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BPTC student ‘forced to defer’ exams over fears she’d have to remove headscarf for male invigilator

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BSB says proctoring partner could not guarantee female assessor due to increased demand during pandemic

A student on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) has spoken out about how she felt “humiliated” and “discriminated” after being “forced to defer” her exams because the regulator required her to partially remove her headscarf for security purposes but could not guarantee a female invigilator.

Shaima Dallali, who is completing the vocational course with master’s at City, University of London, yesterday tweeted: “I was forced to defer my exams to December ’cause the BSB told me to remove my scarf for ID but ‘can’t’ provide me with a female proctor. The whole process is a shambles.”

Dallali’s tweet is just one of several shedding light on some of the problems encountered by students following the the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) decision to move exams online.

It was reported widely yesterday that a number of students had resorted to urinating in bottles and buckets over fears their online proctored exams, which began this week, would be terminated if they went to the toilet. Others faced technical issues, with Twitter aflood with reports of students being locked out of Pearson VUE’s remote proctoring system.

The BSB issued a statement today apologising for the difficulties encountered by students, and that it is working with Pearson VUE to investigate any issues as quickly as possible. The test provider’s stats show that 89% of exams have been delivered without any reported incident and 97% have been successfully completed.

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Ahead of the August exams students were in contact with their training providers to specify any special requirements they might need. Dallali requested she be assigned a female invigilator after she was told she’d be required to partially remove her headscarf to show her ears for ID but the BSB could not guarantee it would be a woman watching.

Dallali said her scarf has never been an issue before, telling Legal Cheek:

“I’ve never felt so humiliated and discriminated against in my life. I worked so hard to get to where I am today and my scarf was never an issue in all my years in education. I wanted to contribute in breaking barriers for Muslim women, only to realise that the BSB is the barrier to equality, diversity and inclusion at the bar.”

She added: “I hope the BSB reflects on the damage they have done to students and make some serious changes.”

The BPTC exams are set to continue online, and for those with reasonable adjustments, at physical test centres throughout the month. Students have the option to sit or resit their exams in December.

UPDATE: 14 August at 1:51pm

A BSB spokesperson issued the below statement in response to concerns regarding the wearing of religious apparel during the exams, telling Legal Cheek:

“The bar exam represents an essential professional achievement for students seeking to enter a profession that requires the utmost integrity, and therefore maintaining the integrity of the exam is also very important. Together with our test delivery partner, Pearson VUE, we are committed to delivering an inclusive testing experience for all candidates. Candidates have the right to wear religious apparel during an exam. As part of the check-in process for all exams, Pearson VUE requires candidates to quickly and partially adjust head coverings to allow for necessary routine security checks that help to keep the exam content safe. This applies to anyone taking an online proctored or test centre exam. Because of ongoing increased demand due to the pandemic, Pearson VUE is unable to guarantee a person of the same sex to conduct the security checks. We informed the Bar Professional Training Course providers about these requirements in advance and made clear that we expected that they would therefore make alternative arrangements for any students who were not comfortable with these requirements.”

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32 Comments

Bee bot

How can they not guarantee a female invigilator? Do they have zero female invigilators? This just sounds like laziness and “computer says no” culture.

(76)(18)

Anon

It’s weird that they’re making her show her ears anyway. It’s not like she’s wearing a burka – you can see her face just fine. They should be able to identify her that way.

(14)(4)

BPTC student

I imagine the reason is to check that people do not wear hidden earpieces or headphones through which they might be fed answers. As if every candidate has some secret microphone and magic contact lenses that can connect to the internet and show someone in a different room what they’re seeing…

It’s all just absurd.

Shaima spoke about this on Twitter for the first time weeks ago; I remember seeing it. The lack of response and agility from the regulator and Bar schools is depressing and discriminatory.

(36)(8)

Anon

As someone who witnessed a (former) classmate being expelled for trying to cheat with earbuds, and consequently caught trying to flush them, I can say it’s not an unreasonable request.

Not being able to provide a female invigilator is ridiculous though.

(37)(4)

Me

“…and for those with reasonable adjustments, at physical test centres throughout the month.” is perhaps a little disingenuous. The test centre booking fiasco in July (e.g. sending people to far away cities for 8 a.m on consecutive days) led to many students deciding it was easier to forego RAs.

(7)(2)

Proper London Counsel of Counsel

Stories like this are shocking. It is a complete failure of regulation. She has been let down by the profession and it is a shame in which we should all share.

I am worried that genuine grievances, however, are getting lost in the noise made by perfectly able candidates who are unhappy with the disruption and, self-indulgently, demanding waivers and compensation. The BSB have offered the choice to many of how they sit these exams. The whinging by the spoilt frankly steals the spotlight from cases like Shaima‘s.

