The ‘super exam’ proposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for would-be solicitors could improve diversity in the profession - but could also create a 'tiered system', an independent report commissioned by the regulator says.
Publishing the report on 'monitoring and maximising diversity', the SRA said that the study by the Bridge Group had concluded that the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE), could increase social mobility. The new system could could cut the costs of qualification, for example. ‘Increased competitive pressures are likely to be introduced by the SQE, with an expectation this will drive down costs, potentially lowering this financial barrier for trainees.’
However the report's authors also warn that a wider range of choice of entry routes also creates a risk. 'It will make the routes to qualification harder to navigate, especially for those students without access to good advice, and a tiered system may become quickly apparent, because some legal employers will give continued (or possibly increased) currency to traditional pathways, through which high performing candidates have been recruited for many years,' the report states.
It stresses the need to monitor the exam should it be introduced, 'to review and evaluate impact, and take informed decisions regarding the continued development of the SQE'.
The Bridge Group, based at King’s College London, describes itself as ‘a charitable policy association researching and promoting socio-economic diversity and equality'.
Nicholas Miller, director, said of the SQE: ‘These changes have the potential to support diversity through greater flexibility in training pathways, but also carry risks with routes to qualification becoming increasingly complex and challenging to navigate. It is imperative that the SRA, training providers and employers all embrace and enact their responsibilities to mitigate for these risks and support fair and equitable entrance to the profession.’
Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director for education and training, added: ‘We are committed to encouraging a strong, diverse profession that is representative of the communities it serves. Should the SQE be introduced, we would work with all partners to provide guidance and support on the changes to help entrants to the profession navigate the new system.’
Earlier this month the Bar Standards Board opted against introducing a centralised assessment as part of the revamped bar training route. Instead it opted for a 'managed pathways' approach permitting trainees to take different routes including combining academic and vocational work.