The College of Policing have just published the latest NPPF Step 2 Sergeant’s legal exam results, conducted earlier this month. A record of nearly 10,000 aspiring officers put their hat in the ring and went for the test this year.
2023 was the first year in which the College gave two opportunities to pass this multiple-choice test, rather than the standard one-exam-per-year approach. It also follows the massive news that the entire England and Wales police promotion process is facing a major shake-up, including the potential removal of these exams.
In this blog I summarise the headline exam results published by the College for you in a more intuitive format. I include both the March and October 2023 Sergeant exams, review differences in gradings, the wider implications in relation to the impending new SIPP promotion process, compare rates across forces (including British Transport Police), and assess differences across the protected characteristics of Sex and Race.
Sergeant NPPF Step 2 Overall Results by Year
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr
The Sergeant’s legal exam has a pass mark of 55%, with an exceptional pass including scores over 75%. The above chart shows the overall pass rates by grading for the last few years. The pass rates were fairly consistent in 2021 through to the March 2023 exam. However, a deterioration occurred in the most recent October 2023 exam, including far fewer achieving the high pass mark.
With the two opportunities now available to aspiring PCs, this year nearly 10,000 officers went for the exam overall. On average, just over half passed, meaning there’s another 5,100 officers qualified for applying for in-force selection processes, emphasising the nature of the competition for promotion. That’s a record number added to the qualified promotion pool for a single year!
It’s worth reminding you here, while officers generally put great effort into studying for the exam, it’s a relatively smaller hurdle compared to the more competitive in-force promotion processes you’ll face later on. So while it’s important to enjoy your success, don’t rest on your laurels; smart, hard work is required to achieve substantive promotion success! Fear not, Rank Success has a range of tried and tested materials, both free and premium, to help get you over the line. You can also get ahead of the curve by booking onto my promotion masterclass in Feb 2024.
Below I’ve compiled the longer-term view of the Sergeant’s exam, in both the success rate and the volume of officers who passed.
The success rates increased significantly during the government lockdown period of 2020-2021, whereby exams went online. However, for the most recent Autumn 2023 Sergeant’s exam, the rate returned to the pre-pandemic levels of around 40%. But even so, having two exams in a year means there’s a record volume of candidates who passed in 2023, totalling over 5,000.
If you were unsuccessful (this time), fear not; taking a growth mindset will stand you in good stead in the long term, if you are truly determined to achieve formal leadership positions. Failing to better yourself is all part of your ongoing CPD as a police leader.
For the over 5,000 cops who passed this year in 2023, congratulations! You now have a ticket to the ‘room with a queue’, while you await your in-force competitive selection process. That is where the real competition begins, and you’ll need to do at least as much prep as you did studying for the exam. I’ve supported officers to achieve promotion who had previously tried and failed over 10 promotion processes, before hearing about and coming to Rank Success, using my tried and tested approaches.
Given that the entire promotion process is about to be changed by the College, from the NPPF to the Sergeant and Inspector Promotion and Progression (SIPP) process, I’d suggest getting on with things right away and to start effective preparation now. As I explain in my exclusive SIPP blog and SIPP podcast, things are about to get far more complex, turning the promotion process from being akin to the 400M hurdles to more like a 3000M steeplechase!
Sergeant Exam Success Rates by Force
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca
As I reported in my Sergeant exam success rates in 2021 and in 2022 blogs, the variation between forces in 2023 continues in the extreme. Exam success ranges from under 30% of the candidates in the Metropolitan Police for the Autumn 2023 exam, to over 80% success rate in Thames Valley Police for both 2023 NPPF step 2 exams.
Given the ‘double whammy’ of exams in 2023, here’s the inter-force comparison rates to compare and contrast:
All forces appear to deteriorate between the Spring 2023 and Autumn 2023 exams. Comment below this blog if you have any theories on why this might be!
In terms of the high-performers, Thames Valley consistently comes out on top, with well over 80% pass rate for the 170 or so officers who put their hat into the ring during 2023. TVP seems to be a force with consistently high pass rates, also achieving well over 70% in the 2022 and 2021 Sergeant exams. Other consistent high-flyers for 2023 were Lancashire and Surrey Police.
What explains this consistent high performance? Is there particular support given to candidates in these forces? Something in the water? Let me know in the comments, as it’s always interesting to see how different forces are constantly doing things differently!
Other forces whose officers scored well in the Sergeants exam this year included Merseyside, West Mercia, Surrey, Staffordshire, Cheshire, and North Yorkshire. If you reside in one of these forces, click on the linked force name for a promotion support freebie, just for you and to assist in your next step towards promotion!
At the other end of the scale, the pass rates for Met Police officers in particular remain consistently poor. Given that over a third of all exam candidates originated in the Met for 2023, at nearly 3,900, this low pass rate in turn skews the average for all forces. For the Autumn Sergeant’s exam, the Met pass rate was just 27%.
