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The BPTC is a ‘rip-off’ says former head of Bar Standards Board

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Ridiculously low pupillage success rate highlighted by Baroness Deech

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The former head of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) — the body in charge of setting the education and training requirements for becoming a barrister — has slammed the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) as a “rip off”.

In an interview with Legal Hackette blogger Catherine Baksi, Baroness Deech said that the current course is “far too expensive”.

She went on:

It’s actually a rip-off and it’s outrageous to pay all that money without even knowing whether you’ll have a job at the end

The BPTC is not cheap: the course alone costs anywhere from £12,000-£18,000.

Most students will study in London. Research carried out by the National Union of Students (NUS) suggests that the average London student will spend £13,388 in living costs.

Leaving London lessens the blow but is pricey nonetheless. The average living costs outside London are £12,056. Depending on where they are based, an aspiring barrister can therefore expect to spend anything from £24,556-£31,388.

It is worth noting that, according to recent research by the BSB, students at regional BPTC providers have less chance of bagging a pupillage than those in the capital. While only 3% of bar students at Northumbria started pupillage during the three year timescale of the BSB’s survey, 27% of those at BPP in London — the BPTC provider with the highest chance of pupillage — did so.

Still, 27% remains pretty awful odds. Deech acknowledged the absurdity of the situation as she went on:

Maybe it’s cruel to encourage thousands of young people to come to the bar when you know there aren’t going to be jobs for them.

She proceeded to suggest that a whole cadre of individuals unable to get into the bar are being created, who “feel bad about the bar for the rest of their lives”.

The BSB reports that, overall, only a quarter of students studying the bar course will go on to receive a pupillage.

46 Comments

Not Amused

How good of her to finally notice now that she can’t do anything about it.

What a vile and entirely self serving human being.

(44)(9)

Anonymous

The BSB has no control over the cost of the course.

(0)(6)

Anonymous

Indirectly the BSB has a lot of control over the cost of the course. In its “Blue Book” it specifies, in places to minute detail, the staffing levels, mode of teaching and facilities that providers must put in place.

(8)(0)

chancerypupil

Since when has the BPTC ever been value for money? The BPTC is expensive (shock horror) but people are even more stupid for paying the money over in the first place.

Caveat emptor- people should take responsibility. If you get a scholarship then you don’t have to pay for it anyway. You can make all sorts of excuses for why you didn’t get one, or why you are special because X, but at the end of the day if you are forking out £18,000 of your own money, you take the risk that it wont work out for you. It isn’t as if people aren’t aware of how much it costs or the statistics involved.

(25)(3)

Scouser of Counsel

Kinda true.

My scholarship paid for the lot, with change left over, and an awful lot of people on the course had them, both Oxbridge and non.

Scholarships also make pupillage far more likely.

Perhaps a sensible bit of advice would be: if you don’t have a scholarship, don’t do the course.

(17)(2)

chancerypupil

Yep, agree with the above- if you have to pay for the course you shouldn’t be doing it (unless [add subjective special exception about how it doesn’t apply to you] of course)

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Scholarships funds (£4m per year) should not be wasted on lining the pockets of private equity and big salaries who failed barristers masquerading as lecturers.

(2)(3)

Anonymous

*won’t – you missed the apostrophe. There I was thinking chancery pupils had to be meticulous…

(1)(5)

chancerypupil

You do have to be meticulous, just not when writing bitchy comments on legal cheek.
Well done though, glad it gave you something to do for a couple of minutes.

(5)(2)

DanHLawReporter

The same discussion has been doing the rounds for ages! And it’ll carry on doing the rounds for ages to come.

(5)(0)

Not Amused

It will with our current crop of ‘leaders’.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that Ruth Deech is appointed to run the organisation that could have stopped it”

(9)(0)

Kuzka's Mother

And yet, it’s the LPC that’s being scrapped for some ridiculous blanket exam with the rest of the training procedure tossed out of the window.

(5)(0)

shadowy figure

I KNOW RIGHT?!

(0)(0)

Anon

Alex Aldrige,

You should be careful who you have posting articles on here. The award winning Cambridge Law student, pretty much said in a piece here on LC – If it wasn’t for education I would’ve blown people up.

Paraphrasing a lot here, but gets the point across nicely.

(13)(9)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breaches Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

U ok hun?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Bitter former employee strikes out SHOCKA!!!!

(6)(2)

Anon

Nope,

More of a observationist who doesn’t appreciate shoddy journalism

(2)(2)

Anonymous

LOL at Anon for thinking “Bitter former employee strikes out SHOCKA!!!!” was aimed at him.

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Howling at his guilty conscience!!! What a bell end.

Must be one of those “its all about me” types.

(4)(2)

Gus the Snedger

I bet you think this post is about you.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Lmao the cupcake who thought it was about him has furiously down-arrowed on the above.

