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Police Legal Exam Faces Axe in New ‘SIPP’ Promotion Process

SIPP to remove police promotion legal exam

The College of Policing will soon remove the prerequisite police promotion legal exams for officers aspiring to the ranks of Sergeant and Inspector. Most haven’t heard about ‘SIPP’ yet, since consultations to date seem somewhat discreet. However, it’s all part of a big shake-up of the police promotion framework and even involves revising the CVF.

As always, Rank Success is on the front foot of such important changes to share with you what it means, in an understandable way, using detailed documents on the new process released just this week by the College themselves.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

In summary, the College are replacing the current National Police Promotion Framework (NPPF). Instead, the new scheme scheduled from 2024 will be called the Sergeants and Inspectors Promotion and Progression process (SIPP). You’ll see later why I analogise SIPP with an epic game of snakes and ladders, or even a 3000m steeplechase.

Few operational cops are aware of these impending wholesale changes; consultations to date by the College have been mainly with senior officers through the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and specialist L&D units within some forces.

In the SIPP process documentation, the College argue that the ‘cliff edge’ formal legal exam will be removed, to encourage more officers to enter the process and broaden diversity of applicants when it comes to ethnicity.

The new SIPP process is a massive change, with wide implications for promotion affecting all UK Federated police officers. Not just for England and Wales forces, who currently follow the four-step NPPF, but the reverberations will be felt also in Police Scotland and PSNI, given that as part of the shake-up, the CVF will also be revised. The newly proposed police promotion process is also far more complex than the existing NPPF.

While the College describe SIPP as a ‘proposed’ new process, the details are being thrashed out and it is well on its way to fruition. The timescales are as soon as 2024, with nine forces already having volunteered to test the process from early 2024 for 12 months.

This blog aims to shed more light on these next significant changes, while discussing the implications for aspiring officers and forces alike up and down the country. We’ll cover:

Why is the Police Promotion Process Changing?

Police promotion has long been deemed by many officers to be unfair or tainted. Well, yes promotion is unfair, always has been. And promotion processes have always changed. But in this new twist of ‘be careful what you wish for’, the NPCC in March 2022 endorsed the College to completely redesign the promotion process for Sergeants and Inspectors, replacing the four steps of the current promotion framework (NPPF). The aims of the NPPF-replacement were clear:

On the issue of diversity, and in their earlier NPPF consultations, the College found the legal exam in particular was a particular blocker among underrepresented groups applying for promotion. The time to study and cost of the associated study materials are cited as the main reason for reduced diversity.

Indeed, as I’ve shown in my bespoke analyses of pass rates for the legal exam in recent years, women and white participants have consistently achieved higher pass rates than their male and Black / Asian colleagues respectively. This is the case for both the Sergeants exam and Inspector’s exam.

“The aim is to widen the gateway to promotion and progression and to encourage everyone to own their development to become more representative of the communities policing serves and to develop the potential pipeline” – College of Policing

The College reports that the legal exam seems more of a legacy academic assessment and an unnecessary burden on officers at the early stage of a promotion process. The exam syllabus is deemed too wide in scope, given that many aspects of the law are easily accessible online as and when needed for reference in decision-making. The replacement scheme aims to utilise assessments of the practical application of legal knowledge, rather than just the knowledge itself, removing the exam prerequisite.

The College also raise the concern in fact that under the NPPF, that legal knowledge could soon become out of date.

“The current process enables an officer to undertake legal knowledge learning and be appointed to a temporary promoted post up to five years after the learning, without any check as to the currency and ability to recall and apply that knowledge.” – College of Policing

Another reason cited in College documents for the new SIPP process is to align things with their new Chief Officer promotion process, so there is consistency across the ranks. In addition, to expand support for lateral progression too with the new process, rather than it be an isolated promotion framework. Could then the National Investigators Exam (NIE) be headed in a similar direction under SIPP, given this is classed as lateral development?

