The Bar Standards Board has refused to reinstate spring exams despite pressure from students, saying it is not possible to devise a ‘suitable, secure alternative’ to in-person assessments by April.
Responding to a letter from bar school students, BSB director general Mark Neale said centralised examinations will not go ahead until August. ‘The integrity of the assessments is paramount; we must be able to reassure stakeholders that learning outcomes have been assessed and standards have been maintained,’ he said.
Earlier this month, 200 students on the Bar Profession Training Course warned the regulator that postponing exams would have ‘significant long-term effects’. They argued delays would be ‘indeterminate’ and lead to students sitting exams alongside pupillage – ‘an unreasonable, excessive, and avoidable burden on pupils’.
Neale said the BSB is ‘very conscious of the difficulties students may face if examinations are postponed indefinitely’ but claimed it is ‘not possible to set up a suitable, secure alternative to a physical sit of the exams by April’. He added: ‘We hope that the exams scheduled from August onwards are able to go ahead as planned. However, we are aware that the situation is changing rapidly and we cannot know what circumstances will prevail in August. We are working on contingency plans in the event the August sit is not possible.’
Last week, the Solicitors Regulation Authority bowed to the demands of junior lawyers, allowing Legal Practice Course (LPC) exams to take place online rather than being delayed. Anna Bradley, SRA board chair, said the relaxed assessment requirements should enable the ‘vast majority’ of students to qualify on time and pursue their training contracts.
Neale said the BSB cannot be directly compared to the SRA as ‘the SRA does not set and mark the LPC exams as we do with the centralised examinations’.