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Super-exam questions to be checked for ‘cultural bias’ so BAME candidates not disadvantaged

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Regulator plans to recruit diverse pool of question writers and assessors

All questions on the new super-exam will be reviewed for “cultural bias” so that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidates are not disadvantaged, the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) education and training chief has said.

In a webinar shared on YouTube yesterday, Julie Brannan explained the risks and benefits to equality, diversity and inclusion that the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) may bring, and planned mitigations to manage those risks, before it comes into force from autumn next year.

The regulator previously found as part of a pilot that in the first stage of the assessment, known as SQE1, white candidates generally performed better than BAME candidates. This was true both of the functioning legal knowledge test and skills assessment within SQE1.

The SRA, in realising the design of the SQE1 skills assessment was not sufficiently robust, has since reviewed the process and “will be putting in place protections, processes and safeguards” to ensure the assessment is fair to all candidates.

These measures include reviewing all exam questions for cultural bias “to make sure that there is no implicit cultural knowledge or understanding which is assumed in the questions”. Further, the regulator will recruit and train “a diverse pool” of question writers and assessors. “I think this is one of the most critical ways to make sure the assessment is fair to everybody,” says Brannan, adding that as the SQE rollout date nears, the SRA will be recruiting a wide range of question writers and assessors, who must be qualified solicitors, to reflect the diverse make-up of the profession.

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Brannan goes on to discuss “emerging findings” from the pilot for the second stage of the assessment, the results of which will be published this summer.

Kaplan, the organisation appointed to assess the SQE, found that “univariate” analysis (performance by individual candidate variables) shows a significant performance difference between white and BAME candidates compared with “multivariate” analysis (which seeks to identify the best true predictors of candidate scores). However, both analyses should be viewed with caution due to overlapping candidate variables and the small numbers in the different groups, Brannan stressed.

The design of the SQE2 model, which will examine practical skills, is yet to be revealed but the SRA is considering whether to apply a “uniform” or “optional” model. It is exploring whether candidates should be examined on the same skills in the same practice areas, or whether it should allow an element of choice so that they can choose from a list of five “contexts” that may perhaps be more relevant to their chosen area of specialism. “It’s a tricky issue,” contends Brannan, who goes on to evaluate the risks and benefits of each route.

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49 Comments

ruby

Really? Just really.

Sceptic

Is familiarity with a country’s culture not a useful thing to have if you intend to practice law in that country?

Hmmmm

You think everyone making mega money in Dubai knows what ‘fiqh’ is?

Anonymous

I do not give a fiqh.

Anon

Fiqh you

Last of the dying LPC-trainee race

The SQE is the new CiLex – created with the intention of widening diversity and qualification into the profession, but ultimately producing a qualification that is less valued that the tried and tested qualification route.

It’s going to be all about where you train as the exam is not up to scratch and the value will come from the training may any firm. Those who trained at high street firms, and managed to sneak into commercial law will be permanent blocked out by the nature of how this qualification will operate in practice.

What was actually wrong with the GDL/LPC that needed changing?

BazzaB

And this will of course make precisely no positive difference to anything to do with fairness. But diversity industrialists only care about self-aggrandisement. And if demeaning BAMEs with fatuous nonsense like this is what it takes, so be it.

Bob

Fmbd

Anon

What will the SRA do if BAME students continue to underperform after these changes?
Also, do Asian (particularly Singaporean and Indian) students underperform? Because if not it is hard to put the disparity down to cultural bias (insofar as that relates to popular culture and not, for example, community cultural norms around education and attainment).

Benjamin

Right mate stop right there because that is well racist

Anon

All good points, Thomas Sowell (who would himself be classed, probably against his will, as ‘BAME’) talks about these issues in his book ‘intellectuals and society’ and concludes that alleged discrimination is unsupported by the evidence and results from peoples unwillingness to consider internal culture a potential cause for attainment failure. In the UK it’s an even bigger issue because the attainment gaps between the B,A, M and E in BAME are themselves huge and reflect differences in culture.

