Legal practice course pass rate fell as SQE was introduced

Law students: Ethnic achievement disparity remains 

The pass rate for legal practice course (LPC) students fell to below 50% in the first year of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), it has emerged.

New figures from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) show that fewer than half of the candidates (48%) who took the LPC in the academic year from September 2021 passed it, compared to 54% the previous year.

The SRA said this could be because of an increase in students who were ‘referred’ in the wake of the pandemic, meaning they failed an exam and had to resit, or ‘deferred’, meaning they postponed an exam due to exceptional circumstances.

The regulator said 39% of students were referred or deferred in 2021/22, compared to 37% the previous year, 28% in 2019/20 and only 13% in 2018/19.

The SRA said it had “continued to allow some flexibility in how courses were taught and assessed” in 2021/22 because of the pandemic, but “all providers had indicated a return to pre-pandemic delivery”.

Providers observed “some resistance, particularly from part-time first-year students”, to participate in face-to-face delivery following the lifting of Covid restrictions but students “generally viewed this change positively”.

The gap in LPC exam success between academic institutions was as wide as ever, with one course provider achieving a pass rate of only 21% and another 25%, while the two top institutions had a 100% success rate.

The SRA, which does not name the institutions, said there were “different factors” influencing pass rates, including student ability and engagement and teaching quality, but it was “unable to draw firm conclusions”.

There were also “large differences” in the size of course providers, with student numbers ranging from “fewer than ten” to “many thousands of students, spread over multiple locations”.

The largest LPC providers, BPP University and the University of Law, accounted for 87% of all students enrolled.

The proportion of male students on the LPC fell to less than a third in 2021/22, at 32%. There was “little difference” in pass rates between men and women, with 51% of male students passing and 49% of female students.

The longstanding ethnicity achievement gap continued. A fifth of LPC students (21%) were from Asian backgrounds and 11% from Black backgrounds.

The pass rates were 58% for White candidates, 50% for those from mixed ethnic groups, just under 40% for Asian candidates and 29% for Black candidates.

The SRA said the external research it has commissioned on these disparities would be published this year.

Meanwhile, the pass rate of students on the CPE (common professional examination) course increased to 55% in 2021/22, from 50% the previous year.

Unlike the LPC, the SRA said the referral/deferral rate fell slightly, from 40% to under 37%.

The course provider performance gap in delivering the LPC course was equally wide for the CPE course, with one provider achieving a pass rate of 19% and the top performer 92%.

The ethnicity achievement gap was even wider, with White students achieving a pass rate of over 64%, Asian students just under 44% and Black students under 33%.

Around 18% of LPC students identified themselves as having a disability and 19% of CPE students.

LPC students with a disability achieved a pass rate of 40%, compared to 54% for those without. The gap was much smaller for the CPE – 53% compared to 55%.

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