BME students far less likely to secure pupillage than white students, even if they have the same grades

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By Thomas Connelly on

A level playing field? Not so, BSB report suggests

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New research has revealed that aspiring barristers from black and ethnic minority (BME) backgrounds are far less likely to secure pupillage when compared to their white peers — even when they have the same academic grades.

Statistics published by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) show that between 2011 and 2016, 59% of Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) grads who obtained an ‘Outstanding’ grade went on to secure pupillage, compared to 73.1% of white wannabe barristers with the same credentials. Meanwhile, 39.4% of white graduates who achieved a ‘Very Competent’ on the BPTC were handed pupillage, compared to just 21.9% of BME graduates.

Moreover, the eye-catching stats reveal the same divide at degree level.

While 59.4% of white BPTC grads with a first class degree under their belt bagged pupillage, just 41.6% of BME aspiring barristers went on to do the same. Eighteen percent of BME 2:1 degree-holders landed 12-month training positions, compared to 39.3% of white students with the same grades — that’s less than half.

Pupillage success rates — BPTC graduates 2011-2016

Table via the Bar Standards Board

The new research, ‘Exploring differential attainment at BPTC and Pupillage’, also examined the impact school type and gender has on pupillage prospects.

The figures show that 64.1% of BPTC grads who achieved a first class degree and attended a “fee-paying school” went on to secure pupillage, compared to 44.9% of “state school” students with the same academic achievements. The research, published this week, also suggests men are more likely to secure pupillage than women: 61.5% of male first class degree-holders received offers, compared to just 53% of women.

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“These findings raise concerns for the BSB as a regulator that certain groups of students may be less likely to… obtain pupillage than others with equivalent academic ability and attainment,” the report says. It continues:

“This suggests they might be facing additional barriers and difficulties at both the vocational and professional stages of training.”

However the regulator is quick to acknowledge that the figures do have their limitations. It goes on: “Grouping students by first degree class, for example, does not take account of factors such as the university at which they studied or the mode of study.”

Responding to the findings, Dr Vanessa Davies, the BSB’s director general, stressed it was important not to jump to any conclusions as to why there’s a difference in pupillage success rates. She says:

“We know that the bar is trying very hard to encourage equal opportunity and accessibility for anyone with the talent and desire to become a barrister… [But] more research is needed to understand why the differences in attainment in relation to ethnicity and socio-economic background seem to persist.”

The BSB’s findings come just weeks after it put forward a number of radical proposals that could, among other things, spell the end of pupillage as we know it. The consultation — which closes on 8 January — suggests that standardised 12-month pupillages could be scrapped, allowing chambers to develop their own more flexible training plans for rookie barristers.

Legal Cheek’s BPTC Most List 2017-18 shows that there are currently 14 providers charging as much as £18,520 for a place on the year-long course.

Read the report in full below:

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