Students from white backgrounds are almost twice as likely as those from black backgrounds to pass the legal practice course (LPC), a report by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has revealed.
The report also reveals a massive performance gap between LPC institutions, with one provider achieving a pass rate of 100%, compared to 30% for the worst performer. The institutions were not named.
The figures, contained in a report published on the regulator’s website last month, cover the period September 2015 to August 2016.
They echo Bar Standards Board research last month that found graduates from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were half as likely to obtain pupillages  as their white peers.
The SRA figures showed that almost 80% of white students successfully completed their LPC in the period, compared with only 40% of black students and 53% of Asian students.
Students from black backgrounds were much more likely to be ‘referred’, which means failing one or more assessments and being given the chance to retake them, or withdraw from the course completely.
Students from ‘mixed/multiple’ ethnic groups achieved a pass rate of over 60%. Only one white student withdrew from the course, compared to 99 Asian and 96 black students.
The proportion of LPC students identifying themselves as from an Asian background was 22%, compared with 9% from a black background and 4% from mixed/multiple backgrounds.
Figures for the conversion courses taken by graduates with non-law degrees, whether referred to as the common professional examination or the graduate diploma in law, showed a similar pattern in terms of ethnicity and performance.
Some 74% of white students successfully completed the course, compared to only 33% of black students and 46% of Asian students.
The SRA said that “where white students are successful, they are much more likely to be awarded commendations or distinctions”.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of LPC students were female, and while their performance was broadly similar to their male colleagues, they achieved a slightly higher proportion of distinctions.
Around 11% of LPC students described themselves as disabled, and they achieved a pass rate of just over 50%, compared to two-thirds for non-disabled students.
Almost 7,000 students in all successfully completed the LPC course in the period – an overall pass rate of 65%.
The report said it was unclear why there was such a wide disparity in performance among the 26 LPC providers.
“There are very large differences in the size of the different providers. Groups range from 18 to many thousands of students, spread over different centres. Eight providers had fewer than 50 students.”
At the institution achieving a success rate of 100%, over 50% of students were awarded a distinction and a further 40% a commendation.
At the training provider with a pass rate of under 30%, around 40% of students were ‘referred’ after failing at least one assessment, while around 20% deferred their course.
The SRA said the largest providers, BPP University and the University of Law, accounted for 78% of the total number of students enrolled to take the LPC or conversion courses – a total of 8,332 students.
“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. These are some of the reasons why we are introducing the SQE.”
The regulator said the gender of those starting training contracts during 2015-16 reflected the LPC intake, with female trainees making up 62% of the total of 5,909 trainees.
However, the SRA said it had an “incomplete picture” of the ethnicity of trainees because 87% recorded their ethnicity as ‘unknown’. Less than 1% of trainees disclosed that they had a disability, compared to almost 11% of LPC students.
Pass rates for the second and final part of the Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme showed that over three quarters (75.7%) of white students were successful, compared to 59.5% of black and ethnic minority students.
The SRA added that a small but “steadily increasing” number of people were obtaining exemptions from the training contract through ‘equivalent means’, with 149 gaining admission as a solicitor in this way from July 2014 to June 2017.