With the rationale set out, let’s now look to what the College are proposing for the NPPF’s replacement scheme…

What Will the New Sergeant and Inspector Promotion and Progression (SIPP) Process Entail?

The new SIPP scheme will be a three-stage progression process for promotion. The three stages are broadly defined as development, selection, and then promotion. In the bespoke infographic above, I demonstrate how these three stages compare to the four steps of the NPPF.

Under the NPPF, you’d have a relatively straightforward assessment of competence in your existing rank and be subject to eligibility criteria (e.g. absence record) in your force as the first step on the path to your success. But now, all that is postponed in favour of your development and CPD, all of which needs formally documenting and evidencing.

You’ll be required to have a formalised CPD plan, evidenced and facilitated through meaningful personal/performance development reviews (PDRs) with your manager. This plan will be informed by a ‘formative assessment’ of your legal knowledge, and you’ll identify any gaps to work towards. The work to develop your legal knowledge will happen in Stage 3, under your temporary promotion.

A big thing on your CPD ‘to-do list’ at this point will also be to complete the new online ‘Leadership Learning Modules’ created and maintained by the College; namely mandatory online training. Subjects you must complete before proceeding are akin to the leadership skills and familiarisation Rank Success has assisted officers with over the last decade. For example as covered on my market-leading promotion masterclass and in my promotion toolkits. These subjects include, leading people, managing change, and considering ethics.

These modules contribute to a wider curriculum the College has created and is accessible via their online learning platform. If seeking promotion to Sergeant, you’ll be completing the First Line Leaders (FLL) modules, whereas for Inspector it will be the Mid Level Leaders (MLL) modules. The College says these modules will be ‘formatively assessed’.

Formative assessment is an academese term, meaning there’s no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ as such, but an ongoing and presumably informal assessment (by whom is yet to be confirmed) as to whether the candidate seems to have grasped and evidenced the concepts.

Once you’ve fulfilled all the above in Stage 1, you can now move on to Stage 2. This stage is all about fulfilling the national and local eligibility criteria, then going through a competitive selection process in your force.

The proposed eligibility criteria for individuals before proceeding to selection are currently as follows:

You will then be required to begin compiling a portfolio of evidence, demonstrating your skills, knowledge, and behaviours against various selection criteria. The College believe and maintain that creating and maintaining such a portfolio does not require a burden of extra work, for officers nor their line managers. Others may well disagree.

This portfolio could potentially include alignment to the new ‘leadership standards’, recently launched in fanfare by the College. Otherwise, what purpose does this list of standards (aka competencies) serve?

Then we get to where the real fun and competition begins and where Rank Success has focused on supporting aspiring candidates: The in-force selection process. As part of my extensive free police promotion and leadership materials, this blog explains the variety of selection processes available to forces. But for more in-depth insights on application, interview, briefing, presentation, and so on, you might want to join me on my upcoming promotion masterclass in Birmingham!

Note that even at this point of the SIPP design, the College allude to expectations that promotion interview questions in local forces, should be in reference to that officer’s portfolio of evidence.

Should it be desired, you’ll have access to pre-promotion support materials at this stage, especially for example as part of positive action schemes. This will form part of what the College describe as an optional ‘Readiness Checklist’, which is essentially ensuring you know what you’re letting yourself in for and what the role entails.

There’s even the promise of the College developing new resources and bespoke targeted support to help officers prepare for their selection and interview process. I hereby make an open invite to the College to get in touch with me, to discuss potential collaboration here. Under Rank Success, I’ve already developed a raft of unique, tried and tested techniques and materials on this front, successfully supporting countless officers achieve their dreams and aspirations in the last decade.

There’s also a new version of the Competency and Values Framework (CVF) in the pipeline. This new CVF is being developed as I type (!) and will be used in your local force promotion selection process to assess your evidence against. Even fewer officers in forces know this is taking place than know about SIPP!

Oh and along with the revised CVF soon to be launched, there will also be a revised Code of Ethics. Both underpin the assessment of your evidence.

