Last night’s announcement of a new lockdown has thrown a new element into the dispute between BPP Law School and Bar students over a scheduled face-to-face exam this week.
Despite loud complaints from those on the Bar professional training course, BPP has been planning to press ahead with the in-person professional ethics exam on Friday.
It has not yet announced what the lockdown will mean for this. Government guidance says courses which require professional, statutory and regulatory body assessments and/or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled, can still go ahead in person alongside testing.
The Lincoln’s Inn Students Association tweeted yesterday, before the prime minister’s announcement, that the decision to hold the exam “discriminates against vulnerable students, students with vulnerable families, and international students”.
It went on: “A university owes a duty of care to all its students. We all owe a moral duty to defend against the pandemic. This is absurd.”
It also pointed out that the Bar Council had told barristers that in-person attendance should be ‘exceptional’ for actual court hearings. “We do not understand how it can be acceptable for this exam to be held in person.”
BPP claimed yesterday that it was bound by a Bar Standards Board (BSB) requirement that it could not move the exam online without the regulator’s approval that it has satisfied a new online protocol.
“The online protocol was finalised in mid-December and BPP will be making an application to the BSB to run online assessments very shortly.
“In the meantime, and in order that our students have the opportunity to sit the professional ethics paper, it is scheduled to take place face-to-face in external Covid secure venues.”
This was allowed under Covid Tier 4 guidance, but said this was subject to change if tighter restrictions were introduced.
“Students who are not able to sit the assessment or who do not feel comfortable attending the venue in person will automatically be granted a deferral and can sit at the next attempt in May 2021.”
BPP did not reply to our question about why it had not made this application – given that other institutions have already moved to online tests for this month – and in any case the BSB then contradicted BPP’s statement about the need for approval.
It said: “We issued guidance in December which clarified under what circumstances computer-based exams could be delivered from January.
“Under this guidance course providers can choose to use computer-based exams for their own assessments in January on a pilot basis, provided they have registered their intentions with us.
“Future computer-based assessments, including for the BSB centralised exams in spring 2021, will require our formal approval in the light of lessons learned from pilots where they have taken place.
“All approvals will be subject to a satisfactory Equality Impact Assessment being undertaken by the provider.
“It is therefore up to course providers to decide whether or not to move their January exams online on a pilot basis, so long as they register their intentions to do so with us and follow the guidance we issued in December 2020.”
BPP has also not replied to a request to explain its position.