The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is formally to seek the introduction of an aptitude test for prospective Bar professional training course (BPTC) students from this autumn, setting the pass rate at a level that would eliminate the weakest 10% of students.
Approving the application that will be submitted for approval to the Legal Services Board, the BSB’s main board last week agreed to allow unlimited resits “for reasons of equal opportunity and access”, despite considerable support for students only having two or three attempts to get onto the BPTC.
Though for now the test will not include an English language component, the BSB said this should be kept under review.
The BSB has been working on a test since it was recommended in the Wood report in 2008 but received only 12 responses to its recent consultation on whether to press ahead having had results from pilot schemes. There was general support for strengthening entry requirements for the BPTC, although some suggested that more work and pilots on the test were required first.
Some 64% pass all modules of the BPTC at the first attempt. The application says that as well as showing that “students are admitted who are not capable of passing the course after the one year of academic study for which it is designed”, their presence “immensely diminishes the quality of the learning experience for the class as a whole”.
If approved by the Legal Services Board, the Bar course aptitude test – BCAT – will be in place from this September a
head of applications for the 2013 BPTC opening in November. The application fee for the test will be about £67. All students will be told their scores, but the information will not be passed to course providers.
The application recognises that introduction of the test may have an effect on overseas and ethnic minority candidates since this group may include students who are less fluent in English.
“However, we believe that this impact is justified since the introducing of the BCAT is a proportionate method of ensuring that those participating in the BPTC have the necessary level of critical reasoning (and written skills) to engage successfully with the course.”
Introducing the proposal at the BSB meeting, lay member Professor Andrew Sanders, head of the law school at Birmingham University and chair of the BSB’s education and training committee, emphasised that the results will not be like exam gradings – they show who is likely to fail the BPTC, not who is likely to do well.
He added that among the considerations behind allowing unlimited resits was the fact that some students’ English could improve over time, giving them a better chance of passing. Another member who had sat a trial BCAT argued that it was not the kind of test that a student could learn to pass through multiple sittings.
BSB chair Baroness Deech said that far from breaking new ground, the BSB was late to the idea of aptitude testing. “Medics have been doing this for years without any adverse impact on race and class,” she said. Overseas legal bodies also used it, she added.
Baroness Deech speculated that the Legal Services Board’s main objection could be that a decision should wait while the Legal Education and Training Review is being carried out. However, she said the time lag between the review reporting and action being taken as a result justified acting now.