Students with disabilities have been unable to enrol in bar school examinations after the telephone booking system collapsed earlier this week, the Gazette has learned.

Students on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) who require reasonable adjustments have accused the Bar Standards Board of discrimination after spending several hours on the phone trying to book assessment slots, only to be told to call back later. Candidates claim that exam provider Pearson VUE hung up on them; that emails have been ignored; and that they have been charged for telephone calls.

There are now concerns that assessment slots have been booked up by candidates who do not need reasonable adjustments and who were able to book online. 

The BSB apologised this morning for problems with the booking system, tweeting: ‘We agree it’s unacceptable so they’re changing to email bookings for those with agreed adjustments. Pls wait for an email from [Pearson Vue] later today for instructions.’

The regulator’s decision to move exams online had already been challenged by students, who said it was unfair on disabled candidates, those with caring responsibilities and those in noisy shared houses. The centralised assessments were originally due to take place in exam halls in April, but were postponed due to coronavirus.

While students have the option to attend physical test centres some are unable to because they are shielding from Covid-19.

A BPTC student, who wished to remain anonymous, said the BSB had implemented a ‘discriminatory policy’ by changing the exam system. ‘Because I have a disability I have to risk my life and go into campus or forfeit my reasonable adjustments.’

Another student said the system had been rushed through and was designed to fit around student starting pupillage in the autumn, to the detriment of other candidates. 

The BSB said: ‘A large number of students have successfully booked their exams with Pearson VUE online, but a number of students who required special adjustments were asked to book their exams with Pearson VUE via phone by 15 July.

‘We understand that some of these students have had difficulty booking their exams by phone and, as we believe this is unacceptable, Pearson VUE have agreed to take bookings via email instead. We have asked those students affected to wait to receive an email from Pearson VUE with further instructions, which is due soon.’