The British Transport Police also have a consistently low pass rate, as do Humberside. West Midlands, GMP, and Hampshire are other forces with perennial relatively low exam pass rates. Clearly there is opportunity here to better target support for candidates, though time is ticking since the College are seeking to throw out such exams.
Regardless of success rates, there are now well over 5,000 extra officers added to the eligible pool of being qualified to apply for substantive Sergeant promotion. The smart ones will know they have some further study ahead, to pass the next competitive steps. The smartest ones will work smart, not hard, by securing themselves an unfair advantage. Using targeted support and materials to focus on the right things and in the right way, while also advancing their wider leadership skills to stand them in good stead when successful.
“Tests ain’t fair. Those that study have an unfair advantage. It’s always been that way.” – Allan Dare Pearce
Race and Sex: Diversity and Disparity of Exam Results
In their published exam results data, the College include pass rates for selected protected characteristics. This can help guide targeted positive action and support, towards enhanced equality and inclusion in police leadership. The College publish data on Race (via the broad ethnicity categories of white vs. non-white) and Sex (male vs. female) only. Last year, they also covered the protected characteristic of Religion/Belief, however that appears to have stopped for 2023.
In this section we’ll explore the key comparisons, especially in context of the new and impending SIPP process, which is claimed to enhance diversity of applicants and inclusion in the promotion process.
The College report on broad ethnicity to indicate success rates within the protected characteristic of Race. As most public sector organisations persist with, they count only non-white candidates among their ‘minority ethnic’ category, obscuring data for white minority ethnic candidates under a broad ‘white’ category.
Such a technique is far from helpful, as many of the cultural and language blockers are similar for white minority ethnic groups (e.g. Eastern European, Gypsy / Traveller) when it comes to accessibility, as I’ve pointed out in prior exam results analyses. For example, as the Met’s Slavic Police Association recently pointed out, the exam pass rates for individuals who have English as a 2nd language are, unsurprisingly, distinctly lower than for those who have English as their 1st language.
All such factors (nationality, culture, language) are important to the core definition of Race than the mere skin colour categorisation (white vs. non-white). Yet it is the latter being perennially used by organisations as a proxy for this important, rich characteristic, meaning that potential remedial support slips under the radar.
On this point, I recently produced a video to assist officers whose first language is something other than English. In it, I demonstrate how my suite of over 100 free blogs can easily be translated into your native tongue, to aid understanding and help bridge any language barriers…
So, back to the College-reported ethnicity comparisons, I summarise results from the last few years in the graph below. The shows a marked and regular difference in each exam of at least 15% between the success rates of ‘White’ and ‘Minority Ethnic’ groups. As I’ve previously shown in more detailed breakdowns, this gap is mainly related to lower pass rates among the Asian and Black ethnicity categories. Might language be a big part of this? What are your views and how are your force supporting different parties?
The College of Policing are clear on what needs to be done: Positive action to date has been ineffectual, given that the disparity is not shrinking over the years and pass rates not improving. This is a key reason they give as to why they seek to throw out the initial legal exam entirely, to improve diversity in the promotion process. Not just that but throwing out the entire NPPF process in favour of their SIPP designs, which have far more emphasis on leadership distance learning, CPD, and ‘portfolio-building’.
If the logic to their theory is correct, that the new SIPP process will favour those candidates who currently tend to score lower on the Step 2 legal exam, there will quite obviously be unintended consequences when it comes to Sex…
Of those candidates who disclosed their Sex, men consistently fare less well in the Sergeant legal exam than women. The margin is slighter than the disparities seen between ethnic groups, with the gap tending to range between 5-10%. What are your thoughts on that? Is this simply a continuation of the well-known fact that girls tend to perform better than boys in academia?
Interestingly, both groups’ pass rates deteriorated in the October 2023 exam. Was this exam a particularly tough one possibly?
Females account for 1 in 3 police officers in England, Wales and BTP, but reduces to 1 in 4 at the Sergeant rank. This year, 31% of the candidates indicating their sex were female, a far lower aspiration rate than required to bridge the gender gap anytime soon.
Further, women often particularly struggle with Imposter Syndrome and other confidence issues when it comes to substantive promotion. This is why I’m a keen supporter of the BAWP and have compiled a dedicated, epic four-part free blog series on Women in Police Leadership, for some practical support tips that many people have found helpful.
In summary, men and (visible) ethnic minority groups tend to fare less well in the exam stage. See below the broad comparisons in one graph for both the 2023 legal exams. The College are planning to completely shake things up with their imminent launch of SIPP in 2024, which aims to reduce disparity between groups who currently fare less well on the exam.
For further reading on protected characteristics, diversity, and inclusion matters, including their relevance to police leadership and promotion support, see my in-depth blog series on Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion in Police Leadership.
As ever, I wish you every success in your career. I have a ton of free content now to help you in your endeavours, and I look forward to supporting you with the competitive steps of the process when you reach that stage!
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 videos, eGuides, a podcast.