Hurts don’t it bro! Feeeel that burn you brought upon yourself.

(1)(0)

Barwoman

“Maybe it’s cruel to encourage thousands of young people to come to the bar when you know there aren’t going to be jobs for them.”

This. A thousand times this. My concern about diversity initiatives is that they usually don’t involve saying, “If you are exceptionally bright, you should go for the Bar”. They say, “The Bar welcomes everyone! Shoot for the stars!”. Anyone who suggests otherwise is castigated for being anti-diversity (or, if from a background like mine, of pulling up the ladder behind him). My own view is that it is incredibly selfish and unkind to encourage people with no real prospect of success to invest huge amounts of money and time. Selfish, because it is endangering the happiness/time/finances of others in exchange for a fleeting opportunity to feel like a good person.

I think the major advantage of coming from a privileged background OR going to a decent uni is that it gives you information (a) about the Bar as a career and (b) about the realism of the Bar as a career. Diversity initiatives address the former only, in my experience. Accordingly I met many people at Cambridge who would have loved to go to the Bar, but with a 2.1 felt that the risk was not worth taking. I also met many people on the BPTC with 2.1s from eg Manchester Met, London Met, Anglia Ruskin who were 100% confident that there was no risk at all.

(25)(3)

Not Amused

There are good and honest voices involved in diversity initiatives. You sound as though you have a lot to offer. If you were to email Alex, I am sure he could put us in touch.

(1)(0)

Barwoman

Grateful but would prefer to retain anonymity so I can be completely frank! I was perhaps a little harsh and don’t mean to suggest that the great majority of those involved in diversity initiatives have anything but the very best of intentions. I just get a little frustrated at being cast as the bad guy for offering realism, when to my mind it is far kinder.

(1)(0)

Not Amused

That is a feeling I know very well. I have faced quite a lot of abuse simply for being honest.

But never from the young people themselves, and if you are tough enough to ignore a shouty judge then you can ignore opinionated nutters and compassion narcissists.

10 or 15 years ago Equality & Diversity and Social Mobility were the preserve of a certain type of person, with a certain type of world view. But gradually increasing numbers of people like yourself started saying “hang on, I grew up poor, I know what it is like, I know what kids actually need”.

I’m not saying we are winning the fight. There’s still a lazy conflation of Oxbridge with growing up rich for example. But the fight back is real and it is helping young people precisely because our advice is honest and not ideological.

So go out and find an organisation you like. Some are still ideologically odd. Some are businesses masquerading as charities. But still more are genuine and helpful organisations who would welcome your support and assistance.

(1)(0)

Sandman

It’s a very interesting point you make.

The BSB stats show a much higher BPTC failure rate for ethnic minority students. The reason for this is not clear, but if you are right that diversity initiatives encourage people regardless of merit then that may be a factor.

Is it really good for diversity to encourage people who probably won’t make the grade to apply, when they could spend their time and money doing something which they are better suited to?

(2)(0)

Barwoman

Hi Sandman,

I don’t mean to suggest that the blame for a glut of disadvantaged but unpromising applicants can be entirely laid at the door of diversity initiatives (and it is difficult to comment on the ethnic minority point you raise without the stats re socio-economic status as well as ethnicity, but anecdotally I think your suggestion may be right). I’m sure there are many disadvantaged applicants who decide to become barristers as a result of factors other than diversity initiatives. But the general problem that disadvantaged students have (and I don’t include in this people like me who went to good unis and therefore had good advice/careers information) is that they don’t know anyone who can give them realistic advice on their prospects of success. They are surrounded by people encouraging them, to include friends and family, who know nothing of the reality of the Bar. We live in a “follow your dreams” society. This is where diversity initiatives could come in but – generally – don’t. Further, these initiatives can compound the problem by themselves offering encouragement without realistic advice on prospects.

I don’t mean to suggest in any respect that diversity initiatives should be reduced, but sometimes I think that in its determination to achieve greater diversity, the Bar can lose sight of the potential collateral damage. To be fair it is a difficult path to tread in that it is hard to encourage bright students to go for it while also accurately presenting the risks.

(8)(0)

Not Amused

These questions are difficult but we must focus on some core truths here:

1) Children born poor can succeed at the Bar;
2) Children born poor often lack the confidence or practical advice in order to succeed;
3) The people encouraging huge swathes of inappropriate candidates are generally the BPTC providers who profit;
4) Just as it is bad to encourage all poor born kids to try for the Bar it would be equally bad to discourage all poor born kids.

What is needed is nuance and good honest advice. There is lots of this about. Not enough, but still it exists. If you are a practitioner then you can help out and put more ‘boots on the ground’.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

Do you mind linking to those stats? Would be interesting to see them.

