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COVID-19: BSB pushes ahead with online exams — but offers students test centre option

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Regulator publishes fresh guidance

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has published further guidance on how students will go about sitting their Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) exams online amid the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The regulator reconfirmed this afternoon that aspiring barristers will sit their centralised assessments — civil litigation, criminal litigation and professional ethics — this August using an online proctoring solution or in a physical test centre, despite criticism from some students.

The BSB said discussions will be held with a “small number of students whose needs cannot be met by a computer-based solution” and that the new guidance does not apply to these students as their arrangements will be bespoke and tailored to individual needs.

Those who require reasonable adjustments will be given priority access to one of Pearson VUE’s UK test centres, where the BSB said attendees will be permitted to take bathroom breaks.

BSB director of regulatory operations, Oliver Hanmer, said:

“We fully understand why students have been concerned about the prospect of taking such important examinations under unfamiliar conditions. We hope this guide will explain the arrangements we have put in place for their exams and the steps we have taken to seek to make the arrangements accessible to everyone.”

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The BSB came under fire last month from one future pupil barrister who claimed the online exam proposals could prejudice female students. In an article for Legal Cheek, Sarah Ismail argued that it had failed to consider that women are more likely to be single parents… and cannot call on childminders or family members to babysit whilst social distancing guidelines apply”.

In a response piece, again for Legal Cheek, Hanmer stressed that the BSB is listening to the concerns of students and was seeking a solution which is fair for all.

You can read the guidance in full here.

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