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1.0     Introduction

“The Armed Forces offer opportunities for everyone to reach their full potential, whatever their background. We are encouraging people to aim higher and teaching them valuable skills and become tomorrow’s officers.” (Warfare.Today, 2017).

This article provides an overview of the British Army’s Potential Officer Development Programme (PODP).

This article will describe what the PODP is, how long it is, how often it is delivered, and where. It will also describe what it is for and outline some interesting statistics, as well as the process for getting on the PODP. The article also briefly outlines the Army Officer Selection Board and how the PODP fits within it. Finally, the article will highlight other social mobility initiatives established by the UK military before providing some useful links and references.

2.0     What is the Potential Officer Development Programme?

The PODP is for soldiers who aspire to become a commissioned officer in the British Army.

The PODP was previously known as the Potential Officer Development Course (PODC) (O’Neill, 2007).

“’The PODC was for talented young soldiers who had spent two to three years as soldiers but were not necessarily prepared for the cultural differences between being a soldier and an officer…” (Quinn, 2008).

3.0     How long is the Potential Officer Development Programme?

The British Army’s PODP is currently twelve (12) weeks in duration (GOV.UK, 2017), up from eleven (11) weeks in the 2000s (O’Neill, 2007).

4.0     How often is the Potential Officer Development Programme Delivered?

The British Army’s PODP is delivered three times a year.

5.0     Where is the Potential Officer Development Programme Delivered?

The PODP is delivered by the British Army’s prestigious officer training institution, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS).

Commonly known simply as Sandhurst, it is the British Army’s initial officer training centre and is located in the town of Camberley, near the village of Sandhurst, Berkshire, 34 miles (55 km) southwest of London.

Previously, the PODP was delivered at the “Army School of Education in Worthy Down, Hampshire…” (O’Neill, 2007).

6.0     What is the Purpose of the Potential Officer Development Programme?

The PODP is “aimed at catapulting soldiers from diverse backgrounds into the officer ranks.” (Warfare.Today, 2017).

The PODP is designed to:

  • Develop communications skills;
  • Develop knowledge of international affairs and cultural horizons;
  • Prepare candidates for the Army Officer Selection Board; and
  • Have the ultimate goal of getting students to qualify through Sandhurst as officers in the British Army.

The majority of those who go through PODP do not hold a degree – Sandhurst traditionally draws on university graduates and the brightest cadets from the UK and abroad.

The PODP does not teach candidates to pass the AOSB (Sections 10.0 and 11.0) but it does equip the individual with knowledge and confidence which will help them during the AOSB.

“The programme supports serving soldiers and direct entry civilian candidates by equipping participants with the skills necessary to pass the Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB).” (FRS, 2017).

7.0     Potential Officer Development Programme Statistics

Between 2012 and 2017, approximately 1800 serving officers had taken the PODP pathway to commissioned rank, equating to nearly a third (30%) of all serving officers, with approximately:

  • One-third being Army officers;
  • A fifth being Royal Navy officers; and
  • A quarter being RAF officers.

Nick Jackson (2008), reporting in The Independent, states that “only 5 per cent are recruited this way.”

Kidane Cousland, a PODP graduate and now Royal Artillery officer, was awarded the Sandhurst Sword of Honour in 2016 for being considered the best student on his commissioning course.

Approximately 50 to 60 men and women will attend the programme each year, divided into three intakes of 16-20 candidates (O’Neill, 2007; Quinn, 2008).

Approximately 40 be selected for Sandhurst after successfully passing the Army Officer Selection Board (Quinn, 2008).

8.0     What is the Process for Getting on the Potential Officer Development Programme?

Below is an outline of the process for aspirant soldiers:

  • Your Company/Squadron Commander, Officer Commanding (OC), spots your potential and recommends you for interview by the Commanding Officer (CO).
  • CO’s interview.
  • Administration and application process (i.e. lots of form filling).
  • Regimental Interview Panel within own unit (has also been known as Unit Board, Regimental Selection Board, and Regimental Commissioning Board).
  • Army Officer Selection Board Briefing (Briefing Board) at Westbury (Section 10.0).
  • Potential Officer Development Programme at Sandhurst.
  • Army Officer Selection Board (Main Board) at Westbury (Section 11.0).
  • Phase 1 training: 44-week commissioning course at Sandhurst.

Candidates will generally encounter some form of screening process prior to formal application, however, the exact process varies between cap badges.

A candidate can apply to commission into any cap badge of their choosing, providing they fit the selection criteria. However, be aware that the cap badge applied for and the cap badge worn after graduation may differ due to the manning requirements of the British Army.