Pasty Solicitor

Shhh!!!!! If you make the test fair we will HAVE to take these BAME people on!!!

No more office discussions about favourite Glyndebourne operas, how to care for Labrador puppies or whether baked beans should be oven-cooked in pastry.

They will talk about weird ‘forrin’ stuff. We can’t have that!!!!!

Asked and answered

Glyndebourne is not what it was, too much new money. Bayreuth for me. Labs are too Surrey and their owners are dull minded. Gun dogs are much more intelligent and they jolly well take your kills right back to you (PS It is looking good for the shooting season coming back on, hurrah!). Cooking is a question for the staff.

Ewwww

As if ‘old money’ would want their children to work 12 hours a day in a commercial law firm before collapsing in front of Netflix.

Anon

ahahahahahahaha, clown world stops for no one.

Anon

FFS.

The world has officially gone mad

This is incredibly insulting. Being BAME myself I find it outrageous that test standards are being lowered supposedly to accommodate for a lack of knowledge among the BAME community. I am very capable of taking a test to the standard of my non-BAME peers, thank you very much.

What is “cultural bias”? If the knowledge is essential knowledge needed to qualify as a solicitor, then how can it be removed from the test? This makes no sense, so either the test was poorly designed to begin with or this iniative is in fact lowering standards.

I agree that diversity is important but these kinds of pandering initiatives are not the way forward and this is actually harmful in the long-run. Why are we lowering the test standards instead of providing BAME people with the opportunity to ensure their knowledge is up to scratch by providing high quality and affordable preparation for the test to communities who may need more affordable access? I can guarantee you any divergence in test results is more to do with income/class disparity than skin colour.

The BAME community is not asking for a handout. The BAME community is not asking for lower standards of entry. They want equal opportunity of access. It isn’t that complicated.

Anonymous

Well said. The legal regulators are obsessed with ethnicity issues when the vast majority of the divergence in outcomes can be explained on socio-economic discrimination.

Dave

Some members of the BAME group are asking for a handout and they are the most vocal. Media love it. It sells.

BAME Person

What ‘handouts‘????

My immigrant parents’ business earned enough to fund private medical care, private school fees and tax in this country.

Are you going to argue that anyone who has used the NHS or attended a state school is getting a ‘handout’ from others????

Brown

What exactly is a ‘cultural bias’ question?

Anonymous

Big words and long sentences, if your English is not up to scratch?

Anon

Overseas students need to past the IELTS English exam before enrolling in an English higher education institute.

This is nothing to with BAMEs ‘not understanding’ English.

Anon

If I had a penny for any international student who passed an english language test at University and yet couldn’t speak or write English… That is how universities make money off their LLMss and even some of their PHDs after all.

Tommy

What utter baloney.

I am a BAME student and we would not be disadvantaged by scenarios/culture used in exam papers.

I am from a working class background where I had to study and work to cover bills. This affected the time I could commit to my studies. Then being from a shit east London area my local library facilities were not as helpful, as say .. if I lived in Richmond or Chelsea and used their libraries.

Most BAME students were applying for work experience, but reality is white students are preferred. Just look at the Bar majority white upper class.

Subconsciously or unconsciously this is reality.

Oh and there are also A selection of BAME students ( just like any other race students ) who are just plain thick.

Anonymous

No need for casual racism mate.

Anonymous

Absolutely right.

It’s hilarious how many barristers claim they aren’t racist and ‘only want the BEST’, whilst having 2.1 degrees, tweeting thousands of tweets a year that have nothing to do with law, have drinking problems, eat themselves to clinical obesity or harass women who dare not to be sexually interested in them.

But yeah, it’s the ‘best and brightest’ only recruiting the ‘best and brightest’.

Getting Wiggy With It

Didn’t get pupillage, hun?

Wigless and Slim

I cry everyday that I don’t get to hear about how much they enjoy women with ‘a bit of meat on them’ and how exciting it was to try a joint at debating camp.

We could have re-tweeted so many of each other’s tweets! 😭

qwe

Big F

asda

Not really sure what their twitter, waistlines or occasional over-consumption of the Travellers clubs claret has to do with their quality as a barrister.

