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Top UK law schools require higher A-Level grades from poorer students, research finds

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Also half as likely to attend high-ranking unis

Students from poorer backgrounds need higher A-Level grades than their peers to attend top UK law schools, a study of England’s most selective universities has found.

The research, conducted by social equality consultancy The Bridge Group in collaboration with York Law School and magic circle firm Clifford Chance, found that university applicants from lower socio-economic backgrounds are significantly more likely to have been predicted at least ‘AAB’ in their A-Levels than their advantaged peers.

“This means that law schools require applicants from less advantaged backgrounds to have higher grades than their more advantaged peers,” the 100-page report concluded. “This is contrary to the intended commitment to access.”

The report went on to state that the data is not sufficiently detailed to confirm the reasons for the difference.

The research looks at UCAS data for 20 of the most selective law schools in England, as well as the admissions criteria and processes employed by a wider group of the top 30 UK law schools.

It further found that poorer students are half as likely to attend England’s top 20 law schools than their peers. They make up less than a quarter of successful applicants.

Applicants from less advantaged backgrounds were also less likely to receive an offer with qualifications other than A-Levels, such as BTECs. Vocational qualifications alone were only accepted by two-thirds (65%) of top UK law schools.

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Commenting on today’s finding, Dr Penelope Griffin, director of higher education and impact at The Bridge Group, said:

“It is surprising that applicants from lower socio-economic neighbourhoods need higher A-Level grades. We recommend that law schools investigate the impact of their admissions requirements and processes.”

Laura Yeates, head of graduate talent at Clifford Chance, added: “This research highlights how much more both the university sector and employers still need to do to level the playing field.”

The report says that law schools should consider contextual admissions and develop a more “evidence-based” approach to setting grade requirements. It advises linking in with employers of law graduates to promote greater consistency between universities and firms. It also recommends the creation of a ‘Law Admissions Network’ for tutors and professional admissions staff to support entry by students from less advantaged backgrounds.

The legal profession continues to be dominated by individuals from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

In March the Solicitors Regulation Authority released the findings of its biannual collection of diversity data. Privately-educated lawyers continue to dominate corporate law firms: three times as many lawyers (21%) attended fee-paying schools than the national UK average (7%).

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30 Comments

Joe

This is exactly why every ethnic minority has been told they have to work more than twice as hard to get the same opportunities as their white counterparts

(47)(22)

Anonymous

You probably have not read the article, it is not about ethnic minority students but about students from poorer backgrounds and state educated students, most of whom are white students (together with many ethnic minority students, obviously).

(38)(10)

Anon

It’s not as simple as ethnic minorities being subject to direct discrimination just because of the colour of their skin. It’s a class issue first and foremost that, thanks to systemic racism, ends up disproportionately affecting ethnic minorities.

I’m a privately educated ethnic minority who went to a school and university where there were lots like me. I don’t see quite as many in the City right now but I do think there are more coming through than before. Even so, I’d question how representative we are of the UK population at large, having taken race and socio-economic background into account.

What top tier universities, and City law firms that recruit from those universities, lack is diversity of social class. It’s particularly hard because it’s not as visible as ethnicity (barring white ethnic minorities etc.). There are plenty of ethnic minorities that are multitudes more privileged than your average working class student, whatever race they may be; a black kid that went to Charterhouse has a significantly better chance than a white kid from an estate in rural Wales, for example.

(36)(17)

Harriet

You think you’re saying some revolutionary stuff in those paragraphs but it’s clearly implied that Joe guy was talking about ethnic minorities of poorer socio economic backgrounds.

What privileged ethnic minority is going to be told by their parents that they’re going to be at a disadvantage and have to work twice as hard? None, it’s common sense.

(8)(14)

No shhh Sherlock

Wow!! You’re telling me that those rich private educated Asian candidates from Hong Kong and Singapore and the wealthy conservative Hindu Indian students are more privileged than genuinely poor ethnic minorities? How’d you work that one out mate? Give this guy a Nobel peace prize lads

(9)(4)

L

Just like Joe Biden said, ‘poor kids are just as bright as white kids’. You’ve just done a Biden. Well done.

