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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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