Q & As on fitness testing
Does the BAWP want to get rid of fitness tests?
It is important to stress that BAWP is not looking to remove the fitness element from the police service, we are seeking to ensure a system which is fair and appropriate.
Is the BAWP suggesting that women officers should have easier tests?
The BAWP is not seeking easier fitness tests, but we are challenging conventional wisdom as to the fitness requirements of the police service.
The BAWP is not seeking and has never sought, preferential treatment for women officers, and strongly believes that any officers – women or men – should be appointed because they are the best people, both physically and mentally, for the job.
Our argument is that the current tests show a disproportionate failure amongst healthy women candidates, which is not linked to their capability as a police officer – in all other respects they could do the job.
- What do [women] officers have to do in the current fitness tests?
Endurance – a timed bleep test where recruits have to do shuttle runs between two markers 15 metres (49ft) apart at different speeds
Speed and agility – a running course around cones has to be completed within 27 seconds
Grip strength – metal hand grips are used to test hand and wrist strength
Dynamic (upper body) strength – weights of 34kg (75lb) have to be pushed and 35kg (77lb) weights pulled using equipment called the Dyno machine
- What does the BAWP think is wrong with the current fitness tests?
Today’s police work is stressful and can be physical, but where is the evidence that the current fitness tests accurately reflect the reality of an officer’s day-to-day work, and takes into account the availability of personal protective equipment, for example CS spray and batons? Its emphasis on upper body strength (a male characteristic, which men therefore pass) needs scrutinising because we would suggest it is disproportionate to the amount of upper body strength actually needed in the job. Women’s strength is in the lower body – hips and thighs. Women also tend to be more cautious when taking the speed and agility test.
Research results from the ‘Diary of a Police Officer’ carried out as part of the Police Reform Programme, showed that police officers themselves estimate that they spend only half their time outside the police station. This doesn’t seem to fit with the anecdotal evidence provided by some officers who say that the current fitness tests should not be changed as officers spend the majority of their time out and about, chasing, jumping, climbing and dealing with struggling criminals.
In essence, the modern police service is about brains not brawn. To ensure both officer and prisoner safety, in both quick and slow time situations officers routinely plan arrest tactics to minimise harm – only fools rush in…
Police work is not as physical as people perceive or portray it.
Very often, potentially difficult situations can be resolved by calm and reasonable negotiation rather than wrestling with offenders.
The HMIC document ‘Training Matters’ recommends a review of the rationale behind the initial police fitness test. The BAWP would argue that this hasn’t yet happened.
- What is the BAWP’s views on the police service having fitness tests only during the recruitment process?
It can’t be right that forces test an individual’s fitness at the recruitment stage, but rarely again. There is something perverse about a system which encourages and gives potential recruits several chances to pass a test without (if it is so important), requiring them to repeat it regularly.
Bearing in mind the problems the police service suffers with sickness levels it seems strange that the fitness element of the recruitment process isn’t linked in any way to an occupational health regime which would help ensure the continuing health and fitness of officers throughout their service.
We have highly effective officers currently working in the service who would, and do, fail fitness tests without any further recourse. Although the fitness test is supposed to test for the requirements of the job, the fact that it only forms part of the recruitment assessment and is never tested again (unless a serving officer applies for a specialist post) leaves significant doubts about its relevance to the actual requirements of the work of police officers. Having effective officers who are unable to pass the test is, we believe, clear evidence that we are over-testing and using inappropriate methods of testing.
The fitness test process can also have a psychological impact, making women who fail feel inferior, and giving others the excuse to say women are not up to the job. This starts women officers on the wrong foot right at the beginning of their police career – a fact reflected in recent academic thinking.
- How does the BAWP know the current tests are affecting women disproportionately?
Fitness tests tend to be designed by sports scientists – frequently men – for men and focus on men’s abilities, ie upper body strength and speed, therefore men pass. Over ninety per cent of men can pass the current tests, thus they are only actually a ‘test’ for women, who have high failure rates of 40 – 50 per cent. There is a massive disproportionate impact.
