Our response to the BSB publishing an independent review of the August 2020 BPTC Exams
Posted 12th May 2021
The Association of Disabled Lawyers (‘ADL’ or ‘Association’ hereafter) welcomes the Bar Standards Board’s (‘BSB’) independent review (‘Review’) of the August 2020 Bar Professional Training Course examinations.
ADL especially supports the Review’s finding that: “The BSB’s general approach to the handling of reasonable adjustment needs fell short, notwithstanding the unprecedented circumstances of a global pandemic.” The BSB was not flexible enough for students with reasonable adjustment. The Review states: “Providers worked closely with these candidates to put forward suggestions to the BSB about how to accommodate the candidates’ reasonable adjustment requirements. However, these suggestions were rejected by the BSB. The basis on which the BSB was making decisions was unclear both to the Providers and the candidates. The candidates felt it was because the proposals were coming from them.”
Disabled people and people with health conditions are often best placed to make proposals about mitigating the disadvantages caused by the default system of examination. Their suggestions should be given the utmost regards. Proper explanations should be provided when a suggested reasonable adjustment cannot be implemented.
The Association is thankful to the Review for addressing the misconception that reasonable adjustments threaten the integrity of assessments and examinations. The report concludes: “[c]oncerns about ‘downgrading the examinations’ by giving disabled people reasonable adjustments is a false dichotomy. They merely want a level playing field and the opportunity to take their exams like everybody else.”
ADL agrees with the Review's finding that: “more stakeholders should have been invited to contribute to the EIA. This would have allowed many of the key questions to be asked earlier, due consideration given to the candidate experience, and contingencies could have been put in place in the event that anything went wrong. The BSB could have called upon expert advice from the profession, Providers, the Inns of Court, and students, to name a few.”
The Association would have welcomed the opportunity to assist the BSB with the examinations. We eager to help bodies ensure the equality of opportunity of disabled people and people with health conditions. We have assisted the BSB in the past, as well as the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and barristers’ chambers. Ensuring positive relationships with other organisations to achieve this aim is at the heart of our objectives.
The Review highlights the limitations of computer-based examinations, generally and when implementing reasonable adjustments. The Association urges all bodies to consider or reconsider whether services like those offered by Pearson Vue are appropriate for legal qualifications, outside of the unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. All candidates must have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their legal knowledge and skills. Such qualifications are appropriately challenging without additional technical difficulties and the lack of reasonable adjustments.
The impact on the diversity of the future legal professions must be considered. Technical issues are a greater concern for students with less accessibility to technology. Similarly, disabled students and students with health conditions are affected by lost or waived reasonable adjustments and, in some cases, lost the opportunity to sit examinations.
The Association is committed to providing assistance to all bodies that have concerns about diversity and equality in all legal professions and education, especially issues affecting disabled people and people with health conditions. Sharing our experiences and knowledge amongst ourselves and others will help ensure lessons are learned. Only together can we ensure a truly fair opportunity to all in legal education, training and practice.
Association of Disabled Lawyers
12th May 2021