Of course the bigger scandal is that the majority of those taking these exams will statistically fail in their attempts to go to the bar. The BSB and the Inns should act to curtail numbers urgently, and thus the number of candidates who are wasting their time and money in pursuit of something that will in all likelihood never happen for them. That, I am afraid to say, is the true failure of the profession to the young.

(52)(18)

anon

Your last (and longest) paragraph is completely irrelevant, doesn’t seem like you really care about what this article has reported

(8)(44)

I Care

Fair comment. Surprised to see so many dislikes in so little time, likely same person just spamming dislike button. Touched a nerve clearly

(6)(34)

Proper London Counsel of Counsel

RE anon: I upvoted your reply because I felt sorry for you.

In all seriousness, of course I care about this. But I mainly care that 70% of the students who do it are being sold a dead donkey for £10-15k. I don’t think that’s irrelevant. I think it’s highly relevant that the majority of this cohort are statisitically wasting their time and, they say, having a rough time in the process. Probably the ones replying in angry tones to the regulator’s twitter account.

Sorry it doesn’t fit the contrived narraive of ‘outrage’ that seems to be populating the twittersphere.

(20)(7)

BPTC student

I agree with you that those with minor quibbles about the disruption should not be stealing the limelight from those with genuine grievances. Shaima’s case is a scandal; she mentioned her position weeks ago on Twitter. I cannot fathom why no action was taken by Pearson and/or the BSB on her behalf.

However, your remark that “the BSB have offered the choice to many of how they sit these exams” indicates a belief that the set-up for this summer’s Bar students has been fair and equitable. It simply hasn’t been, and I think it’s important that members of the profession understand what has been going on – especially those who may be taking on pupils in one or two months’ time.

The BSB’s official statements say that students “opted” to take exams at home, as if everyone had the chance to go to a test centre where avoidance of tech failures and fair examination settings were guaranteed (which they aren’t, incidentally).

Access to test centres was intended primarily for those students who require and, indeed, are legally entitled to ‘reasonable adjustments’ – whether due to disability, illness, or some other reason. Due to the ban on leaving your seat for any reason for as long as it takes to get the exam done at home (which, as I explain below, is a period of time lasting much longer than the actual length of the exam), many candidates needing reasonable adjustments inevitably attempted to book themselves exam slots at Pearson centres around the country (or abroad). It was an incredibly prolonged and fraught process for many candidates, and some test centres had no availability whatsoever (including in Cardiff).

Some students had to waive the reasonable adjustments they were entitled to because the process of negotiation was such a distraction and/or exhausting.

Access to test centres was also offered to candidates who don’t need reasonable adjustments but who for whatever reason (insufficient space at home, no access to a good laptop and other required tech, childcare, a desire to use the loo at least once in 3-4 hours) wanted to sit the exams at an official centre. The booking debacle for disabled/reasonable adjustment students was so drawn-out that they had to push back the date for non-RA students to book a centre slot. For many, no slots were available.

The expectation was that the vast majority of students would take exams at home, regardless of access to a quiet space and good technology. Even for those students who have a good work set-up in which to take these exams, they are still required to go without toilet access for as long as it takes to get the exam done. For some, that has been hours and hours because you don’t sit in front of your computer just for the official exam length – you sit there during check-in, system failures, up to an hour’s wait (in some clear, documented cases) for the exam even to be launched. It’s completely detrimental to candidates’ performance.

The BSB’s reference to students ‘opting to take exams at home’ is misleading. Everyone was expected to take exams at home unless it really wasn’t possible for them to do so. I’m sure nobody needs reminding that the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been cancelled – it is still very risky to turn up to a test centre and sit in a packed room for hours whilst taking one of these exams.

Everyone taking exams online via remote ‘proctoring’ was guaranteed a smooth exam experience as long as they used a good laptop and had decent Internet. Obviously, that hasn’t happened. In my BPTC class of 16, a quarter had an exam shut down on them, despite their having successfully completed ‘system tests’ before the exam date. Those that saw even just one question on the paper before the system failed have been told that they must wait until December to retake. No support or guidance has been provided for those who have pupillage starting in one month’s time.

Every candidate is entitled to a fair shot at these exams, and many have not been given it.

(36)(4)

Anon

To suggest that all who aren’t offered pupilage aren’t capable of becoming good barristers in any event is naive at best

(9)(36)

Anonn

Thank you.

