Option for online exams to become permanent, SRA decides

Remote test: Students must have choice

Emergency measures allowing legal practice course (LPC) students to take their exams at home during the pandemic are to become permanent where there is a “clear rationale” to do so, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has decided.

Further work will be done to explore remote supervision for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination. The first exams are scheduled for November this year.

Recently released papers from last month’s SRA board meeting said the regulator had authorised “almost all” LPC providers to allow students to take the LPC exams online at home, and the experience had been “positive” overall.

The SRA said it had put in place a “robust application and assessment process” for LPC course providers who wanted to adopt remote supervision and had “managed the process carefully”.

Although there had been “some one-off issues” with remote supervision, also known as remote proctoring, “overall, the experience has been positive”, and where “suspicious activity” had been identified, it had tended to be “innocuous”.

The SRA went on: “As part of our approval process for remote assessments, we require that providers remind LPC students that any findings against them of deliberate academic offences could lead to them not being admitted as a solicitor under our character and suitability requirements. Providers report that students take this very seriously.”

The SRA did not recommend specific supervision software as this depended on “the size of their course, the students they attract and their institution”, but it had set clear requirements.

“The remote proctoring systems that we have approved use video and audio to record all student assessments, set locked-down web browsers on machines and are able to flag unusual behaviour.”

The SRA said it had monitored the security of assessments and reasonable adjustment requests, complaints and feedback from students about the software and how providers had helped those without adequate IT equipment or a suitable home learning environment.

“Many providers have arranged for those requiring reasonable adjustments that could not be met remotely, or those who could not take assessments remotely due to their personal circumstances, to take their assessments on campus.”

The SRA’s board at its meeting agreed to remote proctoring “as a matter of principle” for LPC exams.

Providers applying to use the technology on a permanent basis must show a “clear rationale” for employing it, including the benefit to students, and that their arrangements “maintain the security and integrity” of the LPC assessment.

They must how that their remote arrangements are fair, with “adequate arrangements” in place for students requiring reasonable adjustments and those who are digitally disadvantaged or unable to access remote teaching and assessment.

Students must also be given a choice between physical and remote assessment.

An independent review of the way the Bar Standards Board and electronic testing company Pearson VUE handled last year’s Bar professional training course exams published earlier this month found that the regulator had let down students who needed ‘reasonable adjustments’, while Pearson VUE was also strongly criticised.

The exams were mainly run remotely, although there was an option to take them at test centres.

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