‘Enormous opportunity missed’: Law school chief hits out at ethnicity attainment gap report 

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By Thomas Connelly on


City Law School’s James Catchpole questions exclusion of SQE students in long-awaited research

A senior figure at one of the country’s largest law schools has criticised a recent report on performance disparities among ethnic groups in law exams, arguing that its failure to consider the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) means an “enormous opportunity has been missed”.

Speaking to Legal Cheek, James Catchpole, The City Law School’s associate dean for postgraduate and professional degree programmes, said the long-awaited report had “great potential to be insightful and educate the profession on how students from ethnic minority backgrounds perform in assessments and ultimately progress into the profession.” Instead, “it appears that an enormous opportunity has been missed by it focusing on the LPC, a route that will be coming to an end, and failing to look at the appropriateness of the SQE as a method of entry or means of addressing the ‘awarding gap’”.

The research, commissioned by the regulator in December 2021 and undertaken by academics at the University of Exeter, found that differences in performance among candidates from certain ethnic groups were due to a combination of social, economic, and educational factors, rather than any single reason.

The study involved 1,200 law students, including 700 from university law degrees last year and 510 from the LPC, and conducted more than 50 in-depth interviews with students, newly qualified solicitors, law lecturers, and senior managers in law firms.

Researchers did not interview current or past SQE students because, according to the regulator, the pathway is still relatively new and lacks sufficient numbers or specific experiences to include in the report. It’s worth noting, however, that the SRA has a separate ongoing review programme of the SQE that will address issues related to equality, diversity, and inclusion, among other things.

“Whilst the SQE is only one of the components to entry, it is nonetheless the culmination of a student’s study,” Catchpole continued. “So will it help them or, as some have said, disadvantage them further? The report fails to give any insight into how any student can be supported to succeed in this new assessment.”

The report highlighted that minority ethnic students face increased discrimination and bias in educational settings, limited access to work experience opportunities, and a lack of ethnic diversity among academic staff and teaching examples. Researchers noted that this environment affects students’ sense of belonging and perception of fitting into the profession, leading to microaggressions and bias from academic staff, which ultimately impacts their learning experience.

As in previous years, the SRA’s latest education and training report showed that students from ethnic groups were less likely to successfully complete the LPC, a trend that has continued with the introduction of the SQE.

The SQE Hub: Your ultimate resource for all things SQE

In response to the findings, the SRA has committed to bringing together education providers, law firms, and the wider legal sector to work together to address the issues identified in the report. It said it will also develop an action plan informed directly by the findings.

Continuing, Catchpole noted that the report provides evidence supporting what many have long believed about the challenges faced by aspiring minority ethnic lawyers, describing this as a “positive development”. It also gives “the profession cause to look inwardly at its recruitment and entry requirements; let’s hope that employers do genuinely give those with potential the opportunity to demonstrate that they are valuable assets to the profession”.

A spokesperson for the SRA told Legal Cheek:

“There is a widely acknowledged and long-standing difference in outcomes by ethnicity within professional legal assessments. Through this research we wanted to better understand the complexity and breadth of the underlying causes of these differences, and bring together stakeholders from across the sector to consider how we might address these.”

They continued: “The trends we are seeing in SQE results mirror those which existed for years among LPC candidates, whose experiences this research analysed. As we take forward the findings and recommendations from this research, we will increasingly consider the insights we can gain from the rich data we are gathering on SQE candidates and their performance.”



I did read the report thinking when is it going to talk about the SQE…


If anyone has actually read this report can you explain whether it actually reaches a firm data backed conclusion because from reading the above it sounds like they’ve made conclusions on a lot of nothing with added academic waffling.


They probably didn’t report on it on purpose because they knew the stats would be even worse for the SQE.

Who knew making the exams twice as hard, twice as ambiguous and way more expensive would have a negative effect?!?

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