BSB: Bar students’ results “broadly in line” with the average


Neale: Release of marks not straightforward

The early signs are that the performance of Bar professional training course students in last month’s controversial exams was “broadly in line” with the average, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) said yesterday.

The news came as the regulator explained in detail why it could not accede to students’ pleas to know whether they passed the exams before the resits that have been rearranged for next month.

It emerged earlier this month that around a third of exams were affected by problems, far more than originally thought.

Speaking at a virtual meeting of the BSB’s main board yesterday, director-general Mark Neale said: “We have some very preliminary indications that the range of performance was broadly in line with previous years, which I think is encouraging.”

He stressed that the BSB has maintained “extensive dialogue” with both the profession and students, the latter through Students Against the BSB Exams Regulations (SABER).

But with around 30% of students typically failing, he maintained that SABER’s continuing demand to waive the exams instead was “simply not an option”.

Papers before the board showed that the Bar Council had urged the BSB to release the results before students take their resits if possible – they had to register by 21 September and the exams will be held on October 5, 7 and 12.

But responding to a letter from Nick Vineall QC, chair of the Bar Council’s education and training committee, Mr Neale said it could not be done – the release of the marks “was not a straightforward process”.

He explained how it worked. After the papers are marked, each set of marks is analysed by a psychometrician, who assesses the performance of each question on each exam paper, as well as the exam as a whole and produces a report for the benefit of the three subject-specific exam boards (criminal and civil litigation, and ethics).

The boards then consider what interventions, if any, may be appropriate as part of the moderation process, to ensure that each exam is a fair and valid assessment. Each one formulates recommendations for a unified final exam board where binding decisions are made.

“This two-stage process ensures a consistent approach across all three subject areas and allows for a reassessment of any proposals coming up from the subject level exam boards,” Mr Neale said.

The final exam board meets for the litigation subjects next week, but not until 20 October for ethics, reflecting the longer time needed to mark short answer questions rather than multiple choice.

The litigation marks should then go to providers by 2 October and they will then schedule their own exam boards “to consider any mitigating circumstances or local factors that could impact upon individual candidates before results are released to students on the afternoon of 12 October”.

Mr Neale said “each stage is necessary and important to the reliability and rigour of the assessment and cannot be expedited any further than we have already”.

Students will be given the higher mark from either the August or October sitting, but the BSB will not extend that rule to students who, for whatever reason, cannot sit the exams next month and have to wait until December.

Mr Vineall asked the BSB to reconsider this on the grounds of equal treatment, but Mr Neale said December would only be for those who failed in August. Students who pass will already have had a confirmed mark from August and will not be able to try and improve on it.

Mr Neale told the BSB meeting that allowing a resit simply to improve on a mark would breach a “basic principle”.

He added that the BSB was working closely with providers to ensure next month’s exams were “inclusive and non-discriminatory”, and had told providers it did not expect them to pass on any associated costs, particularly to overseas students.

The regulator has received “positive responses” to this, Mr Neale said.




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