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Bar exams: BSB stats reveal widely differing pass rates among providers

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New figures — focusing on centralised assessments only — show average pass rates ranging between 92% and 18%

New statistics published by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) reveal widely differing pass rates for the bar training exams.

The BSB chair’s report into the spring 2021 sit of the centralised exams — criminal litigation and civil litigation — shows the performance of 18 bar education and training centres across the UK.

The report focuses on exams for the new bar courses which replaced the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) in September 2020. They do not represent overall bar pass rates. Professional ethics, previously a centralised assessment, is now provided as part of a bar training provider’s course and is assessed locally.

The relatively new Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA) had the highest performing cohort with an average pass rate across both litigation assessments of 92.1%. Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), meanwhile, scored the lowest average pass rate across the two subjects of just 18.3%, according to the BSB data.

Table via BSB

The majority of students took the centralised assessments online. In total, 1,104 students sat criminal litigation and 989 took civil litigation in April 2021. The average pass rates were 46.2% and 55.5% respectively.

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Overall, ten bar training providers failed to achieve an average pass rate of 40% taking both litigation assessments together. These figures are “post-intervention”, meaning after any clerical checks have been performed and if necessary, marks scaled to account for any issues affecting candidates.

Whilst it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions about why there is such a broad range in pass rates, it’s worth noting that these can be influenced by differences in cohort size, student ability, teaching quality, or the entry requirements of different providers. MMU, for example, requires a minimum 2.2 for entry to its bar course, whilst others require a 2.1.

The report further reveals disparities in the two exams taken at the same training provider. For example, the pass rate for criminal litigation at ULaw Leeds was 44.7% compared with 86.4% for civil litigation. At BPP Manchester, the pass rate for criminal litigation was just below 30% and 50% for civil litigation.

When grouping the results by training providers across all centres, the ICCA achieved an average pass rate of 92.1%, ULaw (six centres) recorded a success rate of 62.4%, and BPP (five centres) one of 40.5%. The six other university providers recorded a grouped average of 35.6%.

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21 Comments

Concerned

These are troubling findings which demonstrate why it’s so important that there is some objective scrutiny of the BTC course providers.

There are too many people doing the course, leading to large numbers of people who might make fine barristers when judged in isolation being denied entry to the profession because there are simply too many good/better applicants that get in ahead of them. There seems to be little appetite from the regulator to limit this and the course providers are certainly not going to do it when bums on seats mean more money for them.

The above is not news. When you add to the mix that some of these courses have *average* pass rates of the standardised tests of less than 25%, you have to wonder about the standard of teaching and the lack of any sifting in terms of people doing the course. In practical terms, if you get less than a Very Competent on the course, you’re unlikely to get pupillage. I understand that anyone can have a bad day in an exam, but having less than one in five people from an entire cohort passing the exam surely raises questions as to what these people are paying for, and whether they’re well-advised to be paying for it in the first place.

In the know

“There seems to be little appetite from the regulator to limit this…”

A number of years ago the BSB conducted a review into the very problem you identify. One of the solutions they considered was raising the entry standard for the BPTC. However, they concluded that raising the entry standard had a disproportionate effect on ethnic minorities and therefore rejected the idea.

Also In The Know

While I agree with your point (I’m also ‘in the know’) it wasn’t just because of ethnic minorities that the standards for entry were not raised, there were multiple factors including variations in what amounts to a 2:2.

Onestone

I know how to resolve issues about different standards of 2:2s; make a 2:1 the minimum threshold.

hello

At least they published the names of the providers! *cough* SRA

The QC’s Only Fans Account

FFS – why can’t the Bar Council take control and limit the shysters who can offer the course?

Real Bazza

Yes. Why not one Northern provider and one at the Inns of Court?

Two providers would be able to offer places for all those likely to get pupillage.

2:1 minimum entry and aptitude test.

My class had plenty of hopefuls who liked the idea of being a barrister but just weren’t up to it eg terrified of speaking in public when put on the spot.

Bazz Lightyear

2:1 minimum entry would be great, but the social justice warriors were against that on diversity grounds.

fdfd

Perhaps they should only allow people to start the course once they have been offered pupillage.

The Voice of the People

I remember this debacle about 5 years ago when I sat the Bar Exams. I commented on a similar piece at the time on LC. At the time, the BSB did not publish the institution names – so we compiled the raw data to figure it out anyway (I was at BPP in London). I remember the period well, I was lucky to only have a single resit or so from the centrally set examinations – some of my peers had resits across all of them. At the time we blamed the onerous split of the papers that needed 60% scored across both SAQ and MCQ. Our provider blamed the BSB. Some of us blamed the provider and the fact they let anyone and everyone on the course – people that couldn’t string a competent sentence together in English or never prepared for tutorials.

Alas, from my original class cohort, only 1 went on to become a barrister. Some extremely competent peers dropped out of the resit cycle and took other jobs. One just refused to play the “game of chance” and went into academia. While I persevered and passed my resits and was called to the Bar, it came at the cost of my love of the law and any intention to make a career of it.

