19 Jul 2022

We are today publishing the Differential outcomes on the Bar Professional Training Course - 2014-2020 report, which presents research conducted into differential outcomes for different demographic groups/characteristics (such as age, and ethnicity) of modules on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The BPTC was the vocational stage for those training to become a barrister in England and Wales from 2011/12-2019/20. The research conducted focussed on the centralised assessments (Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Professional Ethics) and the data set used includes the first sits of each exam between 2014-2020.

The BSB has a statutory duty to encourage an independent, strong, diverse, and effective legal profession. Together with previous research we have conducted on differential outcomes, this report enables us to monitor the results of the centralised assessments, and other modules in vocational training, and highlight any trends present in terms of different outcomes by demographic group.

The report analysed outcomes on the BPTC against a wide range of characteristics and found that the most significant variables were ethnicity and previous academic attainment. The most notable finding from this research was the gap relating to ethnicity, which was consistently apparent over this period. Differences in outcomes by ethnicity were similar across the centralised BPTC assessments, which were set by the BSB, and other modules, which were set by course providers, but academic history (degree class and institution) showed a stronger relationship with the results on the centralised assessments than on other modules.

The attainment gap for students from minority ethnic backgrounds is not unique to training for the Bar but remains a particular cause for concern. There are opportunities therefore to learn from other legal regulators and other sectors when looking at our response to this research, but it should be noted that no sector has yet found easy or straightforward answers to the problem of differential outcomes.

The BPTC has now been replaced following the reforms to Bar training that enabled a wider range of pathways and included some changes to assessments. Nevertheless, this research highlights some important issues that we will include when evaluating the introduction of the new Bar Course and in our wider work on equality and diversity. We have several strands of work that seek to achieve these objectives and for which this research has and will continue to provide valuable evidence. For example, these research findings have been used to inform the BSB’s three year strategy, and shape recommendations about our approach to Equality and Diversity at the Bar. They will also serve as a benchmark for future research into these issues. In addition, as part of our supervisory function, we will carry out a thematic review of the admissions arrangements of authorised training providers and how they ensure that standards are maintained once a student is admitted and what systems are in place to ensure that a student develops to their full potential, whatever their starting point.

The full report is accessible here. We have also published a research summary and a document entitled Differential Outcomes Research – Ongoing and proposed work addressing the issues found.

Notes to editors

About the Bar Standards Board

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