In late September, I blogged about the College of Policing’s proposed new ‘SIPP’ promotion process for Sergeants and Inspectors across England and Wales police forces. This raised awareness to thousands of officers, who were otherwise completely unaware the NPPF was earmarked for the scrapheap. Information about the well-advanced plans was unearthed via an FOI request, given there was no mention of the new scheme on the College’s website.
Since then and in the space of a just a few weeks, the College has rolled back by two years these planned changes! So, what happened? In this follow-up SIPP blog, I outline the extensive interest and feedback raised by officers in response to my making the scheme public knowledge, cover the College’s recent press releases, share their full FOI response, and include a mix of other information along the way.
“The aim [of SIPP] 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
Before we get stuck in and as a reminder: Whatever your promotion process and framework you’ll face, Rank Success exists to help, with tried and tested methods for developing your leadership skills and achieve promotion success.
Communication and Consultation?
“The development of the new Sergeants and Inspectors Promotion and Progression (SIPP) process is ongoing and iterative, with each stage incorporating engagement and feedback from forces, via the External Stakeholder Working Group (ESWG) and Leadership Practitioner Group (LPG) and also from other key stakeholders.” – College of Policing
The College allude to extensive consultation of their new promotion process designs with various stakeholders over the last two years. Yet following publication of my blog about the scheme, it transpires that very few in policing who would be affected were aware of the seismic changes being proposed and not involved in any consultation. This includes several staff associations, including the National Police Autism Association declaring they hadn’t been notified.
Up until October 2023 there was no mention anywhere on the CoP website of SIPP. Nor indeed of any consultations to inform the changes it had been designing since it received NPCC approval in 2022. Nor the fact that the new SIPP process had been ‘finalised for 9 test forces’ and was due to ‘go live in early 2024’.
A clear timeline also indicated trials of SIPP in nine pilot forces from early 2024, with wider rollout to other forces in 2025. Plans were clearly well underway towards implementing some of the biggest changes ever seen to police promotion in England and Wales.
I embed below the College’s main FOI release, which prompted my original blog summarising and helping to communicate this intricate SIPP scheme. The blue/purple table above is an extract of how the College present the various SIPP steps, which I summarise in my bespoke NPPF vs. SIPP infographic.
The comments and posts on social media in response to the blog showed officers and other stakeholders certainly have strong opinions on promotion and want to be involved in the development of a new scheme. However, most were clearly unaware of both the nature and scale of changes well underway in the background, finding no mention of it anywhere before.
Here’s an example of the kinds of important views, thoughts and critique people had on Twitter alone, after they saw my blog summarising the College’s SIPP documentation:
There was more feedback on Linked In. The following summary of sampled comments gives an idea on what officers might say in response to some sort of formal consultation…
The College’s only (somewhat limited) response to social media comments and queries was in a reply on ‘X’ (Twitter) that officers will be given notice on any changes. There has not yet been publication of the consultation results it refers to as informing their new SIPP process designs.
Time is of the essence, as @DetectiveHelen pointed out “It’s not like 2024 isn’t a couple of months away”.
The College allude to having been told many things. Also that the choices they are making to reform the whole promotion process originate from extensive consultation. But they don’t mention who told them or in what numbers?
Transparency is important given that the proposal is to remove the front-end legal exam. If the most important stakeholders in this (the many 1000s of constables and sergeants taking the exams and involved in the NPPF) have been consulted, why didn’t anyone know about this scheme before being reported here on this blog? How many individuals have the CoP engaged with over the last two years to date? What positions in the police do they occupy? Where is the meaningful evidence justifying removing the exam and other issues, not simply because it is ‘perceived’ as a barrier?
It is not yet clear whether the Police Federation itself has to date been involved in the development of the new SIPP scheme on behalf of its members. There have been no announcements or publications to date from the Fed on this matter. However, the West Midlands Police Federation appear to have caught wind of the changes and aired a view, the thrust of which takes an entirely different angle and proposes a shake-up of the entire rank structure.
