‘Troubling difference’ in SQE pass rates between white and black candidates

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By William Holmes on


63% versus 23%

New data on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) reveals a gulf between white and black candidates when it comes to passing the new exam that was designed to improve diversity in the profession.

The SQE pathway, which was introduced in September last year, consists of two exams — SQE1 and SQE2 — and two years qualifying work experience (QWE).

This opens up the route to becoming a qualified solicitor as candidates can qualify under the broader definition of QWE that is no longer limited to a two-year training contract at a law firm.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) published the statistics on the July round of SQE1 exams which revealed a huge discrepancy in pass rates between black candidates and other ethnic groups.

White, mixed and Asian ethnic groups saw pass rates of 63%, 58% and 54% respectively, whilst only 23% of black candidates passed the new exam. In terms of the number of candidates, the 756 white and 553 Asian candidates vastly outnumbered their black peers (115).

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This is now the second sitting of the SQE1 which reveals such a discrepancy. In January, the SRA revealed that 66% of the 460 white candidates passed the November sitting compared to just 39% of the 67 black candidates. Asian students also saw significantly lower pass rates in the November round (43%) than their white counterparts.

On the January SQE1 figures, the chair of the SRA board Anna Bradley commented:

“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.”

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