The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published two new pieces of research that are intended to provide a qualitative and quantitative evidence base to inform its current decision-making about the future training of barristers.
The two reports, which are published with a covering statement from the BSB, offer important insights into current issues in the education and training system for qualification as a barrister.
These reports will help the BSB to address the issues highlighted and to design further data collection and research. The regulator hopes that these reports will be studied by those responding to its current consultation on Future Bar Training.
The first report is a quantitative analysis of high level, aggregate data in relation to the performance of students on the compulsory Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and the extent to which UK based BPTC graduates succeed in progressing to the final stage of training, known as pupillage. The research was conducted by the BSB’s in-house team and has been subjected to two separate independent peer review processes.
The findings in this research indicate that BME students achieve lower average BPTC module scores, and that BME students and candidates with lower socio-economic status are less successful in obtaining pupillage than white students with similar prior educational attainment. Gender and disability, however, do not have a significant predictive effect once other variables are controlled for.
The second report is a qualitative analysis commissioned from NatCen Social Research and was designed to explore perceptions of barriers to participation and success in the BPTC, in training provided by the Inns of Court and in pupillage. The study particularly focused on women, BME students and those from lower socio-economic groups. The research was based on 25 interviews with BPTC students and 25 interviews with pupillage applicants, both successful and unsuccessful.
The study found that four broad themes underpinned participants’ perceptions and experiences of the BPTC, the pupillage application process, and their interaction with the Inns of Court:
- Participants tended to see the Bar as the preserve of a “privileged elite”;
- They felt there was a lack of access to accurate information about training for the Bar;
- The financial costs of undertaking the training and access to funding were an important factor; and
- There was thought to be a need for Higher Education Institutions and other bodies such as the BSB to provide better information and support.
The BSB hopes that the analysis of further data and research will help providers of education and training to work with the BSB towards the elimination of any unfairness and to help to maintain a strong, independent and diverse profession, in the public interest.
Speaking about the two reports, BSB Director-General Dr Vanessa Davies said:
“As we say in our covering note, it is important to see these reports as a starting point for further work and not an endpoint, because they illuminate certain problems but do not fully explain the causes. So it is important, for example, not to jump to any conclusions about the reasons why there is a difference in attainment between BME and white students on the BPTC and in obtaining pupillage. We know that the Bar is trying very hard to encourage equal opportunity and accessibility for anyone with the talent and desire to become a barrister. Today’s research suggests that the Bar and providers are having some success in this regard in relation to gender and disability but that more research is needed to understand why the differences in attainment in relation to ethnicity and socio-economic background seem to persist.
“We intend to work closely with the Bar when conducting this further research and to make sure that the new system we bring in as a result of our FBT programme tackles these important issues. The research also demonstrates the need to address perceptions of the Bar as well as experiences. For example, although a perceived lack of diversity within the Inns of Court made some students feel that they would not “fit in”, others felt that the financial, educational and professional networking opportunities offered by the Inns were very valuable.”
The BSB’s latest consultation about the future of Bar training, which includes consideration about future rules and regulatory arrangements for pupillage, closes on 8 January 2018.