(2)(0)

Andrew J

You can be white middle class and mediocre and get by in the legal profession and fluke your way up. It’s impossible to do that if you’re not from that sort of background – you literally can not afford to be mediocre, you have to be the one of best candidates the recruiters have seen

(90)(63)

TheAcres

This.

(25)(18)

Emma

The fact that someone is that triggered to have spammed the dislike button on the two comments above haha what a joke

(15)(6)

Anon

Because it is simply not true

(3)(11)

illiterate peasant, PhD

A fundamentally incorrect assumption of both this article and the report which it is discussing: the Bridge Group’s report uses something called POLAR4 statistics as a proxy for socioeconomic status, which is inappropriate. POLAR4 literally measures educational engagement, resulting in the tautology that those who tend not to be engaged in higher education are less qualified for universities and jobs which have high educational standards. Is this controversial?

The wider problem is that the British school system is absolutely abysmal, A-Levels are poorly designed and prioritise rote repetition over actual thinking, and everything gets overhauled every five years or so when a new government wants to foist some novel big picture policy schema on local authorities to win political points. Government education policy has been trumpeted, by both parties, as a means to promote social equality and raise standards since the first major overhaul in 1945, and has been in a state of constant revolution since; and lo and behold, it’s been on a permanent downward trajectory for seventy years, with a knock on effect on almost every other part of society. The only reason private schools consistently do better than state schools in almost every metric is that they’ve managed to degrade slightly less precipitously in respect of their academic rigour and cultural standards.

(26)(2)

Roy

Generally accurate, but you fall into the classic trap of denigrating rote learning. If anything, there’s been a complete destruction of the importance of rote learning over the last 60 years.

Rote learning is not mutually exclusive from critical thinking. It’s about getting the building blocks of knowledge into your mind, from which you can actually start to form original ideas.

Shakespeare had grammar drilled into him day after day when he was being educated. I doubt he loved it it, but it gave him the linguistic ability to write King Lear.

(20)(1)

Diane

Because the law schools know the firms are doing the same.

(7)(0)

Cato

Contextualised grades based on socio-economic data are a no-brainer. What are these universities playing at?

(X) Working class kid gets BBB in spite of his poor state school.
(Y) Posh kid coasts to AAB because of his six-figure education.

(1) X’s ceiling is going to be far higher than Y’s.
(2) By going to an elite university X’s life-chances improve more than Y’s would have done had B got in.
(3) And X’s school/family/community benefits, with others being motivated to apply to similar universities.

Uni admissions departments are living in a pre-Moneyball world. Stop taking the dregs of the Home Counties. Take some calculated risks instead.

(26)(37)

Jarrod

I agree. This will help BAME candidates too, who have traditionally been repressed and kept down by the system. There are many talented BAME candidates that don’t get a look in when their ceiling of potential is so, so high.

(5)(18)

Faysal

There are other forums of discrimination, which are very much in play.

I have very good reasons to suspect the PSC exam outcomes, particularly for the Financial Services Exam are manipulated at an institutional for persons attempting to qualify through the equivalent means route.

(0)(9)

Good Game

“So wealthy people tend to have more intelligent children than the poor”

utter rubbish, they might be more polished but certainly not more intelligent as anyone who has spent time around private/public schools can tell you.

(0)(1)

Anon

City law firm partners tend to believe passionately in private education because it’s how they spunk much of their earnings. Admitting it’s waste of money kind of undermines their life choices.

(21)(31)

Anon

As a state school educated Oxbridge graduate going into law, I’ll never understand why people pay for schooling when grammar schools exist.

(6)(16)

Anonymous

It is the positive quality of life outcomes one gets from having a close circle of friends whose parents come from the upper socioeconomic strata. The data are very consistent on how influential that is. Grammars can’t quite deliver on that front, although those from the affluent areas of the country can do an OK job.