Fear not however, as Rank Success will be here to interpret and explain often-baffling terminology for you, ‘translating’ this into tangible insights and user-friendly language, as I’ve done with the current CVF and provide e.g. in my free and premium materials around the Code of Ethics.

So now you’re eligible, have your portfolio all in order, a CPD plan, legal knowledge, ongoing PDR, completed your leadership modules, final readiness check, and have passed the application, interview and other in-force selection processes, you might feel home and dry. But not yet! Remember, this is just the first 2000 metres of your new 3000 metre promotion steeplechase!

You’ll now be granted up to 18 months to convert your temporary promotion into a permanent and substantive one.

First, you’ll need to complete the rest of the leadership learning modules you started in Stage 1, covering the rank you’re going for (FLL for Sergeant, MLL for Inspector). There’s quite a bit to cover across the curriculum, so it may well feel like doing a distance-learning degree alongside the day job in the new rank.

Using your leadership learning portfolio, you’ll then need to provide evidence and demonstrate you understand and apply the leadership learning in practice. This will be assessed according to assessment criteria set by the College.

Next, you’ll have to pass a legal exam. Yes, there will still be an exam (aka ‘summative assessment’), it just comes far later compared to the NPPF. The College also plan to scale back the syllabus on this one, so it should (theoretically) have a higher success rate.

With all that completed and in place, you’ll be confirmed in post and substantively promoted. This could be after as little as 6 months in this Stage 3, or up to 18 months. However, if you can’t complete these elements of Stage 3 within 18 months, you’ll need to re-enter the process; a setback of potentially 2-3 years in your promotion ambitions while awaiting another force selection process for example.

Step 4 of the current NPPF was designed to encourage forces to assess whether the newly (temporary) promoted leader could actually do the job. A significant work-based assessment (WBA) should take place before promotion is made permanent. The reality for forces is this doesn’t happen, or at least not in any consistent, meaningful or evidence-based way.

However, under Stage 3 of the pending SIPP, we’ve seen that the work-based assessment is vastly formalised and has real teeth. It adds several new hurdles to the end of the promotion process, making it more like a steeplechase for aspiring officers. And if you don’t get round the lap of hurdles within 18 months, you’ll have to do another one!

There’s greater scope for officers to slide back to square one, even after success at an in-force selection process. Currently, officers must retake the legal exam after 5 years if they can’t pass the in-force competitive selection process. In future, candidates will need to re-enter those competitive selection processes after 18 months, if they fail to demonstrate the legal knowledge, complete all the eLearning, or have ‘leadership portfolio’ content deemed insufficient to convert their temporary promotion to substantive rank.

Once you are finally confirmed in rank, ongoing professional development awaits you in your substantive post.

When Will SIPP Replace the NPPF?

In terms of timescales, the new SIPP process is already being finalised within the College. The above infographic timeline visualises the draft timescales currently being worked on within the College on the SIPP scheme.

According to their written plans, the College are imminently due to finalise the design of the SIPP process itself for those nine test forces. The revised Code of Ethics and CVF are also imminently due for publication in support of the SIPP scheme. Those test forces will then go live in early 2024.

The College have scheduled in lots of workshops, reviews of evidence, and sharing of good practice along the way. But be assured the general direction for this new police promotion mega-tanker has been set, changes are likely only to be refinements and tinkering around the edges.

The leadership learning modules are due to all be in place by early 2024, as are the eligibility and assessment criteria. As for the new formal legal knowledge assessments and syllabus, those components are scheduled to all be in place by September 2024.

All forces are earmarked to begin adopting the new SIPP scheme from 2025. It is assumed that it will take several years for forces to embed, one reason possibly being allowing for the natural overlap of expiring legal exams taken under the current NPPF.

SIPP vs. NPPF: Key Take-Home Differences

You may have noticed some significant differences between NPPF and SIPP as we’ve explored the new process the College have developed. There’s much to recap on, and reading between the lines some important changes are coming down the track. My side-by-side comparison graphic above helps as an overview of these things.