There are plenty of Oxbridge grads, people who couldn’t afford the BCL and people with phenomenal advocacy abilities who won’t secure pupillage in these times, but could have done so 20 years ago when there were more than double the number of pupillages available.

The audacity of barristers thinking that anyone who isn’t a barrister too must necessarily be ‘stupid’. Christ.

(12)(23)

Oxbridge grad

Looks like you missed the point

(17)(5)

Proper London Counsel of Counsel

Spectacularly so. The market was actually worse 20 years ago. Nobody suggested they weren’t capable of becoming good barristers – I’m sure many of the BPTC applicants would be competent. But it’s about whether you make it in an overcrowded market with the odds against you. As Oxbridge grad says, you missed the point. I don’t happen to think it’s very fair that so many people are being told they can do what they want if they just believe. That’s the naive thing.

RE non-barristers being stupid. Who said that? Not me. Trying to make lemonade from oranges won’t get you very far.

Pupillage Committee Head

“To suggest that all who aren’t offered pupilage aren’t capable of becoming good barristers in any event is naive at best.”

On the whole, those who will make the best barristers obtain pupillage. It is not enough these days to be ‘good.’ This is an oversaturated market and ‘good’ won’t cut the mustard I’m afraid. You’re not entitled to become a barrister, nor are you entitled to a pupillage. There are some people who slip through the net who perhaps haven’t, and there are some who might not get pupillage who would be great, but on the whole if you cannot obtain a pupillage within the 5 years you are given one might like to reassess whether one is really as good as one thinks.

(25)(5)

Supreme Court Judge

Be 100% honest though – as a senior barrister are your A Levels, work experience and where you attended uni anywhere near to the standards that you expect of the pupils you pick today?

(12)(3)

Reality Check

A first today is essentially only evidence of a decent 2.1 then, and A levels are so easy that anything less than an A today is a real red flag. So objectively, the answer to your question is “The standards were higher back then”, since a first and straight As meant more.

Referee

Ouch. Supreme Court Judge dealt a knock-out blow there

Just Anonymous

I agree with you that the complaints as to these exams have varied in merit and quality.

I also agree with you that this particular complaint is entirely justified.

(3)(0)

Alan

Amanda Pinto has written to the BSB about all this. Be interesting to see their response.

https://www.barcouncil.org.uk/resource/chair-of-the-bar-steps-in-over-bsb-exams-issues.html

(1)(1)

Real Person In Real World

The chairman and the Bar Council have far more important things to worry about right now that affect far more people. Typical of the narrow scope of tick box virtue signalling that has infected the mindset of the organisation so thoroughly these days.

(9)(6)

Anon

Pleasantly surprised by the LC comment section for once…

(20)(2)

Anon

A result of the censorship of comments by the silenced majority.

(6)(4)

Lawman

Absolutely disgusting. The BSB needs to subjected to legal action.

Even the courts make reasonable adjustments and have the Equal Treatment Handbook.

Interestingly, I have not read this about other regulated professions such as medicine. I wonder why ?

The SRA and BSB are out of touch with society. Diversity and cultural competency is not a nice to have tocky box but an operational priority. Diverse teams have shown to be the most productive teams.

(37)(23)

Just Sayin'

“Diverse teams have shown to be the most productive teams.” The data that suggests this does not transpose over to the self-employed bar, it being derived from large organisations. In fact, the reality is the opposite is true. Teams most closely aligned with the judges before whom they will appear will do better overall, and until the make up of judiciary changes materially there is strong arguments for clients and solicitors to prefer teams on the bases other than based on irrelevant data sets.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

From the BSB statement, it sounds as if the problem was with the course provider. Have they responded yet, or been asked to?

(0)(0)

What

What do you mean the course provider? The BSB *is* the course provider. It takes it upon itself to set the three core professional exams and retains control of exam content and dates. Hence this complete organisational nightmare.

(1)(3)

What What What

I mean the provider if the course- surely Pearson in this case and not the BSB?

(2)(0)

I also sat the ethics exam

Hmmm… A breach of CD8
But who regulates the regulator?

(14)(1)

Anonymous

“I’ve never felt so humiliated and discriminated against in my life”? Sounds like she has had a charmed life. She chose not to attend the exam in person, chose to sit it online, wrote on social media about the problem her decision caused her in her circumstances weeks ago all while, apparently, not taking steps to sit the exam in person which she could have done. People who moan about the costs of education cannot at the same time align with demands of those who could take steps to help themselves but instead what everyone to act as they want.

(7)(6)

Anonymous

In person Bar exams were cancelled, asshole.

Maybe learn to read?

(2)(3)

Anonymous

They were conducted in person for those that needed it.

(6)(1)

Comments are closed.

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