Former bar student blasts law schools for ‘profiteering’ from academically weak applicants

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By Judge John Hack on

Providers are coining it from foreigners with woeful English language skills while regulators stand by, argues star student


Providers of the bar vocational training were left stinging today when a former student launched a coruscating broadside criticising course quality and admissions policies.

Writing on the Guardian website, Mark Ablett, slammed the providers of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for “profiteering” by waving through students with poor academic qualifications and inadequate English language skills.

Ablett completed the BPTC at the University of Law’s London Bloomsbury branch this year, gaining a “very competent” rating with an 84% pass mark, missing out on “outstanding” by one percentage point. He’s currently working as a paralegal at family law specialist solicitors’ firm Hughes Fowler Carruthers, which is based in London’s Chancery Lane.

In his article, Ablett lashed out at BPTC providers for cravenly overlooking obvious student deficiencies in a bid to boost their bottom lines.

“The minimal entry requirements undermine the value of the course and fail to bring the best out of potential barristers,” he wrote. “… it begins to look like profiteering when below par students are allowed onto the course.”

The former student pointed to the “short-lived” BPTC at Kaplan Law School as an example, in his view, of proper gate keeping of the course. Ablett highlighted Kaplan’s policy of imposing on applicants an interview, a written exercise and a requirement to perform some advocacy before being admitted to its BPTC.

“This ensured that they only took those who stood a chance of getting pupillage,” claimed Ablett. “It also meant students were surrounded by other intelligent and motivated students working towards the same goal. Kaplan went beyond … minimum standards, resulting in a pupillage success rate far higher than average.”

Ablett maintained that no other course provider ran such a strict admissions policy, although he credited the University of Law with announcing that it will adopt a similar approach for next year’s intake.

The former student also criticised the professional regulator for not taking a firmer line with providers. He claimed the Bar Standards Board’s recently imposed aptitude test — which is meant to weed out weaker applicants — is making little or no impact.

“From my experience,” wrote Ablett, “doing pair-based advocacy work with someone who isn’t completely fluent in English is frustrating. It’s also problematic working with people who aren’t academically strong enough.”