With no apparent consultation scheme to receive feedback within the College, many officers in turn contacted Rank Success with their questions. While such questions are clearly for the College to answer, I created a quick YouTube video to compile such questions in one place and also give my views…
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw
Change programmes and initiatives fail for different reasons. Ineffective communication is a key one. It appears the CoP may already be losing traction with this, certainly from the perspective of officers unaware of change proposals actually being implemented from early 2024 in as yet unannounced pilot forces. This is absolutely not a scheme ‘to lose the dressing room on’ going forward! More, and more meaningful communication going forward certainly won’t do any harm.
Some might wonder whether being ‘given advance notice of pending changes’ is true consultation. Most people understand real consultation to be a two-way conversation, whereby they can actually influence things too.
College Finally Announce SIPP Formally, Walk Back on Original Timeframes
Communication to this point might seem reminiscent of the classic TV series, ‘Yes Minister’; I’ve put one of my favourite quotes in the meme above! It seems many who will be affected were omitted from the communication loop, instead having to go out looking for information themselves.
However, a month after releasing detailed information under FOI, the College released a further update on their “proposals for a clear, consistent promotion process”. On Friday 27th October, Jo Noakes, Director of Leadership and Workforce Development, and ultimately responsible for the changes, stated as follows:
“We’re working with forces to design a new promotion process for sergeants and inspectors that is simpler to understand and apply for, provides an equal and fair opportunity for all and provides more consistency across forces. The proposals being tested include giving officers aiming for promotion an opportunity to demonstrate their legal knowledge while doing the job, rather than in an exam.
We’ve heard from officers that the current process is overly complex, there is not enough focus on leadership skills and that good potential candidates are put off by the time and resources needed to prepare for the exam. We’ve also listened to feedback that too much emphasis is placed on the purpose and function of the current legal knowledge exam.
The new proposed process will work with the leadership standards and police leadership programme to provide a clear path for those wishing to progress from new recruit to chief officer.
A small number of forces, still to be confirmed, will take part in a year-long test phase of the proposed new process. This will help us test ways to make sure that officers have the operational experience and knowledge they need to be an effective leader. Those forces not taking part in the test phase will continue to operate the existing process for police officers seeking promotion to the rank of sergeant or inspector, including the sergeants’ and inspectors’ exams.
The results of the test phase will be reviewed in early 2025 before a proposal is brought to stakeholder groups and the Chief Constables’ Council.Any national changes to the promotion process, if agreed, are not likely to be in place until at least 2027.
We want to make sure the process is fair and accessible to everyone while maintaining the high standard you must achieve to lead as a sergeant or an inspector in policing. People serving in these ranks have the opportunity to make a huge contribution to the culture of the service and support the development and performance of the vast majority of officers. It is vital we have the right people in those roles. We will work closely with officers and senior leaders during the trial before taking any decision on a way forward.”
Taking the key points from this, the immediate future is different and would appear to be:
- Pilot forces in place but not publicly announced as yet.
- PPF legal exam to stay until 2026 (for most forces!).
- Wider SIPP rollout only “if agreed” and not until “at least 2027”
The announcement may bring certainty for some. Especially those officers asking if they should continue with intentions to take the legal exam in March 2024, or wait for developments, news or updates via the College.
Effectively this means in the space of a few weeks, the College have walked back their proposals and SIPP design by several years. This will no doubt be welcomed by many in policing, who still have questions and would also like to be involved in shaping the future of police promotion. Communication and substantial (tangible) consultation will be especially important to officers and staff looking to progress their careers and who will be subject to any new process.
Reading between the lines, the intention of the scheme however remains crystal clear: The College are tightening their ‘land grab’ of the intellectual space to do with all aspects of development in policing. Standardisation means centralisation. Alongside initiatives like their new ‘leadership standards’, curriculum, and so forth, the College is making itself the centre of career development across forces. Whether this is part of longer term aims for mandated registration and occasionally-mooted ‘license to police’ (with an annual ££ fee) remains to be seen.
“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – John C. Maxwell
Whatever promotion process is in play, for candidates it comes with a degree of uncertainty. Naturally and unsurprisingly, there are a lot of questions being raised already. I allude to many of them in my video linked above, but cover more of the feedback in my recent podcast discussion below…
Let’s now outline the main themes being discussed below, which again may well be helpful to any staff in the College seeking to collate feedback…
The most commonly asked questions concern officers who are either qualified already, or are seeking to take their legal exam soon (and whether they should bother). How long will an exam pass qualify them (if at all) under the new SIPP scheme? What exactly are the ‘transition arrangements’, which the College allude to for candidates already qualified and partway through NPPF?