Anonymous

Because as absolutely shocking and mind-blowing as it may be to hear, barristers really are no more intelligent, wise or better than almost everyone else.

asda

The proportion of non-white people entering the profession is already proportionate to the general population (same with gender). These figures are published so you can check out the details if you would like.

Anon

Most BAME barristers are on the £12K minimum-award pupillages, not at London civil sets.

I suppose it keeps some at the Bar happy knowing they won’t see them in Business Class?

Anon

First class. Like my degree. And it does not make me happy. It never crosses my mind.

Anon

That’s not necessarily true. The proportion of female law students seriously outnumber male law students (see the various reports online), and yet at most law firms, it is still a 50/50 ratio of both male and female, or even lower.

Additionally, over a third of Law students at Russell Group institutions are from ethnic-minority backgrounds, according to quite a few publications. The figures may be proportionate to the general population, but they are not proportionate to the people in higher education.

Dreamer

It is just completely disgusting how whites tend to dominate all the good jobs. BAME people need to be given a real chance to take all the top jobs for a change. This is good but it should be only the beginning of real change.

White boy

Wtaf?

Radical but right

I completely agree with this. Whites need to think about how they’d feel if they were so I unrepresented across all top key jobs. There need to be a whole suite of initiatives like this driving forward until we get at least 50/50 representation. Only then will it be seen as a truly fair profession.

Anonymous

The applicants should be reviewed by institution attended. Bet that would flatten the alleged bias to the point of non-existence.

Anonymous

Are all BAME students performing worse than white students? I tend to find these types of headlines as misleading as when you drill down into the stats, students of Indian and Chinese origin tend to perform better than their White peers, whilst Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students statistically perform worse. However, the media like to use the term BAME as it helps with their narrative and avoids them needing to tackle uncomfortable issues.

It’s unfair on ethnic minorities who have been successful. It’s also unfair on ethnic minorities who are struggling as it avoids an analysis of why this is and what can be done to help.

When you know better you do better

The model minority myth is used to further discrimination….look at that bad member of any particular BAME group not like that good one from that other BAME background!

The test does not need to be changed and instead they need to check the assessment criteria used for being able to participate in the SQE pilot.

For example, how many of the BAME candidates are from a working class backgrounds or are international / immigrants but middle class or even upper class in their country of origin? How many are the first in their generation to attend university and do they have any legal work experience? Do they have a network of professionals and did they attend a private school / grammar school or a poor performing state school i.e. a candidate has performed well from a failing school has a better chance overall than one who did not (given the significant barriers they had to overcome which also builds resilience).

They need to examine the statistics and weed out poor performing participants unless you want to turn the pilot into a study e.g. these factors are likely to lead students from similar backgrounds to perform badly independent of the colour of their skin.

No need for cultural questions. Regardless of the ethnicity used in the case scenarios, what you want to assess is the value of the legal advice being given by all the candidates. Do not make the questions easier regardless of background as the client / public will suffer, which is contrary the SRA principles for client care and quality of service. There are plenty of capable BAME candidades. No need to take on the first ones who apply.

Anon

Just an interesting observation made by some of my friends from my trainee intake, but if you look at the trainee intakes of many MC and SC firms, it appears that BAME students have to work harder to get into the same position as their Caucasian peers.

There are caucasian individuals with a 2.1 Philosophy degree from universities such as Exeter/York/Leeds, but you would never see an ethnic-minority/Chinese individual being able to get a TC with these grades. Most of the ethnic-minorities who you see having TCs have either a first-class honours Law degree, or were the president of their respective University Law societies. Sometimes, they have both.

I am a white, but it is hard not to believe cultural bias doesn’t exist when you see BAMEs frantically refining their CVs and grades more than the rest of us simply to get a seat at the table. Even with a more polished CV and better grades, they still get rejected compared to your average bloke from Exeter or Leeds, with a basic 2.1.

Yes, we work harder

It’s even worse at the Bar.

