Legal educators claim the new super-exam for aspiring solicitors risks perpetuating the social privilege it is intended to dispel. But reports on recent pilots of stage 1 are so flawed it is ‘impossible’ to judge whether the exam will be fit for purpose, they add.

Writing for today’s Gazette, the Association of Law Teachers calls on the Solicitors Regulation Authority to disclose more about the questions and further statistics so the pilots can be properly appraised. Timing the release of what the ALT claims are deeply flawed reports in the middle of the university long vacation ’might suggest a desire to avoid immediate scrutiny from the academic community’, the association adds.

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is a single assessment for qualifying solicitors being developed by the SRA and assessment provider Kaplan. Reports on a pilot of SQE1, which involved a multiple-choice test and skills assessments of legal research and writing, were published by an independent reviewer in June and Kaplan in July.

'What is most significant about these reports is that none of them actually disclose important parts of the evidence on which they are based, which are fundamental to any critique or complaint,’ says the ALT.  In particular, the high attrition rate of candidates - 43% of the original sample did not take part - ‘raises significant questions’ about how representative the 318 people who did take part really were.

In addition, says the ALT, in respect of specific areas of knowledge, ’no information [is] given as to how many questions addressed each of the required areas, and there is no comprehensible evidence as to how each question performed’. 

Kaplan’s report states that though BAME candidates performed less well, this could be accounted for by other variables such as whether they had undertaken the GDL or a law degree at a Russell Group university. 'Given that the original purpose of the SQE was to widen access and participation, this is a very depressing finding that suggests the reproduction of privilege,’ the association says. But the law teachers add that it is again ‘impossible’ to assess the validity of these statements in the absence of access to the underlying data. 

Following the pilot reviews it emerged that the SRA is pondering a pure multiple choice SQE 1 to help BAME candidates.