Would trial forces allow all candidates to seek promotion, regardless of whether they have passed the exam? If so, what’s the point of the time, effort, and money prepping for the 2024 exams since this would now be deemed worthless? Why not just do a scaled-back ‘legal knowledge assessment’ under SIPP?
Still missing from any of the College’s communications to date is any announcement or indications of who the trial forces are. Some trial forces have made candidates aware through their intranet sites (e.g. Staffordshire and West Midlands), but most remain in the dark. The Met Police and Leicestershire are rumoured to be two other forces.
This lack of communication with thousands of affected officers seems odd to say the least, given there’s just weeks to go before 2024 when trials are scheduled to begin. Why the secrecy? Or is it simply an oversight?
Will trial forces be running NPPF alongside SIPP candidates to enable clear, evidence-based comparisons? If so, how will that work when it comes to fairness?
Supporting diversity and inclusion is a core design principle and goal of the new SIPP process. Jo Noakes emphasises the importance in the College’s first official statement about SIPP with mention of ‘equal and fair opportunity’ as a key goal.
In my recent legal exam results blog, I report how men and (visibly) ‘minority ethnic’ groups fare less well than their female and ‘white’ counterparts. Is doing away with the exam the right thing to ‘address’ this? Could the proposed removal of a formal exam in turn see fewer women achieving promotion success, given it currently favours this underrepresented group?
As the Met Police Slavic Association argue, shouldn’t more focus be given to supporting officers and staff for whom English is a second language? What support does the College offer aspiring candidates with English as a second language? Would that be more effective than basing things on skin colour?
Is axing the front end ‘cliff edge’ exam a reasonable way of removing the issues experienced by some minority ethnic candidates? If so, what are they precisely, and how will removing the exam help here? Given that some sort of exam is still scheduled at the end of SIPP, does that not just (cruelly) postpone the cliff edge?
Additionally, does this mean existing positive action schemes for the exam have been ineffective and unrelated to why someone might pass or fail? Couldn’t something be learned from forces like Thames Valley Police, who consistently achieve an 80% + success rate? I’m reliably informed TVP do this simply by funding in-house ‘crammer courses’ for aspiring officers.
Relating to the removal of the main Step 2 legal exam ‘barrier’ for minority and underrepresented groups, another concern would be whether that lowers standards. Many have argued that it absolutely lowers standards and is ‘dumbing down’.
One commenter in the comment collage above)succinctly identified the exam as no barrier whatsoever, in that “you study, you pass it”. They argue how legal knowledge is imperative for supervisors, and the best method for assessing that knowledge is an exam. The College however argue standards will be maintained via what they call ‘formative’ and ‘summative’ assessments.
Others say that a slimmed down curriculum would suffice, rather than ask questions on all aspects of the law, much of which is rarely used in a policing career or can be referred to or ‘looked up’ in slower-time when needed. Maybe the legal exam could incorporate more realistic operational scenarios, which operational cops can identify with. Rather than the reems of often unrealistic multiple-choice questions.
Philosophically, it’s worth noting that every standard acts as some sort of barrier to achieving that standard. Otherwise, there is simply no achievement. The new process for example introduces the new ‘standard’ of enhanced PDRs and completion of online leadership modules and learning materials. That will no doubt be a barrier for different reasons, and in turn disproportionately affect different protected characteristics; it might be like the PCDA all over again. Even giving promotion away on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis would benefit some groups rather than others.
Some feedback has identified the potential for a ‘return of nepotism’, especially given the greater gatekeeping role of line managers through performance assessments. After all, the introduction of objectively-assessed, ‘pass or fail’ standards introduced under the NPPF was designed to reduce nepotism.
The NPPF was only introduced six years ago, with this as a key rationale for the objective assessments.
Another concern raised is the hinging of such a process upon a (largely faulty) police PDR process. Aside from the potential for nepotism, I have yet to speak to any serving officer who thinks a promotion selection system with its foundations based on frequent and accurate PDR’s will work…because PDRs are simply not being conducted in that way.