In summary, here’s the most notable differences when it comes to SIPP vs. NPPF:

That’s just initial thoughts, but the qualitative and complex nature is an obvious concern. Given the emphasis on more qualitative ‘formative assessments’, in place of strict pass/fail criteria, along with the increase in complexity of the process, this will inevitably increase the subjectivity of promotion decisions. It’s massively open to interpretation between different people.

For example, one assessor might decide an officer has done enough CPD, have been deemed to apply their online learning module knowledge, and closed their legal knowledge gaps enough, thereby allowing them to progress and convert their temporary promotion into a substantive one. Another assessor might view the same raft of complex, qualitative criteria and evidence, but come to the conclusion the officer needs a good few more months; or possibly has run out of time so must start from square one!

One key reason the NPPF was introduced (during 2017) in the first place, and a matter that forces locally are always striving for locally, is to increase assessment objectivity. That’s because where assessments and progression are more subjective, they are more exposed to biases, favouritism, and nepotism. This new scheme seems to move forces closer to dangerous new (and old) ground, putting the relationship with supervisors back at the heart of the process.

These factors expose forces and the College to multiple grounds for complaint by potentially confused and frustrated aspiring officers, who may become stuck in a grand game of snakes and ladders should 18 months pass, and they slide back down the snake to square one. Other officers (including fast track candidates) will conversely be able to get there faster using the in-built ladders, for example the potential for the temporary promotion to only last 6 months.

What other considerations have you noticed and how might they play out for the future of police promotion? Which scheme do you think is best and why? Feel free to comment below or email me with your views! I’d be particularly interested in what the Police Federation have fed back about this new scheme on behalf of their members, given they’ve been a key party in consultations by the College to date.

Given the extra work entailed and a change in the race from a 400m hurdles to 3000m steeplechase, it may be advisable to secure your promotion sooner rather than later…

Police Promotion: An Anchor in the Sea of Change

Whether it’s a forever-changing police promotion landscape, the evolution of assessment frameworks, or the force postcode lottery of promotion processes, Rank Success provides effective support to keep you ahead of the curve. Tried and tested methods have stood the test of time, helping countless officers across UK forces convert their leadership aspirations into promotion success across the ranks, in turn significantly boosting salaries.

SIPP alludes to an ‘end to end’ CPD approach to supporting career progression. Committing to a depth and breadth of preparation for any promotion opportunity is something encouraged here in this Rank Success blog, The Killer Question. Of course, your approach to your PDR within SIPP is also central!

Testing of SIPP via volunteer forces is expected to start in early 2024. Roll out of SIPP with effect from late 2024 / early 2025 is anticipated. Transition and implementation across the service over approximately three years means SIPP will eventually be coming to a force near you.

Meanwhile, Rank Success seeks to keep aspiring cops ahead of the curve. An anchor in a sea of change, offering reassurance, stability and quiet encouragement for officers looking to navigate their own force process. You’ll find completely free guidance and insights across my blogs, my leadership and promotion Podcast, along with a plethora of YouTube videos. My premium support for those aspiring to Sergeant or Inspector and Chief Inspector provides a deeper and more structured dive.

You can find lots of reviews from newly promoted officers on the value of existing support, for example…

“If you like the free materials, you can go a step further and purchase different digital toolkits. They are worth their weight in gold. It made my promotion journey that bit easier and helped me get the top score on my BCU. All the Rank Success materials were extremely helpful, even now starting out as a newly promoted Sergeant I feel it’s set me up with the right mindset in terms of CPD, having an awareness of wider policing issues etc. Now that my colleagues and the new PC’s I manage are going for the process, I can’t recommend Rank Success enough.” – @PoliceSkipper

I hope you have found this blog a helpful insight into the little-known and yet impending SIPP process!

Kind Regards, Steve

Want to go further right now? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, and/or my Police Promotion Masterclass. You can also contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videoseGuidesa podcast.

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