Regulator identifies ‘attainment gap’ among ethnic groups
The results for the first ever Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) are in, with just over half of candidates (53%) passing the first stage of the assessment (SQE1).
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) today announced the pass rate after yesterday’s results day was marred by technical issues and delays, resulting in some students finding out their scores late into the night and some claiming to have received other candidates’ scores.
Some 1,090 students, including 27 solicitor apprentices, took the exam in November 2021 across more than 100 test centres in 26 countries.
SQE1 involves two Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK) exams: FLK1 and FLK2. In total, 53% of candidates passed both assessments, with 67% passing FLK1 and 54% passing FLK2.
Commenting on the results, Anna Bradley, chair of the SRA Board, said: “The introduction of the SQE should give everyone confidence that those entering the profession have all met the same high standard. So we are pleased that the first assessment has gone well with results that suggest it was a robust, fair and reliable exam.”
“It will of course take time for the full benefits of the SQE to be realised, but this is a good start,” she said.
Geoff Coombe, the independent reviewer of the SQE, concluded: “I must emphasise that overall, the way in which the individual questions and overall tests performed was very good from a technical assessment perspective and lessons learned from the SQE pilot have been applied very well.”
The SRA found there to be no difference between the results of men and women. However, there was a large discrepancy between white candidates, 65% of whom passed, and those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, where the pass rate was only 44%. The regulator last month drafted in Exeter University to examine the “attainment gap” between different ethnic groups.
Bradley said: “We anticipated that we would again see the troubling difference in performance for candidates from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups that has been a longstanding and widespread feature in examinations in the legal and other sectors. We know the reasons will be complex and, as well as ongoing review and analysis, we have appointed Exeter University to carry out in-depth research to better understand the factors driving the attainment gap for these groups in professional assessments, so that we can do everything we can to address the issues.”
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said in a statement: “We welcome the news the SRA has commissioned in-depth research so it can better understand the causes of differential attainment in legal qualifications.”
“The regulator needs to monitor closely whether the situation is worsening or improving with the move to SQE and if so why,” Boyce added.
The SRA further found there to be no significant difference in results based on socio-economic background. For example, there was no significant difference between the performance of candidates who declared they went to non-selective state schools (57%) and those who went to a private school without a bursary (54%). And between those who were from a working class background (54%) compared to those with a parent or guardian from a professional background (56%).
Factors such as achieving a top grade at university or prior work experience were indicators of a greater likelihood to pass.
Pass rates on the SQE’s predecessor, the Legal Practice Course (LPC), varied significantly between training providers. For the academic year to August 2020 the LPC pass rate ranged from 31% to 100%. The SRA said it is committed to publishing the breakdown of SQE performance by provider from late 2023 to benefit future candidates and help providers evaluate the effectiveness of their training.
The SQE officially went live on 1 September 2021, setting in motion the gradual phase out of the GDL and LPC. The first SQE2 sit will take place from 11 April, with bookings due to open on 31 January 2022. The next SQE1 exams take place in July 2022.
Planning to sit the SQE but unsure what your funding options are? Legal Cheek is partnering with BPP University Law School for a virtual student event on Thursday 27 January exploring the different funding options on offer. Secure your place.