SRA drafts in Exeter Uni to probe exam ‘attainment gap’

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By Thomas Connelly on

Deep dive prompted by ‘persistent difference’ in outcomes between ethnic groups

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has called on academics from the University of Exeter in a bid to further its understanding around the so-called ‘attainment gap’ between Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students in legal professional assessments.

Exeter’s Schools of Law and Business will look at the factors driving the “persistent difference” in exam outcomes by ethnicity in the UK and other countries.

The research, led by Professor Greta Bosch, will involve measuring the attainment gap in a range of professional services qualifications; identifying the long-lasting and intersectional causes of the attainment gap in professional services qualification; exploring where we can learn lessons from other countries and sectors; and understanding where we can make changes to help close the gap.

The move follows the publication of the regulator’s annual eduction and training report, that showed almost 68% of white students successfully completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC), compared with 49% Asian and 36% of Black students. The report further found that white students were significantly more likely to receive distinctions.

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Commenting on the commissioning of the research, which will run until the end of 2023, the SRA’s chief executive Paul Philip said: “We know that there is a longstanding picture of different outcomes for candidates from different ethnicities in legal qualifications and more widely. The solicitor profession needs to reflect the diverse society that it serves so we want to know why and what the barriers are.”

He added:

“This research is the first part in that process. By finding out why certain groups don’t do so well in professional assessments, we can increase understanding and look at how best to work with others to address some of the factors, helping to close the attainment gap. It’s not a problem that is unique to the solicitor profession. The attainment gap is found in other types of qualifications too, so the research should produce insights that are useful well beyond the legal market.”

The regulator previously found as part of a pilot that in the first stage of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam, known as SQE1, white candidates generally performed better than BAME candidates. In response, the SRA said all questions will be reviewed for “cultural bias” so that BAME students are not disadvantaged.

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