What is happening with the BPTC exams?

Information about the BPTC exams and assessments can be found here, including updates in connection with our statement about examination arrangements between August and December 2020.

We have made an offer to a pupil who started, or who is due to start, their pupillage before the BPTC and Bar Transfer Test (BTT) results are available. What should we do?

We are encouraging pupillage providers to allow people to progress as planned to pupillage pending the release of the BPTC and BTT results in the week commencing 18 January 2021 for those who took their exams in October and late February/early March for those who took their exams in December.

Given the exceptional circumstances and the fact that they will not know their BPTC or BTT result when their pupillage is due to start, for these individuals this year, we have waived the usual requirement that only those who have been confirmed as having successfully passed a BPTC or BTT may start the non-practising period of pupillage.

The waiver is granted on a one-off basis to the 2019/20 cohort of students who were expecting to take their final BPTC or BTT assessments in Spring 2020, but were unable to because of changes to timetabled exams and assessments due to Covid-19 and instead have sat their exams in August, October or December 2020.

The waiver allows these students to progress to the non-practising period of pupillage with the agreement of their AETO. The AETO is required to assess the risks of allowing individual pupils to commence pupillage under these circumstances, with reference to our published guidance.

These pupils will not be permitted to progress to the practising period of pupillage, nor be eligible to apply for a provisional practising certificate, until they have successfully completed their vocational training and required Qualifying Sessions, and been Called to the Bar.

If a pupil fails to complete the BPTC or BTT satisfactorily, it is for the AETO to determine whether they are willing to continue to fund the pupil through an extended non-practising period of pupillage. The AETO will need to consider, in line with our guidance, how long they are prepared to continue funding the pupil and extending the non-practising period, and address it in the written pupillage agreement (which is now a mandatory requirement).

What status does a pupil have if they haven’t been Called yet?

A person can use the term “pupil” but will not be permitted to use the title “Pupil Barrister” until they have been Called to the Bar.

Until they are Called, conduct remains a matter for the relevant Inn.

The pupil is covered by the pupil supervisor’s insurance.

We are concerned about our ability to offer appropriate training opportunities and to provide adequate supervision for our pupils. We are concerned about whether we can afford to go ahead with the pupillages we have planned. Can we defer the start of pupillages?

Whilst we recognise the challenging times that AETOs are facing, we would encourage AETOs to do all that they can to ensure that pupillages can continue during this period. AETOs should think hard about what other forms of training opportunities they can offer to help pupils to meet the competences in the Professional Statement. For example:

  • Communicating with pupils regularly. When considering appropriate software, you may wish to read the Bar Council’s latest guidance on video conferencing;
  • Setting more written exercises;
  • Organising advocacy exercises by video;
  • Making use of any e-learning resources that you have access to; and
  • Working collaboratively and sharing ideas with other AETOs.

The Bar Council has published guidance to assist pupil supervisors who are continuing pupil supervision during the COVID-19 crisis.

We will also permit flexibility if pupil supervisors become unwell and others in the AETO that have not yet attended pupil supervisor training can support pupils. Any change in pupil supervisor should be reported to: authorisations@barstandardsboard.org.uk

If the decision to defer is driven by financial challenges facing the AETO then they should look at what financial support they may be able to access. The Bar Council has some general guidance for barristers and chambers in their financial FAQs.

The Bar Council is accepting applications from authorised pupillage providers for the funding of criminal pupillages that have been affected by postponements, cancellations or not being recruited at all. This scheme is open to criminal sets who would otherwise need to postpone or cancel pupillages.

AETOs should also consider their responsibilities to pupils as set out in the Bar Qualification Manual and in particular, if an AETO decides to withdraw pupillage altogether, the expectation that they do all they can to help the pupil to find another AETO where the pupil can complete their training.

Before an AETO takes a decision to defer a pupillage the Head of Chambers or equivalent should first contact the BSB setting out the circumstances (particularly in relation to attempts to seek financial support from elsewhere and the consideration given to delivering training in other ways) so that we can discuss the options open to you. Emails should be sent to ROD_contingency_planning@barstandardsboard.org.uk.

We have a current pupil(s) and are concerned that we won’t have sufficient training or work opportunities for them during pupillage. Can we postpone or extend their pupillage?

