In 2021, the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) was introduced as a more inclusive pathway to becoming a solicitor than the previous Legal Practice Course (LPC). Comprising of two parts, SQE1 and SQE2, the exam was intended to support diversity within the legal profession according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)
Despite this, data published by the SRA in October 2022 regarding SQE pass rates have instead revealed a racial divide. Whilst the pass rates for white candidates completing the SQE1 was 63%, it remained at only 23% for black candidates. Of the 871 candidates, 87% were white and 13% were black. This follows a similar trend set in November 2021, where pass rates were 66% and 39% respectively.
The results of SQE 2 shows a similar divide. In April 2022 the pass rates for black candidates were 53% whereas for white candidates it was 85%
In anticipation of October’s results, SRA chair Anna Bradley stated that the regulator could see such a ‘troubling difference’ in performance between different ethnic groups. What’s interesting, however, is that other groups, such as men and women, showed no difference in pass rates. Similarly, there was no significant difference between the performance of candidates who declared they went to state schools in comparison to those who went to private schools.
The difference in performance between ethnic groups was not unprecedented, however. Anna Bradley declared that it ‘has been a longstanding and widespread feature in examinations in the legal and other sectors’. The question remains, then, as to what has caused different ethnic groups to perform so differently.
Typical explanations for educational performance differences include factors such as social class background, cultural differences, and parental expectations. However, no such explanations have been confirmed. In response, the SRA has appointed the University of Exeter to carry out in-depth research into the factors driving the attainment gap. However, in anticipation of the University’s response, the SRA have a duty to ensure that the SQE remains an equal and equitable platform to allow students from all ethnic backgrounds to enter the legal profession.
Posted 03/04/2023 By Sofie Elliott
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