An exploration of the appetite and case for replacing the multi-stage fitness test in British policing with a fitness assessment based on the principles of Functional Fitness

This project asks whether there is an argument for replacing the multi-stage fitness test in British policing.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Pete McAndie
Police region
Scotland
Level of research
Masters
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Functional Fitness is based upon the view that exercises should replicate the activities which are being prepared for (O'Sullivan and Schmitz 2007) – in simple terms, to improve running ability you must run, to improve strength you must lift weights.

Policing is a physically demanding job – officers who are not ‘fit for duty’ are more vulnerable to injury. Police forces consider it to be in the interests of officers, their colleagues, and their communities that officers are fit for the rigours of the job.

Morris and others (2020) found that the current fitness test has a discriminatory element, particularly affecting older women, and that officers generally require a higher level of fitness than was previously thought in order to pass the test.

The overall aim of the project is to consider the appetite and case for adoption of a new functional fitness testing regime for recruits in British policing.

The project objectives are as follows.

  1. Benchmark current regime with comparative organisations both in the UK and internationally.

  2. Provide an overview of key stakeholder expectations and aspirations relevant to the fitness standard.

  3. Research and produce a framework for a preferred model of testing.

  4. Produce an Equality Impact Assessment for the proposed change.

  5. Provide an assessment of drivers and barriers to the proposed change.

Research methodology

Key literature which will be reviewed for this project includes the Winsor (2013) report which introduced annual fitness testing for Policing in England and Wales, as well as various reports which helped to establish the current MSFT as the Britain-wide fitness standard for policing.

Of particular importance will be a recently produced report, commissioned by the College of Policing, which revealed that the current fitness test has a discriminatory element particularly affecting older women, and that officers generally require a higher level of fitness than was previously thought in order to pass the test.

All of this will help to demonstrate the need to change the police fitness test but will not answer the question of what the new test should look like.

A readily available option is the Gender-Neutral Timed Obstacle Course (GeNTOC), which was developed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and is based around the principles of Functional Fitness. Secondary research will be conducted around the GeNTOC, including work by Jackson and Wilson (2013) on the validity of it as a test of police fitness.

This test will be of particular interest as Winsor (2013) recommended it should be adopted by all forces in England and Wales by 2018 – this recommendation has not to date been adopted by any force. Fitness tests used in other forces around the world will also be considered.

Secondary research will also focus on the difficulties of ensuring a functional fitness test is compliant with equality legislation. Initial key cases identified considered the legality of applying different fitness standards for men and women in policing (Mr D V Allcock v Chief Constable, Hampshire Constabulary, Case number 3101524/97), and a case whereby the tribunal delivered a mixed judgement on the lawfulness of the GeNTOC (Jo-Anne Dougan v the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Case Numbers 03244/97SD and 01734/98SD).

A mixed methods approach to primary research in the form of semi-structured interviewing, focus groups as well as questionnaires and field observations will be adopted for this project, to help identify key physical tasks for testing.

Data will be collected both electronically through surveying applications, as well as via field notes, all of which will be reviewed by the research team, supported through the use of statistical analysis software where appropriate.

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