I imagine the primary reason for dramatic walk back in original dates proposed, is acknowledging the reality that forces won’t be able to or cannot comply with the proposed requirements and timeline of this new scheme.
Anyone simply thinking these new stages through might notice the proposals are not ‘cost neutral’ for forces to implement. Without the ‘cliff edge’ exam at the front end screening out 50% of cops, far more numerous officers will reach the stage of Temporary Promotion.
Forces will therefore be flooded with new, temporarily promoted leaders, including the associated higher salaries that come with those ranks impacting on force finances. For a large force like the Met Police, which also happens to currently have around a 60-70% exam failure rate, the bill could amount to £millions, prompting Finance departments to inevitably seek savings elsewhere.
That is of course, unless the forces hold even more stringent and ruthless standards for their local promotion selection processes, to counteract the influx of . Whittling down the inevitably far larger cohorts of applicants via these selection processes in itself will also be a far more resource-intensive task for forces to complete via the usual assessment methods.
Revised Legal Exam a Better Idea?
“Well, tests ain’t fair. Those that study have an unfair advantage. It’s always been that way.” -Allan Dare Pearce
Focusing on the legal exam for a minute, the College now sees this as a legacy academic assessment and an unnecessary burden on officers at the early stage of a promotion process.
They refer to the ‘cliff-edge’ exam as a major part of the problem, and why the SIPP is being introduced. However, it is only a ‘cliff-edge’ problem because the College made it so. Only in the last year has that cliff edge been relieved somewhat, with officers now permitted to take the exam twice per year.
A record 10,000 candidates sat the Sergeant’s legal exam this year. Just over half passed. So that’s over 5000 aspiring officers newly added to the national promotion pool (ergo increased competition).
Challenging exams exist in many other sectors and professions, but they are not simply eradicated because “good potential candidates are put off by the time and resources needed to prepare for the exam” as mentioned in the CoP rationale. Such a concession wouldn’t work for pilots, chartered accountants, financial advisors, doctors, lawyers, and so on.
However, a clear opportunity exists for a revised promotion exam and curriculum exactly at the stage it sits now, which might avoid ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’.
A longstanding criticism of the NPPF Step 2 legal exam is the syllabus being too wide in scope. Many aspects of the law are easily accessible online as and when needed for reference in decision-making, especially for more obscure and unusual matters. That is certainly an area where reform could be comfortably made.
I even recall (many years ago!) when I attended a study course for the Inspector exam. A Barrister there commented how the police promotion exam syllabus was incredibly wide ranging and challenging for candidates, and that even law exams were only on one or two areas at a time. Many who have taken the promotion exam will probably agree with that observation and a clear case could quite easily be made to trim down the syllabus. For example, by removing material dealt with by specialist departments or where it’s fine to access the relevant law online or in slower time (e.g. custody block).
The current legal exam is tried and tested, an objective summative assessment. Pass or fail. An established standard. It’s expected and required as a precursor for supervisory rank. It provides evidence of commitment that a depth/breadth of legal knowledge has been attained and absorbed albeit that will need to be kept updated and maintained.
Is this era the point in policing history, where standards are demonstrably dropped, watered down or softened? Will this lead to a better process? A fairer process? Or simply another different process?
So what might a revised legal exam look like? Wherever the College choose to place it in the new 3000m Steeplechase, a modernised exam syllabus could be tailored specifically to critical issues. For example, operational policing activity, early effective action for initial investigation and investigative evaluation. More focused on ‘street’ offences and powers including what burglary and robbery is, stop & search, powers in public order situations, and so on.
Sections of Evidence and Procedure (E & P), such as Court Procedure & Witnesses, Custody Officers Duties, and Interviews, could be removed. Instead, such items could be evaluated within a bespoke ‘formative assessment’, using knowledge reviews as part of an ongoing CPD plan whilst promoted temporarily.
Refining and distilling the current exam could reduce the syllabus by 50% to would mean the syllabus could be reduced e.g. by 50%. This would remain a challenging summative assessment. But it wouldn’t be the ‘cliff edge’ described for candidates to spend too much time on. Having two bites of the cherry each year seems fair too.
