Students with disabilities who are set to take the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) exams online this summer have expressed their dismay after providers emailed them at short notice, leaving only 24 hours for them to decide whether to agree to take the exams in a testing centre, with no guarantee their special requirements would be catered for.

A number of the BPTC exams are set to go ahead in August after being delayed due to the outbreak of coronavirus. After pressure from students, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) announced on 13 May that they would allow the exams to be taken online.

Students followed up with a letter to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) on 1 June, citing concerns about the lack of consideration given to disabled students and others affected by the plans. The BSB replied on 15 June reassuring students that any issues would be ironed out and saying that people with specific needs would be allowed to take the exams in a testing centre rather than virtually.

In that letter, the BSB’s director of regulatory operation Oliver Hanmer wrote: “We have received assurance from [testing organisation] Pearson VUE that there will be enough capacity in their testing centres to meet the needs of those who require adjustments or have a specific need to take the exam in a testing centre. Indeed… there will be extra capacity in testing centres for students who have not notified their provider about the need for an adjustment. The first group will, understandably, be given priority when booking opens. Should they wish to take the assessments at a testing centre, students are encouraged to try to book their places as soon as they are able as we expect that available spaces will be taken up quickly.”
However, a number of students were contacted by law schools on Wednesday 1 July, telling them they had only 24 hours to decide whether they wanted to sign up for an in-person exam, with no indication that their specific individual needs would be addressed.
On Twitter, one BPTC student wrote that while the Bar Standards Board stated in their guide released on Monday 29 June that students with reasonable adjustments had already been contacted by their providers to assess their needs, she was not contacted by City Law School until 11am on 1 July, “telling me I needed to let them know if I wanted to take my exams at a test center, before tomorrow [2 July] at 3pm. [There was] no mention of how my specific RA [reasonable adjustment] would be met at a test center.”

The result, she says, is “many students including myself were not contacted by their provider, and are left with 24 hours to decide if they want to go to a test center without knowing how their adjustments will be met there.”

She was backed up by a number of Twitter users claiming other students were in the same situation.

The exams in question are those covering Professional Ethics, which will take place on 13 and 14 August, Civil Litigation (on 17 and 18 August) and Criminal Litigation (20 and 21 August). Results will now be released in November, with resits scheduled for December this year.

In a statement, a BSB spokesperson responded: “We are fully committed to making the arrangements for the August centralised assessments as accessible as possible. BPTC providers have been in discussion with students requiring adjustments for several weeks. Following the publication of our comprehensive guide for students on Monday, the conversations that providers should be having with students this week merely concern the final arrangements to enable us to book their slots in test centres and for us to deliver the necessary adjustments with Pearson VUE.”