The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has updated its statement to students in relation to the difficulties some faced when taking an online exam this week, but the update itself has sparked an angry reaction from the profession.
Some students attempting to take the ethics exam for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) were dismayed with glitches in the system, while others revealed on social media that they were forced to urinate in makeshift containers because they were not allowed to leave their computers.
In a new statement, the BSB has defended its stance. It said: “The BPTC exams are an essential professional qualification for students seeking to enter a profession that requires the utmost integrity, a profession on whom the public depends for vitally important advice and representation. The integrity of the exam is therefore extremely important, and preventative measures are put in place to protect the exam content and experience, especially when students are taking the exam remotely via online proctoring.”
It continued: “Students have been reminded to read the Guide on our website, which has been available since June 29. The Guide recommends that students “prepare yourself for not being able to leave the room for the duration of your exam, for example by going to the toilet as close to the start of the exam as possible”. If candidates felt that they were not going to be able to stay in their room — for example, if they might need a lavatory break during their exam — they were offered the opportunity to take their exam at a test centre, where lavatory breaks are available, or an alternative venue supplied by their BPTC provider, if their needs could not be met by computer-based testing at all.”
“We regret that the exceptional demand for test centre places from other bodies also conducting examinations meant that not every student was able to find a test centre place at a time and in a location that was convenient to them but many students are successfully sitting their exams in test centres.”
It said that technical glitches were “inevitable” with any online testing platform. “These technical issues could include a variety of problems such as a disrupted power supply, interrupted broadband services, or a hardware or software issue with the student’s computer,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, these types of issues are beyond our control.”
Pearson VUE, which delivered the test, has told the BSB that 89 per cent of the exams were delivered without any reported incident and 97 per cent of exams were successfully completed.
It concluded: “We are very sorry that some students have encountered difficulties, however, and together with Pearson VUE, we are committed to investigating any issues as quickly as possible.”
The statement has provoked more anger than support from the profession, with numerous barristers calling the response unsatisfactory.
“I have refrained from saying much until the BSB gave a response… but now they have done so I add my voice to those that observe that even in these difficult times these students and this profession deserves better,” wrote Gerard McDermott QC.
Is this really a satisfactory answer to all the issues BPTC students have raised on here this week? https://t.co/M2wtI6TP1D
— Mark George (@Mark_George_QC) August 14, 2020
Some statistics, which have been trotted out presumably to appear impressive, are anything but. +10% of students encountering problems is clearly significant. pic.twitter.com/5T9Uw8X2U4
— Michael Harwood (@mi_harwood) August 14, 2020
Things the BSB fail to mention:
Lack of water;
Pissing in bottles;
Failure to provide reasonable adjustments;
Failure to obtain bookings at centres; and
Failure to answer phones.
I have barely followed twitter on this subject and I am aware of these problems.
— Steven Kennedy (@SjBarrister) August 14, 2020
Meanwhile, one student has recounted how she was forced to remove her headscarf for identification purposes, tweeting: “I was forced to defer my exams to December ’cause the BSB told me to remove my scarf for ID but ‘can’t’ provide me with a female proctor. The whole process is a shambles.”
This was bound to happen. The BSB were aware of student concerns and decided to ignore
I was forced to defer my exams to December 'cause the BSB told me to remove my scarf for ID but 'cant' provide me with a female proctor
The whole process is a shambles https://t.co/EJ25X9SnL0
— Shaima Dallali (@ShaimaDallali) August 13, 2020
The BSB is looking at options to see how affected students can sit their exams before December.