Aptitude tests would be a positive step for BPTC and LPC students
Young people worried about the current oversupply of Legal Practice Course graduates will no doubt be looking with interest at how the bar’s regulator is seeking to address a similar issue in its own branch of the profession.
Earlier today, the Bar Standards Board announced a new timetable for its plans to introduce an aptitude test for the Bar Profession Training Course (BPTC), to give time for the results of its second pilot to be compared with actual BPTC results. A compulsory aptitude test will not be brought in until autumn 2012.
The Law Society’s training and education committee is also currently assessing the merits of an aptitude test for students on the LPC course.
You can’t argue with the thoroughness of the way the BSB is approaching this sensitive issue. It undertook a pilot of 300 student volunteers in 2009/10, and a second one involving more than 1,600 students is now under way. The results of the test will be compared to the results of the BPTC course itself, to give the best possible picture of how effective it is in identifying which candidates are most likely to succeed.
There are concerns in some quarters that an aptitude test could filter out people from less privileged backgrounds. But I think students should be reassured by the careful way the BSB is going to analyse the effect of the test.
There is also another important safeguard, in that anything the BSB decides on will still need to be approved by the legal profession’s overarching regulator, the Legal Services Board. And there is nothing the LSB is more hot on at the moment than improving access to the profession; see, for example, its plans to make firms publish diversity data.
The BSB should be congratulated on taking the bull by the horns, and seeking to address the unfairness of a system that allows so many young people to embark on an expensive course that, in many cases, they simply do not have the acumen to pass. Its chair Baroness Deech spelt it out recently when she said that too many people are the course are ‘wasting their money’ because they are simply ‘not up to it’.
But even for the more able students, allowing so many more young people to shell out thousands for a course than there are actually training contracts or pupillages available, is unjust.
One fairer approach would be to insist that all aspiring solicitors or barristers must have a training contract or pupillage in place before they embark on the course. Another would be a test that effectively assesses students’ brain power and skills, rather than a system that sees those students with the right family connections or the right schooling get an edge over everyone else.
- See also Rachel Rothwell's news blog.