In the past there was a test of flexibility, which men used to fail. This test is no longer included in the recruitment fitness process – a strange omission as lack of flexibility can be an indicator of back problems in the long term Police work involves long periods of inactivity followed by short bursts of intense activity – flexibility is a key attribute in preventing injuries and strains. Unlike sporting activity, policing situations prevent officers from doing warm up routines!
In one force training environment 90 per cent of women fail at Level Six of the Loughborough test –a positive action programme is run during the training to help candidates pass, but there is still a high failure rate. These women are not made to resign, as in all respects they are able to do the job.
One example of the disproportionate impact is that of a serving Metropolitan police officer who says she can no longer pass the MPS fitness test since it was changed to the Loughborough version.
She says that the press ups are painful and almost impossible for women, and there is no accounting for gender and age – ie the test requires a woman of 45 to produce the same results as a man aged 21, if they are the same height.
Because men and women are physically different you will never get one test that both can equally pass. For example, the VO2 max test – women will never have the same readings as men as they have smaller lungs. But, because women’s lungs are smaller they don’t need to have the same capacity to do the same work.
Some people hold the view that the test is easy and failure to pass merely demonstrates a candidate’s inability to prepare for the recruitment process, therefore they don’t deserve a get a job in the police service.
But there is a flaw in this argument. We do not believe that women are more likely than men to be badly prepared for the recruitment process. So how do we identify ill prepared male candidates.
- Has any research been carried out?
The Police Federation has recently been carrying out research into the police recruitment fitness test.
As part of this research they are seeking information on pass marks, and details about the fitness tests which individual forces are using. Results are currently being collated.
A national report into recruiting and retaining women in the American law enforcement agencies covers the issue of fitness tests during the recruitment process, and outlines similar views to those of the BAWP…
This National Centre for Women & Policing document says: ‘entry level physical ability tests are often out-dated, are not job-related, and are testing for physical requirements not needed to perform the job of a modern law enforcement officer.
They put unnecessary emphasis on upper body strength and rely on methods of testing that eliminate large numbers of women who are, in fact, well qualified for the job…..No research shows that the physical agility and strength tests actually predict performance in the job of community police officer’.
It goes on to say that an important consideration should also be whether officers currently performing the job could satisfactorily pass the test. Because if the serving officers don’t maintain the physical ability demanded by the initial fitness tests, and they are still effective as officers, then the physical performance recruits are tested on, is obviously not required to perform the tasks of the job.
- What does the government say?
Home Office Minister John Denham has conceded that in the past there have been a variety of different tests and different standards being applied for what is effectively the same job.
He has, however, confirmed the government is keen to ensure women aren’t disadvantaged, and that fitness tests are seen as a positive selection tool and not a barrier to recruitment.
To this end the Home Office is commending the new Job Related Fitness Tests to all forces. As part of this process:
– all applicants will get clear information about the tests at an early stage
– some forces hold familiarisation events to help candidates develop personal training plans
– applicants will be allowed three attempts to pass the test
– anyone who fails will be offered practical help to get them up to the required standard
But we have to ask ourselves – all this time, money and effort goes into passing the current test, and for what? It is an unnecessary pressure on recruits as it is just a one-off – they are not tested again during their police career unless they apply to a specialist department.
The government has also made a commitment to monitor and analyse the overall pass and fail rates at all stages of the tests, and make improvements as necessary. The first national review of the job related fitness test is set to take place at the end of 2002.
- What does the BAWP want to replace the current fitness test?
The BAWP would like to see a system which is fair and appropriate and which doesn’t disproportionately affect womenofficers.
We would also like there to be a regular and ongoing health programme within the police service which monitors and encourages all officers to maintain good physical and mental health throughout their careers and which allows them to perform their jobs to a high standard.
At the moment the balance is wrong. We have a system which puts needless pressure on new recruits to pass a one-off test, but gives no consideration to serving officers.
- What are the next steps?
BAWP will continue to advocate the need for joined up policies between recruitment and continuing operational health – a link which appears not to have been made so far – in the hope that this will result in a healthier and better performing police service.
We will continue to put forward the arguments and the evidence in the hope that health screening will be considered as a future option. And we look forward to seeing the results of the national fitness test review at the end of this year.