Incoming Exeter Law School chief: Super-exam pilot ‘obscures as much as it reveals’

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SQE 1 performance reports lack technical detail, argues Professor Richard Moorhead — but regulator insists new exam will meet ‘high standards’

Professor Richard Moorhead

The incoming head of Exeter University Law School has criticised the pilot test of stage one of the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), claiming it “obscures as much as it reveals” and did not meet “basic reporting standards”.

Professor Richard Moorhead, who joins the Russell Group university next month, claims the lack of “technical but reasonably robust and open analysis” in the pilot reports “suggests potentially significant issues about validity, fairness, and reliability”.

The pilot, run by Kaplan, the legal education outfit tasked with delivering the SQE, saw over 300 candidates sit a preliminary version of SQE1 earlier this year. The exam featured three multiple-choice papers of 120 questions, followed by a practical skills test consisting of one legal research and two legal writing exercises.

Responding to Kaplan’s feedback, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) revealed last week it was considering ditching the practical skills element of SQE1 after it failed to reach the “high standard of accuracy required”.

Writing in a blog post, Moorhead said:

“I’d have hoped for some examples of questions (some that candidates found easy, some that they found hard) and a detailed, open, if rather narrow, analysis of a statistical notion of reliability… The example questions with pass/fail rates would also be enormously helpful in generating understanding and perhaps acceptance of the tests.”

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Addressing the apparent lack of information regarding those who sat the exam, Moorhead said: “We are told that those selected to sit the test are broadly representative but this is cold comfort.” The report, the academic continued, tells us “about representativeness rather than showing us the data to help us evaluate that claim”. This, he argued, is a “frankly bizarre way to go about dealing with data”.

Referencing the SRA’s goal of delivering a rigorous, “world class” assessment, Moorhead concluded:

“It is world class in the way that British volleyball is world class. If the SRA really took a decision based on these reports, I’d be genuinely shocked. There must be a more open, honest, technical report and they should publish it.”

Speaking last week, Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: “The SQE will help build trust that all qualifying solicitors are meeting consistent, high standards.”

The SQE, due to come into force in September 2021, will replace both the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). A pilot on SQE2 is due to run in December.

Update: 3:27pm

Julie Brannan, SRA director of education and training said: “We have discussed SQE design and development with stakeholders extensively since Kaplan was appointed and will continue to do so. We will also be publishing sample questions and an indicative pass mark on them, but it was never our intention to do that at this point.

“We are pleased to read that Richard accepts that MCQs can be more sophisticated than commonly accepted. As we said, we are pleased with how the SQE 1 pilot went. It provides confidence that the core part of SQE1 is appropriately rigorous, while helping us to improve it further.”

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It’s like that professor from Durham who was never a lawyer to begin with. Same thing is happening here.

The double standard here is you don’t need to be academically good with a law degree. Plenty of GDL crash course students exist why isn’t the Prof saying anything about that?

He should stay in his lane


Spinning Hugo

Another example of the decay of our legal system. It began with the move to the Guildhall from the House of Lords.



Is anyone else really obsessed with their toaster?

I can’t keep my eyes off mine.



I don’t have one and it makes me very sad



I have a grill.



I have staff. I do not know whether they use a toaster or not.



At least he seems to have the ear of government based upon the different committees he contributes towards. Hope he can persuade them to make changes for the better.



My god stop calling everything an outfit.


Other Kirkland NQ

I don’t understand the problem. You don’t need technical knowledge to apply baby oil.



“As we said, we are pleased with how the SQE 1 pilot went. It provides confidence that the core part of SQE1 is appropriately rigorous”

Erm no, actually most students who took the exams were LLB students and very few had already completed the LPC. The poor results do not reflect the exams being ‘ appropriately rigorous’.

You cannot implement tick box questions for future lawyers.

Kaplan have created an absolute pith of an exam, stick with the LPC.



Yes excellent let’s scrap surgeon exams too, and replace with 120 MCQ’S…



A second time? Do you think that will work? Why not. We will be submitting a tender on that very basis next year.



I like you.


Junior city lawyer

There is a good article about the slow-motion car crash that is the SQE, here:

The comments to that article are also worth reading. The SRA is effectively trying to do two things, neither of which are in the public interest:

1. Vastly increase the number of solicitors, by lowering the quality and training required (including the creation of virtually unregulated ‘independent solicitors’); and

2. Embarking on a social justice quest to increase BAME (particularly black) representation, at the expense of competence. This will not only set back race relations, but it will taint every black solicitor with the inference of incompetence and affirmative action. (See the recent report about lowering standards to allow a higher BAME pass rate for more information on this, and compare BAME/white performance stats for the BPTC & LPC to see how this is a competence not a ‘wacism’ issue…).

I don’t envy those who are entering the profession in the future: the SRA will have degraded the value of the qualification itself to the point of worthlessness. The only useful indicator of competence will be individuals’ pedigree: i.e. Oxbridge Magic Circle trainees/NQs/junior solicitors will be safe as their firms’ selection process, and their experience, will signal competence, while anyone who takes the SRA’s magical fantasy social justice SQE route to qualification will be inherently suspect, and will be rightly shunned by decent employers. BAME candidates will suffer doubly, as they whiff of affirmative action and social justice engineering will engender legitimate fears of sub-par candidates, and make discreet discrimination inevitable (and sensible).



In 4 minutes this comment got 20 upvotes



Diversity is utter bollocks. People are good enough or they are not.



Good article, liked the quotes. Thank you.



The GDL was basically a massive shag fest. Sad to see others won’t get to experience it anymore.



Wrong. The BVC was.



The Cittie of Yorke was like Tinder but quicker.



No RG uni Law School Dean will write in favour of the SQE because they don’t want to change anything they do.



Glad I’m going into academia. Legal practice seems like a mug’s game.


Jo Bloggs

No, it’s because the replacement choice is absolute shite.


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