We would encourage AETOs to make every effort to ensure that current pupillages continue as planned. AETOs have an obligation under the BSB Authorisation Framework mandatory criterion 37.2 to have a clear strategy for enabling pupils to achieve the best outcomes they are capable of in their training, as well as demonstrating the Professional Statement Competences to at least the Threshold Standard. In practice, this means that AETOs should be prepared to be flexible in the types of training opportunities for pupils where court appearances have become limited or have ceased to be an option. Where opportunities are limited, we would encourage you to enable pupils to either attend or dial in to those held through online platforms, even if attending with another member of the AETO. Should court attendances become impossible, we would encourage you to think about what other activities could be undertaken, including advocacy workshops or seminars in chambers (or online) as well as written research and advice drafting. The Bar Council has published guidance to assist pupil supervisors who are continuing pupil supervision during the COVID-19 crisis.

It is for the AETO and the pupil supervisor to decide if the training that pupils have received has enabled them to meet the competences in the Professional Statement to the threshold standard, or whether the pupillage needs to be extended to enable the pupil to do so. Where pupillage is extended, the pupil supervisor must set clear and measurable objectives as to what is expected of the pupil during the extended period. The AETO must notify the BSB of the new date that the pupil will be completing pupillage by completing the Notification of Material Change in Pupillage form.

If AETOs remain of the view that they are not able to meet the expectations of the Authorisation Framework and/or provide training to their pupils that enable them to satisfy the Professional Statement and therefore they feel that they must suspend pupillage, the Head of Chambers or equivalent should contact the BSB to discuss the situation and the options that might be open to them. They should email  ROD_contingency_planning@barstandardsboard.org.uk setting out what options have been considered.

Where extension or suspension is unavoidable, AETOS are obliged, under mandatory criterion 45.2 of the Authorisation Framework and rules C113-118 of the BSB Handbook to ensure that the pupil receives the minimum level of pupillage funding. We recognise that this may place AETOs in financial difficulty and there is some general guidance for barristers and chambers from the Bar Council in their financial FAQs.

Given the financial challenges that we’re facing, can we reduce the pupillage award that we’ve already advertised?

Yes, as long as the pupillage award does not fall below the minimum pupillage funding level, the level of the award is a matter for each AETO. Part 4E of the Bar Qualification Manual requires that AETOs must make clear, in writing, the funding arrangements at the time an offer for pupillage is made, but AETOs should make the change known as soon as possible.

Our pupils are usually on their feet in Court in the practising period of pupillage and are earning their own income. We are worried about the financial impact on AETOs if we have to top up to the minimum funding level for six months.

We recognise that this may cause financial difficulties for some AETOs. AETOs who are not in a financial position to top up income to the minimum funding level should in the first instance look at the Bar Council’s general guidance for barristers and chambers in their financial FAQs

It has been announced that, where possible, all hearings are to be done remotely in the Courts that we practise in. How will this affect our practising pupils?

It is for the AETO and the pupil supervisor to decide if the pupil has the capability to practise in such circumstances. We would encourage pupil supervisors to do all that they can to support pupils, for example by observing them during cases and offering constructive feedback, even if this is done remotely. The Bar Council has published a guide to resources available about training in online advocacy.

The Courts that we practise in are still open. As long as pupils in their non-practising period are willing, we feel they should go along to observe if they are happy to do so.

Pupils, their pupil supervisors and AETOs should monitor and follow Public Health England advice.

Our pupil is unwell. What are our obligations?

It is for the AETO and pupil supervisor to determine the impact of longer periods of leave due to illness on the training programme and whether the period of pupillage should be extended to enable the pupil to meet the competences in the Professional Statement.

If the pupillage is to be extended, the AETO must notify the BSB of the new date that the pupil will be completing pupillage by completing the Notification of Material Change in Pupillage form.

Where pupillage is extended, the supervisor must set clear and measurable objectives as to what is expected of the pupil during the extended period. Pupils must apply to the BSB for dispensation if they need to take a substantial break from pupillage and extending the pupillage would not be appropriate in the circumstances.

AETOs should continue to meet their obligations to fund pupils during any period of illness. If this causes financial difficulties for them they should in the first instance look at the Bar Council’s general financial FAQs.

Can I run pupillage interviews remotely by video conferencing or phone so that I don’t have to postpone pupillage recruitment for AETOs?

Yes. We encourage AETOs to do all that they can to enable recruitment to proceed during this period.

