The first pass rates of the Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) have been revealed.

The students who sat the first-ever SQE1 exam in November received their results yesterday, with just over half – 53 per cent – receiving the good news that they had passed. Some 1,090 candidates, including 27 solicitor apprentices, took the exam across more than 100 test centres in 26 countries.

To pass SQE1, candidates need to pass two Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK) papers: FLK1 and FLK2. In total, 53 per cent of candidates passed both assessments, with 67 per cent passing FLK1 and 54 per cent passing FLK2.

There was no difference between the pass rates of men and women. However, there was a large discrepancy between white candidates, 65 per cent of whom passed, and those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, where the pass rate was only 44 per cent.

Chair of the SRA board Anna Bradley said: “We anticipated that we would again see the troubling difference in performance for candidates from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups that has been a longstanding and widespread feature in examinations in the legal and other sectors. We know the reasons will be complex and, as well as ongoing review and analysis, we have appointed Exeter University to carry out in-depth research to better understand the factors driving the attainment gap for these groups in professional assessments, so that we can do everything we can to address the issues.”

Geoff Coombe, the independent reviewer of the exam, concluded: “I must emphasise that overall, the way in which the individual questions and overall tests performed was very good from a technical assessment perspective and lessons learned from the SQE pilot have been applied very well.”

Pass rates for the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which the SQE replaced, varied hugely across provider. In the 2017/18 academic year, pass rates ranged from as high as 100 per cent to as low as 29 per cent depending on where students study. The typical LPC pass rate was 57 per cent, and white students were also more likely to pass LPC than those from a minority background.

The SQE was designed, in the words of the SRA, “to provide assurance that all aspiring solicitors meet consistent, high standards at point of entry to the profession.” It was also slated as a way to open up new and diverse routes to qualification.

However, it met with fierce opposition from many quarters of the legal profession, particularly from academics and the Junior Lawyers Division, which has raised multiple concerns over the years the new qualification route has been in development.

The Legal Services Board (LSB) gave its final approval for the new exam in 2020, saying “the SQE should ensure consistency of standards and improve diversity access to the sector. This should help increase consumers’ trust and confidence, create a profession that better reflects society, and widen access to justice.” It added: “The SQE is untested, however, and not without risk.”

In order to qualify as solicitors, the students who have passed SQE1 candidates will now need to pass SQE2, the first sittings of which take place in April. The next round of SQE1 exams are in June.