News | No ‘general support’ for SQE, law teachers say

Academics challenge SRA’s assertion of widespread support for reform among the profession

9 May 2017

Law teachers have hit back at the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s assertion that there is ‘general support’ for its new ‘super exam’, saying the regulator’s reporting of the responses to the consultation has been ‘disingenuous’.

The Association of Law Teachers (ALT) has previously expressed concern over the solicitors qualifying examination. Although not opposed to the main plank of SQE, the principle of centralised assessment, the association said in response to the latest SRA consultation that it had ‘grave reservations’ as to whether multiple choice questions were ‘suitable as the almost exclusive mechanism for assessing ability to advise and undertake legal transactions or dispute resolution procedures’.

Now, following a meeting at the weekend, the ALT also challenges the process the SRA followed in its announcement of SQE’s introduction. ‘Our particular concerns relate to the disingenuous reporting of the consultation responses by the SRA,’ the association said. ‘The SRA indicates that 253 responses were received to their consultation but only 148 are included in the published responses.’

‘Given the overwhelming lack of support for the SQE in the responses that have been published and the many concerns raised throughout this consultation process, it is important that a proper analysis of ALL responses received can be undertaken and we therefore urge the SRA to publish the missing 105 responses or indeed explain the discrepancy in numbers,’ commented ALT chair Dr Jessica Guth.

ALT member Professor Elaine Hall undertook an initial analysis of the consultation responses on behalf of the association. ‘The SRA conflate “support for an independent professional assessment in principle” with “support for the SQE”,’ she said. ‘This is a stretch, since the second consultation looked at specific questions about the SQE only.’

The assessment principle was partially addressed in the SRA’s first SQE consultation, which received more than 240 responses. Of those, more than 100 were negative, prompting the regulator to pause the reform. ‘41 agreed, 33 were neutral and 135 disagreed,’ Hall pointed out. ‘The “support in principle” is not evident anywhere in this data.’

Late last year, the SRA launched a second consultation, saying there was still a ‘strong case’ for SQE. But Hall said the regulator’s use of such terms, along with its suggestion that it was universities who ‘consistently’ oppose the SQE, was ‘drawing attention away from the simple facts’.

‘68 per cent of the respondents think the SQE is not “a robust and effective measure of competence” and 66 per cent think it is not “a suitable test of the requirements needed to become a solicitor”, Hall commented. ‘These negative views are not only the province of universities, they are held by the majority of solicitors’ firms who responded and more than half of individual legal professionals.

‘These are the people who will employ newly-qualified solicitors and they are not convinced that this a good idea. Overall, fewer than a quarter of respondents support the SQE (other responses are neutral), so this does not translate to “general support”,’ Hall said.

The SRA has rejected the ALT’s accusation, saying it has ‘always been clear that views on SQE were mixed, and open about the fact that those organisations that supported centralised assessment in general said they were concerned about the detail’.

‘We agree that there is more work to do on the detail of SQE,’ a spokesperson responded, ‘and we are committed looking to working with everyone over the coming months to get it right.’

The regulator also explained that the reason not all responses had been published on its website was that not all respondents to the consultation had given permission for their responses to be made public.

This story was first published on Solicitors Journal on 9 May 2017 and is reproduced by kind permission

 

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