There is little evidence of bullying, discrimination and harassment on Bar training courses, students have reported as part of Bar Standards Board (BSB) research into equality and diversity (E&D) at the vocational stage of training.
The majority of students felt that their courses had “a diverse group of students from the UK and overseas”, the study by YouGov said.
“Nonetheless, it was felt that more could be done to better integrate the two student populations in classes, seminars and coursework.”
But they had “low awareness” and lack “detailed knowledge” of training providers’ E&D policies.
A separate study found that training providers have “individual approaches” to E&D and could do more “to address certain areas”, such as student involvement in developing policies.
The BSB said part of its responsibility for ensuring that access to training for the Bar was open to all on an equal basis included assessing the ways in which vocational training providers promoted equality and diversity on the Bar training courses, undertook recruitment and admission, and supported the retention, progression and attainment of students.
In the first qualitative study, researchers from YouGov interviewed 40 students on Bar training courses last year at eight different institutions.
Most “had low awareness and lacked detailed knowledge of their Bar training course providers’ equality and diversity policies”.
It continued: “The majority of students had not faced, nor knew anyone who had experienced any bullying, discrimination or harassment. Some thought that the lack of face-to-face and social interactions this academic year due to the pandemic may have helped to reduce such incidents.
“Nonetheless, if they would have, most would be unsure how to deal with an issue – they assume there is a zero-tolerance policy in place; however, they were not aware of their provider’s procedures (they would likely go to their personal tutor or the course lead).”
The researchers said students were unsure how and when the policies were developed and updated. “Some would like students to have the opportunity to input so that the policy and practices reflect real experiences and topical issues.
“However, lack of time due to the course being short and intense is a barrier to many becoming more involved.”
Researchers said the pandemic had a “substantial impact” on students’ experiences, leaving them with “limited face-to-face interaction, delays in exams and challenges in accessing online materials”.
This may have contributed to lower awareness of E&D policies. Generally, students said, they would welcome “more information on the equality and diversity policies, events, training and support provided by vocational training providers via a range of media throughout the year” as well as “greater clarity on the role and responsibilities of the BSB”.
Some students believed more could be done to attract and support those from low socio-economic backgrounds.
In the second study, the BSB examined the E&D sections of seven vocational training providers’ websites, as well as nine providers’ applications for authorisation to deliver the Bar training courses.
All presented evidence “supporting their commitment to reduce attainment gaps and increase participation and accessibility”, using “a wide variety of initiatives and approaches” to promote E&D on their courses.
The regulator found that some could do more to “address certain areas”, such as “explicitly committing to go beyond legal compliance, providing more detail of their approaches to monitoring and evaluating their approaches to E&D, and clarifying or improving the level to which students are involved” in the development of policies.
The BSB said the research showed that some training providers were “focusing more on monitoring the diversity of the cohort and attainment”, rather than the effectiveness of their E&D policies.
This suggested that “there may be more that some organisations can do to consider providing more information online to clarify their monitoring activities”.
More information could also be provided on how they monitor student satisfaction and progression after the course, on gender pay gaps among staff and on centralised recording and monitoring of discrimination and harassment complaints.
Bar Council research earlier this year found that nearly four in 10 pupils have either personally experienced or observed bullying, harassment and/or discrimination.