The Legal Services Board (LSB) has approved the new training regime for barristers that will open up four routes to qualification, including an apprenticeship.
The Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) ‘Future Bar Training’ programme also strengthens regulatory oversight of call to the Bar by the inns of court.
It completes a process started in 2014, a year after the Legal Education and Training Review was published.
The four ‘managed pathways’ are a move away from the more prescriptive approach of the current Bar professional training course (BPTC).
They will be delivered by what will be called authorised education and training organisations (AETOs) – these will include existing pupillage training organisations.
The four training pathways offer different combinations of the academic, vocational and professional stages of training, including an apprenticeship where all are combined into one. AETOs can be authorised to provide one or more of these components.
One of the pathways would split the vocational component into two parts: a knowledge part which would be completed and assessed prior to undertaking a skills part, focusing on advocacy and other soft skills.
The LSB noted: “The proposals allow for pupillage to be provided by AETOs, extending the approved routes beyond the current ones and with a greater focus on outcomes.
“The changes are intended to give AETOs flexibility to develop new and less prescriptive work-based training programmes.”
Requirements for pupillage duration, delivery and supervisor/pupil ratio under the existing rules have been deleted – although it is still likely to be 12 months in most cases. Instead, the BSB will set training outcomes.
In its application, the BSB acknowledged the risk that one pathway could emerge as the favoured route – most likely one akin to the current route.
It said: “Our proposed authorisation and quality assurance processes will enable us to be satisfied that all routes lead to the same minimum outcomes and any variation in popularity would be driven by student choice, cost and course delivery as a whole by the provider.
“To further mitigate against such risks, we limited the number of pathways that might be developed and settled on the four illustrative ‘pathways’ which are now set out in the authorisation framework.
“Moreover, we committed to ensuring that there would be high-quality information available about the various pathways for students to have an informed view.”
The BSB said it favoured the managed pathways approach “because it offered the benefits of centralised assessments and was able to assure standards by moving away from the highly prescriptive BPTC model and empowering training providers (of academic, vocational and work-based learning components) to offer significantly different training programmes, so long as they met the requirements of the BSB’s authorisation framework”.
Student members of the Bar will still be required to complete qualifying sessions with an inn of court before they can be called.
The BSB said it recognised the benefits in promoting a “community of practice” that could expose pupils to more experienced practitioners and judges, which could help promote and embed ethical behaviour and provide pastoral support and care.
But through a memorandum of understanding with the inns and the Council of the Inns of Court, the BSB will enhance its role in setting minimum standards and requirements for delivering qualifying sessions, overseeing student conduct and administering fit and proper person checks.
The memorandum will also set out arrangements for the BSB to audit and supervise the inns’ activities.
The LSB “broadly” welcomed the reforms, which it said “enable a degree of liberalisation of the BSB’s regulation of education and training, and gives a greater role for the BSB in the regulation of pupillage”.
In an approval notice, chief executive Neil Buckley said: “The success of the BSB’s proposals relies on there being an adequate range of training options.
“The BSB said that while it expects a very small number of new entrant AETOs to the market in the initial phase, it’s exploration of demand indicates that further new entrants will emerge later, and that these will be interested in exploring more innovative course structures and the potential for an apprenticeship pathway.
“The BSB said that it cannot guarantee what the spread of option offerings will be, but it considers that the variety of options will emerge from the market as a whole, rather than from the BSB being prescriptive to engineer this…
“It estimates that larger providers with more resources are likely to offer more than one pathway in the longer term but seek authorisation on one pathway before exploring others.
“Its enquiries as part of the development of the proposals indicated that different approaches are likely to emerge, including, for instance, to offer two versions of a pathway (for example, one which includes optional course choices and one without).
“The BSB consider that this approach will be appealing to a range of students and budgets.”
The continuation of qualifying sessions – which are now much more than the fabled dinners – has proven an issue during the reform process.
The BSB said the inns will develop and publish a programme of qualifying sessions with learning outcomes for each one, to supplement formal training provided elsewhere.
Students will have a range of short educational sessions to choose from. These will be organised according to five themes and it will not be possible to complete the 10 required sessions without having attended at least one session from each of the themes.
The themes are: ethics, standards and values; advocacy skills; legal knowledge, justice and the rule of law; equality, diversity and inclusion; and preparation for pupillage, career development and wellbeing.
“The LSB is aware of criticism from some quarters that the qualifying sessions can be perceived as elitist or exclusive, and of limited educational value,” Mr Buckley wrote.
“The BSB confirmed that the sessions will be about learning what is unique about practise at the Bar… The BSB said it also considered that the mode for learning about such topics is crucial and therefore the reason the qualifying sessions remain compulsory is to ensure that the networking/developmental opportunities are not enjoyed simply by a select group (who are likely to be the best connected).
“The BSB’s view is that enabling those from less traditional backgrounds to participate is important. In terms of addressing concerns about the worth of continuing the qualifying sessions, we are reassured that assessing the impact of the continuation of the sessions will be an important part of the BSB’s evaluation strategy in respect of the overall FBT changes.”
Mr Buckley said the LSB was also reassured that the BSB has “robust plans” for monitoring and evaluation.