(0)(0)

Sandman

Apologies as you might not check this thread again – link is here https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media/1713286/bptc_key_statistics_report_-_301115.pdf

the appendix is more helpful that the report for the actual figures. Some basic calculation is required to interpret these raw figures.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Barwoman, couldn’t agree more. When I was on the BPTC there were a number of people with a 2:1 from, say, Manchester who basically thought it was guaranteed because they went to a Russell Group University. Meanwhile, at Oxford, there were people wondering whether or not the BCL + a 1st on an LLB from the Russel Group “would quite cut it- I only have one oxbridge degree after all” and considering perhaps not going for it.

And at the commercial end, you do get some chambers who go “Well, you only have *one* Cambridge degree and a degree from LSE- whereas the other people have Oxford *and* Cambridge degrees, so, sorry you didn’t quite make the final 10”. Whether or not you would want to be at a set that asks questions like “yes- but do you have *enough* oxbridge degrees?” is a completely different one of course.

(2)(0)

chancerypupil

I would be surprised if there were any sets where the number of Oxbridge degrees was a strong factor- obviously it doesn’t hurt having both but I would have thought that by the time you are being interviewed or you have good degrees the question of academic ability is not at the forefront at chambers’ minds.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

WTF is Mr “I could so easily have been a suicide bomber” doing writing articles for Legal Cheek?

(10)(3)

Banter Train

This post has been removed because it breaches Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Scholarships are indeed a lifeboat, but they don’t address the root cause (the extortionate fees) and what’s more they mean the limited Inns funds are lining the pockets of US companies who reep the profits. Why not cut out the middle man and the Inns can deliver a cheaper course focusing on what is strictly necessary for pupillage.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

What happens if the Inns don’t charge less?

(1)(0)

Popeye

This is an earnest comment submitted with the intention of being quoted in the news round up tomorrow.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Interesting. LC, why are you censoring comments on this article?

(3)(1)

Old foggie

In 1994 a test for apptitude and entry test to the bar and ICSL are was run to cut down the vast numbers, 700, applying when there were only 450 pupilages. The idea to match one with the other. Nearly all who had scholarships failed. With threat of JR the idea was shelved. Over supply has always been the case. The inns tried and failed to do something based upon merit and ability.
The opening up of other, some perhaps dubious, institutions to run the course was against the background of claimed diversity etc. It’s been nothing but a money making rip off cloaked in a claptrap reason. ICSL wasn’t elitist. Half those on the course were able to get some form of benefit and came from comps and red brick Uni’s. Most of those who succeeded and continue to do very well from 1995 call were the grafters from ordinary backgrounds. Many now silks and judges.
Not everyone can be a doctor, they haven’t recently just quadrupled and more the number of medical schools or places just so all who fancy a go and can get the credit can do so, have they.

(3)(0)

Quo Vadis

It would, of course, be quick and simple to require the student to have a pupillage or a scholarship before they enroll on the course. However, every provider (except, perhaps, the designated ICSL-equivalent) would collapse and hundreds of jobs would be lost. The Bar Council would have a much reduced role, and would also suffer job losses. So the BPTC gravy train trundles on.

(Incidentally, we have the opposite situation in medicine – the NHS is crying out for junior doctors, but the government has reduced the training places available.)

(2)(0)

(Recent) Irish tenant

Quick and simple to require students to have pupillage or scholarships… but not necessarily fair. I had neither when I started. I didn’t get a scholarship, so I needed to take the BPTC part-time, which meant it wasn’t possible to have pupillage lined up before starting. I got an offer midway through the course instead, the year before I finished. Its entirely likely that I didn’t get a scholarship because I did a bad interview. Equally however, despite not having any money to pay for the course, I had far less student debt than most British students because undergraduate tuition is free in Ireland (sort of). In some ways, I needed a scholarship less than many others.

All of which is only to say: I agree with everything you mention about the providers, and with the underlying point that an objective and fair assessment should be used to gauge students’ talent before admitting them to the course. But it may be unfair to punish those like myself who worked and waged their way through the BPTC and into pupillage and beyond by other means.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Or we could just restrict the full time course to those with pupillages or scholarships and reform the far less important part time course in some other way.

But, you know, thanks for the first draft of your memoirs …

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Tell us international students how much of a rip off the BPTC is: after investing thousands of pounds in airfare, tuition and accommodation, being denied our certificates because of three scrappy ethics questions. And to think about it, we were not competing for pupillage in the UK. The BPTC is nothing but a money milking cow for the BSB and the providers.

(7)(2)

Realist

You’re not entitled to a qualification just because you paid to take the course. You need to pass the assessments. That’s life.

(3)(4)

Anonymous

An intent to put scrappy ambiguous ethics questions in an assessment is an intend to deliberately keep a number of persons out of the legal profession. After all, if on average per year, 1500 students enroll in the BPTC but the market can only absorb 500 barristers, then there is need to fail some. It’s all about profit margin and break even point for the so called elite legal profession.

(1)(1)

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