News | SQE: Largest training providers back SRA reforms

Apprenticeships seen as potential game changer at profession’s entry point

25 April 2017

Britain’s two largest professional legal training providers have backed the SRA’s decision to press on with its controversial solicitors qualifying examination.

Earlier this morning (25 April 2017), the regulator announced SQE would launch in September 2020, with assessment terms being finalised in the next two years.

Both the University of Law and BPP Law School, the organisations with the most to lose commercially, have come out broadly in support of the reforms.

ULaw, which only four months ago called the SQE ‘superficial’, hailed ‘the start of a new era in the legal education and training of solicitors’.

Vice chancellor and CEO professor Andrea Nollent said this was ‘an exciting time for legal education’ and that SQE was ‘a unique opportunity for innovation and improvement to legal training’. The reforms, Nolent said, along with the changes to apprenticeships, would provide new ways for ULaw to structure its courses, raising standards for solicitors, and widening access to the profession.

BPP dean and CEO Peter Crisp was more moderately enthusiastic. When the SRA started its second SQE consultation last October, Crisp described the proposals as ‘utterly misconceived’.

‘Throughout the consultation process we have had a constant dialogue with the SRA and are pleased that comments and suggestions made by us and our clients have been taken on board,’ he said today, before warning: ‘We are looking forward to continuing to work alongside the SRA to ensure that the SQE produces consistently reliable results which are fair to students, employers, the wider profession and, ultimately, the consumers of legal services.’

Crisp also said apprenticeships ‘could now become one of the major ways in which people qualify as a solicitor and the onus will be on training providers to ensure that any SQE study programme will be every bit as rigorous as that undertaken by entrants to the profession who have followed other routes to qualification’.

Echoing the SRA’s expectations, he commented that the new route, combined with the introduction of the apprentice levy, would present many firms with ‘a timely opportunity to radically change the way their business is resourced’, including smaller firms that had not historically been able to fund trainees through their LPC.

‘By drawing on the government’s levy funding, law firms will have the chance to hire and train new talent from the outset and for those recruited it will bring a welcome end to the financial burden of funding their own training.’

‘I’m very enthusiastic about apprenticeships and quietly optimistic,’ Crisp added, saying this would help the profession tackle issue around retention and diversity.

But both Nolent and Crisp pointed out the need for further clarification around SQE syllabus and assessment methods.

The majority of academic institutions that responded to the consultation were negative or sceptical about SQE’s claims that it would be less costly and would help increase diversity. Helen Hudson, head of Legal Development at Nottingham Law School, had doubts about the proposals. She is still unconvinced today.

‘We remain concerned about the impact this will have on equality and diversity,’ she said. ‘The SRA has produced no evidence that the SQE will reduce the cost of qualification for students and no indication of how much students will have to pay to sit the SQE.’

This story was first published on Solicitors Journal on 25 April 2017 and is reproduced by kind permission

 

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