That also aligns to the College’s statement: “We want to make the process fair and accessible to everyone, while maintaining the high standard you must achieve to lead as a sergeant or an inspector in policing”.
Don’t like it? We’ll Remove it!
“Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they’re yours.” – Richard Bach
I have coached and supported countless cops to promotion success across the UK forces (and beyond!). Many officers argue against elements of promotion selection proposals. For example, “We don’t like paper sifts, we don’t like competency application forms and we don’t like a.n.other test (you name it!)”.
Reasons given include tests ‘are not relevant, ‘are unrealistic’, ‘we don’t have time’ and ‘only those who are good at ‘that kind of test’ tend to succeed’ etc. By creating enough ‘noise’, Chief Constables have listened. For example, applications and other tests have been removed, but in a classic case of ‘be careful what you wish for’, candidates don’t like the replacement process either.
Today, it’s the exam that has the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over it. What then might result from this pressure?
Interviews: For the Chop Too?
“Don’t wish it was easier. Wish you were better.” – Jim Rohn
If SIPP is implemented as proposed, there’s still an ‘in force selection’ component (similar to NPPF step 3) as part of the second stage proposals. An established element of ‘in force selection processes’ in most forces is the promotion interview.
People generally don’t like interviews either, for some (e.g. neurodivergent officers) this part of selection has been identified as a barrier. There are a few forces that don’t use interview panels for sergeant promotions e.g. as ACC Katy Barrow Grint of Thames Valley Police (TVP) explains in my exclusive podcast interview with her: “The force has cut down on bureaucracy at sergeant level but reintroduced interviews for inspector level.”
Organisationally, TVP want to test an inspector candidate’s ability to think under pressure, be able to perform and be able to speak to others.
“There will always be different ways of doing things, every force is different, every chief is different.” – ACC Katy Barrow Grint
In a further podcast conversation with Chief Constable Lee Freeman (now HMICFRS Inspector) I asked him: “What are your views around interviews and not having them as part of the promotion selection process?”
CC Freeman replies: “In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have an interview process, because we would have a very well developed, mature continual assessment where I was completely satisfied that there was real objectivity and I could trust that continuous assessment process in order to identify the leaders.
The reality is, I don’t think there’s a force in the country that has that matured yet. If you look at the different levels of scale of accuracy around promotion processes, interviews is not the best way of doing it. It’s continuous assessment.
But if you look at some of the challenges nationally, even around completing NPPF portfolios and some of the backlogs, there’s a real strain in the system, which means although I would like to bring in that approach, it would fail because we’re not yet mature enough in terms of our culture or indeed our assessment processes, to have the confidence that we would absolutely nail that.
I would love us to be able to get towards that continuous assessment. If you passed your part one Sergeants exam, you’ve earned the right, in my view. Through passing that exam you’ve demonstrated your evidential knowledge to pass those questions around the law.”
With that same exam potentially facing the axe under SIPP, will the College now bring about the ideal world CC Freeman alludes to, in which promotion boards could also face the chop? Which forces suddenly developed the maturity for effective/efficient continuous assessment? Are they the pilot forces? How will the right balance of support be struck for supervisors?
With a stronger emphasis (a good thing!) under SIPP on PDRs, CPD, a potential new CVF (mark 2), and with an updated Code of Ethics, all being linked to assessment portfolios, they will certainly have their work cut out holding the “strain in the system”.
So early days then with SIPP, lots of questions, even fewer answers, but a massive potential opportunity to get things right for the next generation of first and second line leaders coming through promotion. Whatever happens, such a significant change like this will be seen as another flagship to the College. As such, it no doubt will happen, and must be seen to succeed, whatever the cost, as we’ve already seen with other similarly seismic changes.
It will be interesting to follow the experiences of pilot forces. SIPP has clearly been sitting on the runway, pre-flight checks apparently completed. It will soon be up in the air for its maiden flight. The pilots haven’t consulted the passengers on how to take off into this headwind. Like things that go up, it must also come down. There will be many in policing keen to avoid disaster but genuinely rooting for the test pilots and a gentle landing ready with generous applause. Interesting times!
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.