We will seek to ensure online assessment arrangements are fair for all, writes BSB director of regulatory operations Oliver Hanmer
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is working to support barristers, pupils and bar students at a time when we know they are facing considerable financial pressure and anxiety.
When lockdown began in March we realised that we would not be able to hold the BSB run Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) exams in criminal and civil litigation and in professional ethics in April.
It quickly became apparent that we needed a computer-based solution for these exams to enable them to be delivered at all, whatever health and travel restrictions might be in place at the time they were taken. Indeed we were already facing demands for such a solution. We knew that this would mean a new set of challenges to take account of people’s personal circumstances, but the alternative was to postpone the exams indefinitely, which was in no one’s best interests.
August was the earliest computer-based exams could be developed and delivered. We knew that would enable students to complete their exams before starting an autumn pupillage but they might not have all their results by then. We did a survey of pupillage providers and most said they hoped to continue to offer the pupillages they were planning and that they would accept students who had not yet had their results. So we issued a waiver that will enable this to happen.
We completely understand why students want more information about how these exams will work and how we will seek to ensure they are fair for everyone. Some have suggested that we should move to open book exams. But it would not have been possible to change all the exams prepared on a closed book model in time for August and open book exams still have to be invigilated. Open book exams only allow access to a prescribed set of materials, for example.
We agree that we must take steps to ensure that no one is disadvantaged by having computer-based assessments, whether these are taken through the remote proctoring system or whether it is determined that a student’s needs may be best met by taking them at a test centre. But first we need to find out what individual students’ needs are. That’s why we have asked BPTC providers to contact all their students to discuss their individual needs with them and we are working very closely with them and Pearson VUE who are providing the computer-based exams.
We will seek to ensure that the arrangements we make for the exams are fair and we know that fairness means maximising their accessibility as well as preserving their integrity. Pearson VUE’s online proctoring system relies on a combination of AI and human monitoring and no one will have their exam terminated without their case having been considered by a human invigilator.
We will publish further guidance for students about the exams as soon as possible. Meanwhile we are listening to the concerns of students and we admire and share their commitment to seek fairness for all.
Oliver Hanmer is director of regulatory operations at the Bar Standards Board.
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