AETOs are encouraged to remember that fair recruitment principles continue to apply in such circumstances and that every effort should be made to enable shortlisted candidates to be interviewed. AETOs will need to consider any reasonable adjustments that may be required by candidates who may have difficulty with accessing technology, communicating by video link or managing caring responsibilities.

We are not sure if we can commit to recruiting pupils in line with the mandatory timetable that took effect from 1 November 2020. Can we recruit pupils outside of the mandatory timetable?

From 1 November 2020, we will require AETOs to recruit pupils in line with the Pupillage Gateway timetable in order to make pupillage recruitment fairer and more consistent. We recognise the financial uncertainty that some AETOs are facing, which may mean that making a decision about recruiting pupils is difficult. We are therefore introducing some flexibility by allowing those who do not feel confident enough to advertise for pupils between November and early January to advertise subsequently, provided they complete their recruitment by the end of August and do not make any offers before the mandatory 7-day offer period in May. The mandatory timetable is set out in Part 4C of the Bar Qualification Manual. Regardless of Covid-19, it will be possible to apply for a waiver from the mandated timetable in exceptional circumstances.

If you know that you want to recruit pupils but are not sure how many at the point at which you advertise, it is acceptable to state that in your advertisement. For example, you could say that you will recruit one pupil but may recruit an additional pupil depending on circumstances later this year.

What happens if a pupil cannot attend the advocacy training because of being ill or needing to self-isolate?

Pupils, their pupil supervisors or AETOs who find themselves in this position should contact the BSB to discuss their individual circumstances. They should email ROD_contingency_planning@BarStandardsBoard.org.uk in the first instance. Only pupils who have not attended the advocacy course because they are following Public Health England advice will be considered.

The pupil supervisor must explain why they feel able to sign off the pupil from their non-practising period when they have not yet completed the advocacy course. For example, they should set out what other advocacy training the pupil has done, which might include training offered through their AETO. They should also set out what steps they will take to supervise and monitor the advocacy of the pupil until they can attend another course.

In the light of that information we will, on a case-by-case basis, consider whether to give appropriate dispensation to allow pupils to apply for a Provisional Practising Certificate without having completed the advocacy training. Our overriding consideration when making a decision will be the proper protection of the public. Anyone given dispensation will be required to inform the BSB when they have completed their training.

In giving that dispensation, pupils and their pupil supervisors are reminded of the overriding duty in the BSB Handbook not to take on cases for which they are not competent and that they should think carefully about whether they are sufficiently competent to take on cases before they have completed the advocacy training.

Can I still register a pupillage?

Yes.  Please submit your registration form via email to authorisations@barstandardsboard.org.uk

How long can I expect to wait for changes to my pupillage to be updated?

We don’t foresee any additional delays in processing the registration of pupillage, material change notification and completion of both non-practising and practising periods. 

I am currently authorised as a PTO and waiting to be authorised as an AETO, do I need to do anything?

We are continuing to transition currently authorised PTOs as AETOs. If we have contacted you about applying you should continue to do so.  We are also assessing applications for new AETOs.

The application was started by a member of chambers who is now self-isolating and unable to complete the application in MyBar.  What do we do?

If you are experiencing technical difficulties in completing or submitting your application you should contact us via email to authorisations@barstandardsboard.org.uk

What is happening to my application to be authorised as an AETO?

We will continue to authorise AETOs wishing to deliver Bar training. To ensure that we identify your application in a timely manner, please email us at authorisations@barstandardsboard.org.uk to let us know if you are about to submit or have just submitted an application.

I am unable to login to my application. What should I do?

If you are experiencing difficulties in completing or submitting your application you should contact us via email to authorisations@barstandardsboard.org.uk

We have published FAQs for students here.

Can I still make an application to the Bar Standards Board for an exemption or waiver?

Yes.  We are operating as normal and will process new applications as usual. 

Will there still be a five-year time limit for starting pupillage after completing the BPTC or will this be suspended?

The five-year time limit set out in the Curriculum and Assessment Strategy remains in force. Prospective pupils who will come to the end of their five-year period by the end of December 2020 and have been unable to obtain pupillage this year due to COVID-19 will be able to apply to the BSB for Dispensation from the time limit without paying an application fee. 

If you have any more questions that are not covered here, you can contact us via the email ROD_contingency_planning@barstandardsboard.org.uk. We are also interested to hear of any creative ways you are overcoming the current challenges.