The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has been continually toying with the idea of introducing an aptitude test for aspiring barristers wanting to secure a place on the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) since the publication of the Wood Report in 2008.
But following criticism from the Office of Fair Trading the BSB has pushed back its plans for such a test for 12 months meaning the earliest it will be introduced is for students applying in 2010 for a 2011 start.
Despite the controversy Kaplan Law School, which is planning to launch the Bar Vocational Course in 2010, has decided to go it alone and will be asking students to complete an admissions test – the first of its kind in the BVC market.
Apparently, the test is designed to filter out those students who don’t have a realistic chance of obtaining pupillage. Prospective students at Kaplan will be interviewed and will then complete an oral advocacy assessment and a written exercise.
When hearing this news, I began to wonder if I agree with the fact that BVC providers will make the final decision as to whether or not a student has a realistic shot at pupillage. Having said that, it does leave a bitter taste in my mouth when I think of every student who has given the best part of £15,000 to their BVC provider (who are only too happy to take it, I might add) when only a small minority of them will ever obtain pupillage. If the providers had decided early on as to a student’s prospects of success, a lot of people wouldn’t waste their money and, quite frankly, their time and effort.
There’s always the argument that weeding out the “weaker students” through an aptitude test will be saving them money and heartache in the long run. Indeed such paternalism may lead to a reduction in pupillage applications but there’s no guarantee that the students who pass the test will be successful candidates.
Besides, if you want to pay the price and take the chance, why should you have to prove yourself to the people who won’t even be making that all important pupillage decision? If someone told me I wasn’t good enough, I’d do everything I possibly could to prove otherwise. Better still, if the test were voluntary, I’d go to another provider and give them my cash. Also, I’m not entirely sure I’d trust a BVC provider to decide whether I would sink or swim in the pupillage race.
I feel that introducing an aptitude test would prove to be nothing more than another obstacle on the already difficult path to the Bar. I can’t help but wonder why students need to jump through yet more hoops to prove their worth. I personally think the constant struggle to graduate, complete the BVC, find pupillage, finally secure tenancy and then actually get any work is giving aspiring barristers enough sleepless nights for now.
Please note the BVC will be replaced by the Bar Professional Training Course from 2010.