Some institutions teaching the legal practice course (LPC) have recorded 100% pass rates, while others are under 50%, according to official figures that also highlight a continuing performance gap based on student ethnicity.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) annual report  on training authorisation and monitoring, for the year to August 2017, showed that students from white backgrounds were almost twice as likely to pass as those from black backgrounds – 80% compared to 45%.
In all, two-thirds (66%) of the 7,351 students enrolled on the LPC passed, slightly highly than the previous year. Only 4% failed, while the rest were withdrawn, suspended, or were referred or deferred from their assessments
Providers were anonymised, but while two institutions achieved pass rates of 100%, four were under 50%, with the lowest just 37%.
“It is unclear what the reasons are for such a wide disparity in performance,” the SRA said.
“There are very large differences in the size of the different providers, from a group of 20 students to many thousands of students spread over different locations.
“There may also be variation in academic ability between different intakes, variable quality of teaching, and/or different approaches to assessment. This makes it difficult to be confident about consistent outcomes.”
The SRA said there was also a “significant variation between providers” in the proportion of students obtaining commendations and distinctions, but this was not set out in the statistics.
Around 10% of students on the LPC said they were from an African, Caribbean or black British background. Of the 45% who passed the course, 12.7% were awarded a distinction.
Not only did 80% of white students pass the course, but over 65% (or 2,436) students were awarded a distinction. The pass rate for Asian students was 55%, with almost a quarter (23.7%) receiving distinctions.
The figures indicated both higher fail rates amongst those from an ethnic background and also “significantly higher rates of both referral and deferral”.
The proportion of female students on the LPC was 1% up from the previous year at 64%, with a 66% pass rate for women compared to 65% for men.
The SRA said external examiners were “largely positive” about the LPC, which was praised among other things for its “up to date and professional curricula”, “fair and effective assessments” and “academic standards and programme quality”.
However, some examiners had concerns, with one pointing out “questions where candidates’ answers matched very closely the answer in the marking scheme”.
The SRA said: “The external examiner was concerned that the question may have been very similar to an exercise for which candidates may have been provided with a written answer as part of their course materials.”
Another examiner was concerned that “strong marks on a module were not necessarily reflective of the understanding of students”.
External examiners were also concerned “whether student achievement was comparable with similar courses or subjects offered by other providers”, whether assessments were comparable and “whether the standard needed to pass assessments was too low to be confident that students were properly equipped to enter the legal workplace”.
Figures for the conversion courses taken by graduates with non-law degrees, the common professional examination or the graduate diploma in law, showed similar, though less extreme, performance gaps to the LPC.
The gap between providers ranged from a pass rate of 38% to 92%. White students has a pass rate of 74%, students from black backgrounds 47%, while more than half of Asian students (52%) passed the course.