The process is likely to take a minimum of two (2) years from initial expression of interest to being commissioned at Sandhurst.

The early parts of the process are really dependant on how proactive the chain of command is in pushing the candidate’s application (it is important to note that this is the candidate’s application and not, as some think, an offer or a promotion).

9.0     Outline of the Potential Officer Development Programme

“Apparently, one way to improve your chance of selection is to make sure you know your stuff about the opera or ballet. Part of the PODC involves soldiers putting on their glad rags and visiting the West End. “The course is about developing soldiers’ self-confidence, cultural interests, interpersonal and problem-solving skills,” says Major Dave Crome, commanding officer of the Army School of Education. Crome insists that it isn’t about turning them into toffs – it’s about analytical skills. “We’re saying, ‘Here is an experience you’re not used to. Now let’s talk about it, and discuss what was good and what was bad.’” (O’Neill, 2007).

A freedom of information request of the 2007 course schedule provides some insight to the topics covered during the programme (O’Neill, 2007; Quinn, 2008):

  • How to cut cheese (1990s iteration of PODC).
  • Cultural visits:
    • West End theatre shows.
    • Art history classes.
  • Tutelage in social etiquette.
  • Film studies modules.
  • Leadership theory.
  • Wine and cheese tasting.
  • Command tasks: confidence as both a leader and follower.
  • Communications skills development, e.g. through essays, presentations, and group discussions.
  • Development of knowledge of current/international affairs and cultural horizons.
  • Military knowledge and history.
  • Ex MONOPOD completing hill walking, mountain biking, geo caching, and climbing.

10.0     Army Officer Selection Board ‘Briefing Board’

The Army Officer Selection Board Briefing, commonly known as the AOSB Briefing or Briefing Board, is a two (2) day event where candidates take mental aptitude tests and get familiar with officer selection process. It also prepares and screens candidates for the AOSB Main Board (Section 11.0).

The following is an example of the Briefing Board:

  • Day One:
    • Introduction: Introductory talk by the board’s Vice-Principal.
    • MAP Tests: A time-limited, and multi-choice, test completed on a computer, with a sheet of scrap paper for working out.
    • Group Discussions:
      • Starts with a two (2) minute about yourself (the army wants variety, and these talks need to explain who you are, what you have done, your interests, your achievements and your family – not to discuss how great the Army is!).
      • Then the officer in charge of your group will introduce a number of topics and you need to talk about them, and contribute valid points. You are on a time limit, so it does become difficult to get your point across when there are eight (8) other people all trying to speak. Be respectful to others and do not over talk them, but get your point across. Also, try and relate to other people’s points.
    • Planning Exercise:
      • You will receive a tutorial on this prior to conducting it, but it can still be difficult.
      • An important quality to show at the briefing is that you do not panic under pressure.
      • Read the text, then draw your map, think of a plan or factors, and estimate your distances.
      • Anything which is life threatening/altering is the most important task to complete. This can include things which may see people’s jobs or homes lost.
      • The group plan can make up for a bad individual plan. Take part and create ideas, and admit where you went wrong so that your team know it is not a valid option.
    • Interview:
      • During the group phase of the planning exercise you will be pulled out one-by-one for an interview.
  • Day Two:
    • Group Planning Exercise: Go over the details of your group plan and then be prepared to be grilled.
    • Bleep Test: Otherwise known as the Multi-Stage Fitness Test, and completed in overalls.
    • Obstacle Course: Includes hurdles, long jump, steeple, wall, and rope swing.
    • Leaderless Tasks: Same as the group discussion, be respectful but get your point across. You need to show that you cannot just participate, but you can have an active part in co-ordinating things and using other people’s strengths.
    • Interviews.

The two-day AOSB Briefing has now been replaced by the “24 hour briefing” (British Army, 2018).

“Here you’ll learn how to prepare yourself for your next visit, as well as being assessed through physical and practical exercises. The tests are designed to help you, and help us to understand what you need to work on before you reach the Main Board.” (British Army, 2018).

Candidates for scholarship, Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College, and professionally qualified officers will attend only one board; other entrants will be required to attend both a briefing board and a main board.

Table 1: AOSB Briefing Board Statistics
Year Category 1 Category 2 Category 3 Category 4 Attendees
2007 790 350 130 80 1370
2011 920 560 200 310 2010
2012 620 480 220 420 1790
2013 330 270 150 150 950
Source: FOI 2014/07635

Note:

  • Category 1 is the highest and Category 4 is the lowest.

