Legal education providers have warned that the possible introduction of a new, centralised assessment test for all would-be solicitors by the Solicitors Regulation Authority could be “a step back”.
The debate flared up yesterday at an event on implementing the Legal Education and Training Review, at which Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director of education and training, said that a “new, centralised assessment” was one option being considered by the regulator to ensure consistency while opening up different pathways to qualification.
She told the Westminster Legal Policy Forum event that all candidates wanting to qualify as solicitors would take the test, “regardless of how and where they’ve trained”.
Ms Brannan went on: “What pre-requisites we might require of candidates would need to be determined. We might require completion of a period of practical experience, or completion of a recognised pathway – or, at its most radical, the assessment might be open to all-comers.
“Decisions about pre-requisites alone are complex and would create very different training environments. A centralised assessment is certainly the direction of travel among other professional regulators. The different regulatory bodies for accountants have them.
“The General Pharmaceutical Council introduced a centralised assessment some years ago. The GMC has just announced plans for a centralised point-of-qualification assessment for doctors and the Bar Standards Board has introduced a centralised assessment for part of the BPTC.
“A centralised assessment would provide certainty about consistent standards. But we would need to take care that it really tested the competences required for practice – a return to the rote learning of the old Law Society Finals would be a backward step and would be undesirable.”
Andrew Chadwick, deputy dean and chief executive of BPP Law School, said the training of solicitors had “improved immensely” since the days of Law Society Finals, but “not everyone does the same exam”. He added: “It is particularly important that assessment means training, and I don’t want us to take a step back.”
Nigel Duncan, professor of legal education at City University’s law school, said “skills should be embedded in a structured way” rather than the profession relying on a particular form of assessment.
“People can find quick and dirty ways of coaching students to get through,” he warned. “How can we achieve the outcomes if we don’t look carefully at the methods by which people acquire their learning?”