The Bar Standards Board has defended its decision to move exams online, saying ‘there was simply not enough time’ to consult widely about the change. Students have claimed the computer-based assessments will discriminate against women, carers and disabled candidates.

In a letter to students, the regulator stressed the time pressure it was under when rearranging the bar school assessments. ‘Since lockdown began in late March and we had to cancel the planned sittings in early April, our priority has been to make sure that students can progress as planned to pupillage or other study/employment in the autumn. This meant being absolutely sure that the August sittings could proceed, even in the uncertain national and international situation caused by the health emergency,’ it said.

Oliver Hanmer, director of regulatory operations, added that students who require adjustments will be able to attend physical exam halls. ‘Indeed all students…will have an opportunity to book slots to take their exams in a testing centre subject to availability. Priority will be given to those who require reasonable adjustments or who have a specific need to take their exams in a testing centre, however, and others may not always be able to attend the test centre nearest to them,’ he said.

Students said they were grateful for the regulator’s response, but that their root concerns remained unaddressed. Margo Munro Kerr, a student at City Law School, said some candidates for whom online exams will be ‘exceptionally difficult’ might not be able to attend a test centre because they are shielding from Covid-19.

Earlier this month, students asked the BSB to make the exams open-book, allowing for regular breaks. Under current arrangements, invigilators will be able to terminate assessments upon hearing noise and the online proctoring system will not allow for breaks.

Students said the set-up will disadvantage those with caring responsibilities, poor internet connections or noisy shared houses, as well as those who require reasonable adjustments. International students in different time zones and women on their period could also be negatively impacted, they said.