11.0     Army Officer Selection Board ‘Main Board’

The Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB), formerly known as the Regular Commissions Board (RCB) and also known as the Main Board, is an assessment centre used by the British Army as part of the officer selection process for the Regular Army and Army Reserve and related scholarship schemes.

It is an equivalent of the Admiralty Interview Board and the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force respectively.

The AOSB is based at Leighton House, Westbury in Wiltshire, England in a dedicated camp. It is led by the President AOSB, a Colonel (OF-5), who is supported by a number of vice-presidents.

On completion of the PODP, candidates will attend the AOSB to determine whether they are suitable for commissioning and, if successful at this stage, the candidate will then go on to begin Officer Cadet training at Sandhurst.

An example outline of the three and a half day Main Board (British Army, 2018):

  • Day 1:
    • Physical tests – bleep tests, press ups and sit ups.
    • Introductory talk – tips on how to make the most of your trip.
    • Written tests – an essay and tests on general knowledge, current affairs, and military knowledge.
    • Psychometric tests – a measure of your cognitive and personality profile.
  • Day 2:
    • Interview – you will be asked about your experiences and interests, and why you are applying to be an Army officer.
    • Outdoor tasks – these are group exercises in practical problem solving that you practiced at Briefing.
    • Tutorial – a revision period in preparation for the planning exercise.
  • Day 3:
    • Planning exercise – a test of conceptual problem solving delivered through a written solution and a group discussion.
    • Command task – Outdoor activities where you will take turns to lead the group.
    • Obstacle course – Take on as many obstacles as you can within a time limit.
    • Lecture – Give a 5 minute talk and take answers from the group.
    • Evening – Team dinner.
  • Day 4:
    • Final race – on the last day you take part in the final exercise, an outdoor team competition between all the different groups.
    • Board officers meet to assess each candidate.
Table 2: AOSB Main Board Statistics
Year Passes Fails Attendees Soldiers (fig) Soldiers (%)
2007 820 390 1210 40 5
2011 620 570 1190 60 10
2012 490 500 990 50 10
2013 350 240 600 30 8
Source: FOI 2014/07635

12.0     Other Social Mobility Initiatives

“…the [PODC] course is the army’s stab at positive discrimination – an attempt to ensure that, in a more open and democratic military machine, any aspirant serving soldier has as much chance of becoming an officer as the Eton-educated son of a general.” (O’Neill, 2007).

The PODP is not the only social mobility initiative instigated by the British Army, and armed forces in general. Other initiatives include:

  • Being the largest apprenticeship provider in the whole of the UK, with around 7,500 completed each year;
  • Offering literacy, numeracy and a whole range of academic support to serving personnel; and
  • Offering learning credits where appropriate which can be redeemed against civilian qualifications up to PhD level.

13.0     Useful Publications

  • Army Briefing Note (ABN) 18/18: Potential Officer Development Programme.

14.0     Useful Links

  • British Army Officer Selection Board: https://apply.army.mod.uk/how-to-join/joining-process/officer-recruitment-steps/army-officer-selection.

15.0     References

British Army (2018) Army Officer Selection. Available from World Wide Web: https://apply.army.mod.uk/how-to-join/joining-process/officer-recruitment-steps/army-officer-selection. [Accessed: 21 March, 2018].

FOI 2014/07635 dated 03 December 2014. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/382910/20141128-Army_Officer_Selection_Board.pdf. [Accessed: 19 March, 2018].

FRS (Forces Recruitment Service) (2017) Potential Army Officers Meet Defence Secretary. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.forcesrecruitment.co.uk/news/190/129/Potential-Army-Officers-Meet-Defence-Secretary/. [Accessed: 19 March, 2018].

GOV.UK (2017) 30% of Officers Progress from the Ranks. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/30-of-officers-progress-from-the-ranks. [Accessed: 19 March, 2018].

Jackson, N. (2008) Soldiering is as Popular as ever, Despite Recent Attacks on Army Recruitment Drives. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.independent.co.uk/student/career-planning/getting-job/soldiering-is-as-popular-as-ever-despite-recent-attacks-on-army-recruitment-drives/. [Accessed: 19 March, 2018].

O’Neill, B. (2007) Brendan O’Neill on the Potential Officer Development Course. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2007/02/development-course-officer. [Accessed: 19 March, 2108].

Quinn, B. (2008) Army’s New Regime of Wine and Theatre. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2008/jan/06/military.artnews. [Accessed: 19 March, 2018].

Warfare.Today (2017) 30% of Officers Progress from the Ranks. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.warfare.today/2017/03/25/rising-from-the-ranks-in-the-british-armed-forces/. [Accessed: 19 March, 2018].

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