Bar aptitude test could be a "one-time-only opportunity" for students to prove themselves

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By Legal Futures

19 December 2011


Deech: reappointed for further three years

Students taking an aptitude test designed to weed out those likely to fail the Bar training course could be given a once-only opportunity to pass, it has emerged.

While agreeing to send the Bar course aptitude test (BCAT) out for consultation, members of the Bar Standards Board raised questions about the policy of allowing unlimited attempts.

As reported by Legal Futures last month, if it receives final approval early next year the test will be taken by candidates applying from November 2012 to start the Bar professional training course – formerly known as the Bar vocational course – in September 2013.

In the scheme’s final draft, it says: “Candidates with adequate skills but one (or more) unsuccessful attempts at the BCAT will not be prevented from undertaking the [Bar course] once they have achieved the requisite score.”

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After objections were raised by lay member Malcolm Cohen at last week’s monthly board meeting, BSB chair Ruth Deech ordered that a question be added to the consultation seeking views on whether students should be allowed to make one or more attempts to pass the BCAT.

If the point of the test is to stop people who will fail from doing the course, Mr Cohen asked, will allowing unlimited attempts to pass be “unfair and not true to the objective”?

Dr Valerie Shrimplin, the BSB’s head of education and standards, explained that the opportunity for multiple re-sits had been built into the proposed scheme to allow for improvements in l

anguage, which might have been causing students’ failure.

Presenting the findings of a major study of the validity of the BCAT as a predictor of students’ eventual performance on the Bar course, its author, Helen Baron, told the board that the test measured reasoning ability and was “relatively immutable” to candidates improving their chances.

It made sense, she suggested, to allow at least a single re-take in case students performed badly on the first attempt due to illness or other cause.

Despite the fact that the BCAT has been under consideration for more than three years, Richard Thompson, a lay board member, questioned the foundations of the scheme. All it would do was identify “people who are going to fail anyway”, while the real issue needing to be addressed was not entry criteria but the lack of pupillages at the other end of the process, he argued.

Dr John Carrier, the outgoing chairman of the education and standards committee, responded that he stood by the BCAT. He said students on the Bar course had concerns about the variable quality of fellow students, who were their “adversaries across the table” during advocacy training exercises.

Meanwhile, Baroness Deech has been reappointed to serve a further three-year term as BSB chair. Her vice-chair, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, has been reappointed for another year so that in future reappointment for the two posts do not coincide. Dame Ruth said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my initial term of office and look forward to ensuring the implementation of many projects over the next three years.”

From next month the BSB board moves to a lay majority with the appointment of five non-barristers. Three of the new members, Professor Andrew Sanders, Rolande Anderson and Rob Behrens, respectively become chairs of the BSB’s education and training, equality and diversity, and qualifications committees.

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