

NPPF 2 Sergeant Met Police

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 step up from PC to Sergeant is the first foray into a formal leadership position, a step that Simon Foy QPM argues is the most challenging in police leadership. Combined with the fact that the last two years have added another 8,500 qualified candidates to the pool in England & Wales forces (with more achieving the Police Scotland leadership qualification and passing the PSNI exam), the competition for promotion is clearly growing. 

There were 1,843 Sergeant promotions last year in England & Wales forces alone, as shown by Home Office workforce statistics (though note they do not include Met Police figures, which would push this to well over 2,000). This will continue to increase from the lows of 2011-2016 as officer numbers are replenished through the national ‘Uplift’ programme. However, with over 10,000 qualified PCs in the promotion pool, there are four or five officers going for every promotion post.

UK Police promotion insights

Succeeding in your legal exam or leadership qualification is just the first step, one where you’re competing only with yourself. When successful, the competition then becomes more challenging as only the best candidates will be promoted. 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; including videos, another blog series, and my Police Promotion and Leadership PodcastAll are geared to raise your awareness and hit the ground running. For now, here’s a good place to start.

Diversity of Sergeant Promotion Success

NPPF Step 2 diversity female BAME

The College give some indication of diversity in promotion via the relative pass rates for selected protected characteristics, which I’ve summarised the key points for you in the chart above.

The results are similar to that I reported in my blog on the Inspector 2021 legal exam results. Women again slightly outscored men on the exam, while the main difference comes between what the College categorise as ‘White’ compared to ‘Ethnic Minority’ candidates, with the latter passing at a much lower rate. This continues the longstanding academic achievement gap on this step for both the Sergeant and Inspector ranks. This in turn impacts on representation at the next rank, as we see in the next section.

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. As I proposed for the Inspector results, 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.

There are 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 that.

Diversity: Aspiration & Progression

Overall Sergeant pass rates between (limited) demographics are interesting, but they lack context of the bigger picture for progression and promotion of underrepresented groups into police leadership positions. Including the context of existing rank demographics (as published in Home Office police workforce stats) goes beyond this surface-level comparison, to give an indication of the relative levels of aspiration of these officer groups and their onward progression and proportionality through the ranks.

Sergeant legal exam entrants 2021 white and minority ethnic

Aspiration: Aspiration levels can be inferred from the proportion of PCs in each demography who sought promotion by completing the 2021 Sergeant’s exam.

There appears a slightly lower aspiration among females, with a smaller proportion of female Constables taking the Sergeant’s exam (6.0%) compared to their male counterparts (7.1%). Conversely, ‘minority ethnic’ groups have a much higher aspiration for promotion to Sergeant than their ‘white’ counterparts. However, we have already seen there is a massive gap between aspiration and exam success, which has a detrimental impact on representation at the Sergeant rank.

The charts below will demonstrate the representation of the wider promotion journey, by comparing demographics from the starting position (PC) to the representation at key steps: taking the exam, passing the exam, getting promoted, then finally the proportion at the Inspector rank. This puts the early 2021 Sergeant 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 starts at PC level with only 1 in 3 officers (34.3%). The slightly lower level of ‘ambition’ to Sergeant meant that only 30.8% of candidates were attempting promotion in 2021. The proportion of successful candidates slightly increases given the higher exam success rate of women, but then deteriorates again in terms of the proportion of actual promotions achieved.

This does little to increase the proportionality of female officers in police leadership positions (note that the Home Office does not publish promotions by rank and sex, so the overall rate of female promotions has been used here). To make a difference on underrepresentation within years (rather than decades), it would need to be much higher – of course at least 50%. In my dedicated blog series, Women in Police Leadership, I outline some of the hurdles and challenges contributing to this, while offering CPD support and solutions to specifically help women achieve promotion within the Federated ranks. In that blog, I also provide additional context on the progression and proportionality of women in policing over the years.

Race: For minority ethnic officers, the ambition for promotion is clearly higher. However, this then reduces at each key step in promotion and so does little to improve the representation in the leadership ranks. The ‘aspiration vs. achievement gap’ highlighted earlier is clearly much higher in relation to the protected characteristic of race. I aim to provide supportive content for all officers, though there is clear potential for some tailored positive action (not the wholly illegal notion of “positive discrimination”!) to improve the representation within years, not decades. Not to mention the additional underrepresentation among (non-visible) ethnic minority groups, which the Home Office, College, and others don’t count separately from the ‘white’ broad-brush grouping.

Key Take-Home Points

To summarise, here are the key take-home points in relation to these aspects of diversity we can assess based on available information:

Females account for 1 in 3 police officers, but this reduces to 1 in 4 by the rank of Sergeant. The Sergeant promotion process is doing little to improve representation at Sergeant, arising from a relatively lower level of ambition among female officers and a reduced success rate in NPPF Step 3 after completing the exam.

Minority Ethnic officers have a much higher aspiration for promotion to Sergeant, though candidates appear adversely hindered by the legal exam step and onward promotion process. Representation at Sergeant is growing very slightly and very slowly, at a level inadequate to address underrepresentation within a reasonable timespan. The progression of Eastern European and other minority groups remains entirely untracked.

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.

For those signing up for the 2022 Sergeant’s exam next month, I wish you every success in your studies. Take a look at my free ‘Journey to Success’ guide for an outline of your promotion journey ahead, and I look forward to supporting you with the competitive steps of the process!

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.

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