To this end, it saddens me to see these figures and the lack of change. I can only imagine how despondent some may feel now, as I once did. The provision of this course is clearly not fit for purpose at a great number of institutions – it is not “choice” or “freedom” they are offering individuals that choose to pursue the course with them, it’s a simple money grab.

It brings shame on the gateway to the profession and I for one am sick and tired of such a historic and once respected profession – or the “ideal” of it – being sold to the highest bidder come what may.

Change is urgently needed.

Pupil

We need a much more competitive entry system to the BVC/BPTC/etc:

– Either: only those with pupillage offers may sit the Bar exams (so they pass through a competitive process at pupillage application stage; Chambers simply need to adjust their selection processes accordingly);

– Or: entry onto the Bar course (and there should be one provider only) is rigorously assessed and/or there is competitive entry, but once admitted to the course the fees are very low.

France has the latter system for those wanting to take the Barreau – meritocratic, and doesn’t financially cripple the less well-of, capable students.

Anonymous

Caution is urged when interpreting these numbers as there are a number of other variables. Cardiff, for example, put the majority of its 20/21 cohort through the centralised papers in December 2020 and so the percentages reported are essentially percentage pass rates for those resitting the papers. The percentage pass rate first time around, in December, may well have been far higher.

fdfd

Same with BPP, although I believe about 40% of people still failed each centralised exam in December (probably with some people failing both) – so not great.

Anon

Not true – a 20/21 student would not have been resitting in December 2020 and if you mean 19/20 students, there are separate reports for the BPTC and BPC. Also, BPTC and BPC students sat different Civil papers in December 2020 (and, indeed, spring 2021).

Jav

Exactly what everyone predicted. We’ll end up with two tier system. Good students all head to ICCA – and get pupillage.

Every other hopeless candidate goes to one of the private equity owned bar course providers. No chance of pupillage.

Hopefully this eventually kills off these providers.

ICCA will become unofficially the only acceptable bar course provider.

Bulwell Bogs

NTU was a very good law school a few years ago. I wonder if ULaw setting up in Nottingham means they’re now left with all the dross

Anonymous

More than 10 years ago. They haven’t updated anything for 20 years.

Anon

ULaw only set up in Nottingham a couple of years ago, so that won’t be the reason yet. There shouldn’t be “dross” on a bar course – everyone passes the aptitude test.

ntu

NTU has some excellent tutors but they have quite a hands off approach when it comes to the centralised assessments. They teach the curriculum and direct you to the appropriate reading in Blackstone’s and White Book but they don’t “teach the test” by spoon feeding everything you need to know. They could probably improve on this but for whatever reason don’t seem inclined to do so.

I thought they were quite strong on the advocacy side of things. Some impressive tutors in that respect, including a few that were still practising.

I think part of the issue is that so many Bar students work part time or have other commitments while studying. NTU is a cheaper provider so it attracts people (like myself) who were working part time on top of studying. But the course does demand quite a bit of studying time. I wonder if you controlled the results in the article for hours spent working/caring for others whether you might see things even out a bit.

The realist

I don’t know why you are all so desperate to join the profession at all! Why spend your evenings preping and/or drafting, your mornings travelling, waiting around in often shabby underfunded courts, only to spend a fraction of your time actually doing any advocacy anyway? Let’s not forget the unpaid work that goes with the territory eg advice to your professional client which can require research but is rarely ever paid for.

Lockdown brought the relative benefit of CVP and Microsoft teams video tech as hearing platforms. This removed travel from the equation (a good thing ) but now there is a rush to return to the old way of working. They had their advantages for certain hearings though not suitable for every hearing type, but it is still a surprise that they’re being abandoned so readily now, particularly in the tribunal setting. Being at the bar has its moments but in reality, it actually sucks more than it rocks… and it sucks the life out of you. Slowly but surely, the nature and inherent pressure of the job reduces the time for other more social and family pursuits until one day you realise you literally wake/work/repeat and nothing much else. Sunday becomes a work day, on more occasions than I’d like, Saturday too. There is also the aged debt issue. I have very good clerks who do a fantastic job of chasing outstanding fee payment, but even then my aged debt figure for brief fees that are more than 12 months late is a significant 5 figure sum. If I had my time again, I might still chose to qualify but I would give serious consideration to starting a career in something else. Ironically, I was given similar advice when I undertook my professional training. Of course I ignored it. I wouldn’t say I regret my choice but I do think that I would have been wiser and more forward thinking if I’d abandoned playing in this sand pit along time ago and possibly moved on a long time ago. All this fluff about pass rates at the various institutions is all well and good but it doesn’t really help predict future outcomes for those who do venture into to profession as jobbing barristers.

Onestone

I don’t know, it might be the 10 weeks holiday, the WFH, the wear what you want rule and the £250k plus in your second year with decent money starting soon after that.

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