SRA writes to Exeter Uni to probe for ‘pass gap’ exam

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Deep dive motivated by ‘lingering difference’ in results between ethnic groups

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) brought in academics from the University of Exeter in an effort to deepen their understanding of the so-called ‘achievement gap’ between Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) students in professional legal assessments.

Exeter Law and Business Schools will examine the factors behind the ‘persistent difference’ in test scores by ethnicity in the UK and other countries.

The research, led by Professor Greta Bosch, will consist of measuring the achievement gap in a range of professional service qualifications; identify the enduring and intersectional causes of the skill level gap in professional services; explore where we can learn lessons from other countries and sectors; and understand where we can make changes to help close the gap.

The move follows the release of the regulator’s annual education and training report, which showed that nearly 68% of white students had successfully completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC), compared to 49% of Asian students and 36% of black students. The report further found that white college students were much more likely to receive accolades.

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Commenting on the research order, which will run until the end of 2023, SRA Managing Director Paul Philip said: “We know that there has long been a picture of different outcomes for applicants of different ethnicities in legal qualifications and more broadly. The legal profession needs to reflect the diverse society it serves, so we want to know why and what the barriers are.

He added:

“This research is the first part of this process. By finding out why some groups do not do so well in professional assessments, we can increase understanding and examine how best to work with others to address some of the factors, thereby helping to close the achievement gap. This is not a problem unique to the legal profession. The achievement gap is also found in other types of qualifications, so research should yield useful information far beyond the legal market.

The regulator previously found in a pilot project that in the first stage of the lawyer qualifying exam, known as SQE1, white applicants generally performed better than BAME applicants. In response, the SRA said all questions would be considered for “cultural bias” so that BAME students are not disadvantaged.

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