England: BME students less likely to secure pupillage than white students

Dr Vanessa Davies

New research from the Bar Standards Board (BSB) has revealed that BME students are less successful in obtaining pupillage than white students.

The BSB said its two new reports offer important insights into current issues in education and training for qualification as a barrister.

The first report examines students’ performance on the compulsory Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and the extent to which graduates succeed in progressing to the final training stage, pupillage.

The findings indicate that BME students achieve lower average BPTC module scores, and that BME students and candidates with lower socioeconomic status are less successful in obtaining pupillage than white students with similar prior educational attainment.

However, gender and disability do not have a significant predictive effect once other variables are controlled for.

The second report explores perceptions of barriers to participation and success in barrister training, focussing particularly on women, BME students and those from lower socio-economic groups.

The study found that participants tended to see the Bar as the preserve of the “privileged elite”; felt there was a lack of access to accurate information about training for the Bar; had concerns about the financial costs of undertaking the training; and thought there was a need for better information and support from the likes of the BSB.

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.”