Black and minority ethnic (BME) students are far less likely to achieve pupillage than their white counterparts and generally get lower grades in the bar’s training course, research by the barrister’s regulator has revealed.

Figures published today show that among graduates with a 2.1 degree the success rate for white candidates going on to achieve pupillage (39.3%) is more than double that of BME candidates (18%). Among pupils with a first-class degree, 59.4% of white students obtained pupillage compared with 41.6% of BME candidates.

Further, white candidates who achieved the same degree as BME candidates scored 3%-5% higher on the BPTC.

‘These findings raise concerns for the BSB as a regulator that certain groups of students may be less likely to do as well on the BPTC – and less likely to obtain pupillage than others with equivalent academic ability and attainment,’ the report said.

The report, which is supposed to help the BSB with its training reforms, also found that students who attended a state school, or whose parents do not have a degree, were less likely to secure pupillage even when they achieved the same degree classification or BPTC grade.

The analysis was calculated by compiling data from BPTC students between 2013-2016 (around 4,400 students).

The research is split into two parts. The second part explored perceptions of potential barriers to participation and success in the BPTC.

Barriers identified include:

  • A perception that the bar is an ‘elite’, privileged group, more accessible to white men from an ‘elite’ educational background. Access was likely to be more difficult due to gender, ethnicity or disability status;
  • The financial costs of undertaking the training and access to funding;
  • A need for higher education institutions and other bodies to provide better information and support;
  • Female participants felt they were at a disadvantage irrespective of their ethnic or income backgrounds.

The second research paper was based on 25 interviews with BPTC students and 25 interviews with pupillage applicants, both successful and unsuccessful.

Vanessa Davies, director general of the BSB, said: ‘It is important to see these reports as a starting point for further work and not an endpoint, because they illuminate certain problems but do not fully explain the causes. So it is important, for example, not to jump to any conclusions about the reasons why there is a difference in attainment between BME and white students on the BPTC and in obtaining pupillage.

‘We know that the bar is trying very hard to encourage equal opportunity and accessibility for anyone with the talent and desire to become a barrister. Today’s research suggests that the bar and providers are having some success in this regard in relation to gender and disability but that more research is needed to understand why the differences in attainment in relation to ethnicity and socio-economic background seem to persist.’

The BSB said it hopes the reports will be studied by respondants to its consultation on Future Bar Training.