I know BAME people with Oxbridge 2.1s and 15 FRU cases that weren’t offered interviews at the same chambers interviewing White candidates with 2.1s from Russell Group unis and no advocacy experience.

There are civil chambers in London that have only one or two BAME barristers. Barristers from those sets will defend this and tell you BAME people ‘don’t make the grade’, whilst having 2.1 degrees themselves.

You do not find any management consultancies, investment banks or accountancy firms in London that have only 1 or 2 non White employees who aren’t the support staff.

Sad but true

My university (a Russell Group University) publishes the list of individuals who have achieved First-class honours in their Law degree, and gives it to us in a booklet when we graduate.

Funny, but a huge proportion of the individuals obtaining a First are Singaporean/Chinese/Indian. About 70%, when I did the maths.

The issue is not that exams are showing cultural bias, or are being prejudiced towards BAME students since BAME students still perform well academically, and even more so than their peers.

The main issue is cultural bias at the recruitment stage because you would assume that if BAME students are performing so well, why are most firms’ NQs only 15% BAME? Of course, it is the subconscious preference for people who speak and act like you, that trumps grades, qualifications or experience. Law firms wouldn’t want to admit this, but it’s true. It’s not entirely what you know and your technical knowledge of the law, but whether the interviewer likes you – this can be subconsciously increased if you are similar to them.

Anon

At an Inn dinner, I once asked a White/English junior barrister how long it took them to get pupillage.

She told me that at the end of her first final round pupillage interview, one of the QCs on the panel noticed that she mentioned ‘training my cavalier puppy’ under the hobbies section of her application form. He had a cavalier puppy too, and from there they went into a happy discussion about their mutual love of cavaliers. She was offered the pupillage.

Many Asian, African and Middle Eastern cultures do not believe in keeping dogs as pets within a home. Anyone at that interview with parents from such a culture would immediately be at a disadvantage, in a way that the White/English applicant wasn’t because the panel immediately picked up on shared interests from within the same cultural background.

It has very little to do with the university you went to, grades or ‘the ability to do the job’. They pick those who are exactly like them over and over again above BAME candidates with excellent experience and academics.

Shameful stuff.

Anon

Yes, this is my experience too. Time and time again whites get all the pupillage’s because the white interviewers can identify with them better. So much bias. It just needs to change.

lack of transparency everywhere

Had a friend who was treated somewhat differently on his VS, because he had a foreign accent. He had amazing grades, was from a top university, and was the vice-president of a society. He was really bright.

However, the firm rejected him post-vac scheme and gave the TC to some girl from Westminster University or Wobbledobble University (don’t really know the name) over him. Happens everywhere. Diversity isn’t really diversity if you hire someone who speaks like you and fits into your firm’s culture, as opposed to their competencies and what that person is truly capable of. The whole ‘culture fit’ is really a disguise to have a homogeneous workforce, because eventually, although you end up recruiting ethnic-minorities, they act so similarly to their caucasian peers. Thus, how diverse are the firms in the first place?

When you know better you do better

The model minority myth is used to further discrimination….look at that bad member of any particular BAME group not like that good one from that other BAME background!

The test does not need to be changed and instead they need to check the assessment criteria used for being able to participate in the SQE pilot.

For example, how many of the BAME candidates are from a working class backgrounds or are international / immigrants but middle class or even upper class in their country of origin? How many are the first in their generation to attend university and do they have any legal work experience? Do they have a network of professionals and did they attend a private school / grammar school or a poor performing state school i.e. a candidate has performed well from a failing school has a better chance overall than one who did not (given the significant barriers they had to overcome which also builds resilience).

They need to examine the statistics and weed out poor performing participants unless you want to turn the pilot into a study e.g. these factors are likely to lead students from similar backgrounds to perform badly independent of the colour of their skin.

No need for cultural questions. Regardless of the ethnicity used in the case scenarios, what you want to assess is the value of the legal advice being given by all the candidates. Do not make the questions easier regardless of background as the client / public will suffer, which is contrary the SRA principles for client care and quality of service. There are plenty of capable BAME candidades. No need to take on the first ones who apply.

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