(14)(0)

Anon

You might not now, but when the Old Carthusian rugby lad with a Durham 2:1 gets the partnership nod ahead of you, you will. Clubbability>academic ability.

(16)(1)

Anonymous

Person 1: A slightly thick publicly educated kid who is polished, confident, well-spoken and well-connected. Scraped a 2:1 from one of the regional Oxbridge-reject universities.

Person 2: Went to a state school and got a 1st from Oxbridge, but always feels slightly out of place. Doesn’t share the same humour/mannerisms/interests as other co-workers do, and struggles to make meaningful connections within the firm.

Person 1 will go much further in life, and that’s why people are willing to send their kids to public school. If you could afford to give your kids such a big advantage in life, wouldn’t you?

(8)(2)

Pleb

I have to say this is really true unfortunately. I’ve noticed this amongst the trainees, those that get TCs and those that get taken on after training. There is some exaggeration on the intelligence of the private school kids, they are smart too. But the comfort they have with partners and senior associate, who are literally their sister’s uni mates, uncles and godmothers, helps them get so much further. It is quite sickening at times, and sad to watch a smart kid from a poor area struggle so much even if they are up to the job. Partners do not care in the slightest about social diversity, if they had their way they would only recruit kids of their friends from any Uni and Oxbridge grads.

(9)(0)

The voice of the people

Congratulations!

BUT the route to grammar school for disadvantaged students is certainly more arduous and unlikely than achieving AAB at A level.

Take it from someone literally doing a PhD on this exact topic.

P.s 80% of disadvantaged students don’t have access to quality private tuition, and we all know PT is used extensively to exam coach for the 11+. Naturally though, regular and higher quality tuition is more available to richer students meaning they are better prepared and more likely to win a place. Grammar schools have less unqualified and inexperienced teachers than their state school counterparts (and more subject specialists) so students do better at them.

(1)(0)

Izzi

Most grammars were abolished; many people pay to move to catchment areas of the best state schools. There is still the added benefit of the confidence and the ‘polish’ many private schools can give that recruiters see as indicative of being a ‘good fit’. Add smaller class sizes and nice but dim Tim does a lot better than he would in a top state school.

(0)(0)

Oxon

**stirs pot**

(2)(0)

Mr Gocool

Again and emphasis mine that, the is the nature of we humans, in my country this cases are serious then what we are all contributing to, in country they say the legal profession is the Nobel families as is a noble profession so not everyone can access or afford it.
And i call this the distinction between wisdom and knowledge, whiles wisdom demands that you give everyone the chance depending on their interest.but because of uesless knowledge without profound wisdom in looking at the good side of every bad situation or things. But in no time everything will chang;

(0)(1)

Bothered to read the story

People are getting this all wrong. All that is happening is law schools are expecting students to achieve predicted grades. The issue is that state schools over-predict exam outcomes for lower socioeconomic students and in particular non-BAME students from that grouping. It is a problem for teachers not law schools.

(9)(0)

Bandito

Back in 2001, I remember the UCL recruitment manager saying to a room full of prospective law students with conditional offers (including me): “for some of you, we have asked for AAB… for others we have asked AAA…don’t ask why that is”. I was one of the ones from a State comprehensive school that they asked for AAA. In the end I got AABB and did not make my offer. It was clear speaking to those in the room and their backgrounds why some needed to deliver AAB and some needed to deliver AAA. I hope that times have changed but I am not sure that they have.

(3)(0)

Philicia

They have been playing the game “mini mini minor more, pick a student as you go, out goes the poor, out goes the ….” for years! Playing on people’s careers. The game continues even during training. Setting a maximum number of students to pass and failing others to keep their “prestige 500” quota. Some students don’t have a chance from day one. And as for international students, well, most of them were there only to help the schools meet their profit margin. How else do you explain a student having been assessed very competent and competent in the training modules but yet assessed not competent in half of one BSB central module but being very competent in the other half. Discrimination abounds Not only towards the poor but also towards certain regions and age group of international students.

(0)(0)

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