Waive the BSB Centralised Assessment Exams 2020
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SABER is calling for the BSB to waive the requirement for completion of the centralised BSB exams for civil litigation, criminal litigation and ethics ("the exams") in light of the systemic failings in delivering the exams via PearsonVUE.
Why do we need a waiver?
A blanket waiver is the only way to account for the myriad of difficulties faced by students sitting the exams. It is the only fair solution left at this point, and the only way to stop insurmountable barriers to the Bar for those members of the student body who are most disadvantaged. The implementation of exams has been discriminatory and not in any way rigorous.
What issues have students faced?
The issues that have been faced by students include (but are not limited to):
- Sitting the exams in a state of dehydration and excessive heat;
- Extensive technical difficulties exacerbated by a woefully managed online proctoring system. For example, system crash and restart caused many to lose significant amounts of time, however their assessment was still logged as “completed”;
- Not being let into their exam (whilst being required to remain on camera as their scheduled exam time had already passed) for up to an hour;
- Having exams rescheduled without any prior notice;
- Being required to sit exams at times which were wildly inappropriate and anti-social, or at test centres very far away from their homes without any regard to travel time or accommodation costs;
- Failure to have reasonable adjustment needs met or feeling forced to "waive" their adjustments in order to avoid deferral to December;
- Inappropriate and inadequate arrangements offered to students with disabilities, students with caregiving responsibilities and students at risk or who share a household with those at risk;
- Being forced to relieve themselves into containers on screen due to the lack of any break and the threat of their exam being terminated should they move off camera. This disproportionately affected women who were menstruating and those who were granted reasonable adjustments and were therefore required to sit longer exams;
- International students were burdened disproportionately as many were required to move immediately prior to exams and forced to sit their exams overseas in locations where test centres were not available, in many cases also having to pay additional costs to attend these centres;
- Adverse effects on students' mental health due to increased stress, uncertainty and lack of any reasonable assistance or helpful communication. This is particularly acute given the circumstances surrounding Covid-19 which has negatively impacted all students and particularly those who are already most vulnerable;
- Forced deferral of exams due to reasons such as failure to accommodate reasonable adjustments, technological failures on the part of Pearson Vue and increased stress and inability to properly revise as a result of the innumerable failures in the exam booking and delivery process. At least one student has had to defer as she would be required to remove her hijab for the ID process, but no female proctor could be guaranteed
The above highlights the severity and extent of the failures on the part of both the BSB and PearsonVUE. For students, these exams require months of preparation and time out from paid employment and family commitments. Groups disproportionately affected include:
- Disabled students needing reasonable adjustments who were forced to endure an extremely inefficient, costly, and time-consuming process when attempting to book their exams;
- International students, many of whom have had to pay to use test centres overseas and/or travel long distances to attend these centres;
- Working class students with limited resources available to meet many of the unreasonable burdens placed on all students.
Many students entitled to reasonable adjustments have reported spending many hours attempting to book their exams or failing to get through to anyone at all. Others have reported PearsonVUE telling must accept unfair adjustments. As a result of these difficulties, many felt they had no choice but to defer in order to avoid being forced to waive their reasonable adjustments. Others sat exams in manifestly unsuitable conditions without the reasonable adjustments they were entitled to but were unable to access.
If access to the Bar, equality and wellbeing at the Bar are to mean anything, a waiver must be implemented without delay.
Why the exams are not rigorous
SABER asked the BSB to implement an open book exam in a letter we wrote to them on 1 June (https://www.dropbox.com/s/yzdse9eauu2ozyr/BSB%20Letter%281%29.pdf?dl=0 ). This would have more accurately reflected practice at the Bar and resolved the problems inherent in the delivery of closed book exams through a system of online proctoring. The BSB did not listen adequately to our requests, but replied justifying their decision, repeating such justifications in several further statements released as students were told their adjustments could not be met, and were unable to book test centre spaces owing to a lack of capacity.
The BSB justified its manifestly disproportionate and discriminatory approach with an insistence that closed book exams delivered in this way are the only way to ensure "rigour". However, some students have reported sitting exams with repetitive questions (as questions were taken from a question bank to avoid cheating) only testing knowledge of a narrow part of the syllabus, while other students were tested on a broad range of syllabus. Moreover, students have reported numerous mistakes in the exams, some making answers in multiple choice questions unintelligible. The exams are widely considered among the profession to be an unsuitable test of the skills or knowledge required at the bar and rather a "memory dump" designed merely as an extra hurdle to make access to the bar more difficult.
In ordinary times a hurdle such as this is pointless, but in times unlike any other this hurdle has become an indefensible form of discrimination.
Why a waiver is the most fair solution and will not compromise "rigour"
A waiver is crucial as it is the only fair way to account for the variety of issues faced by students sitting in such adverse conditions.
For the reasons set out above, the exams can no longer be considered in any way rigorous or fair. It is clear that as a result of the myriad issues students have faced in preparing for and sitting these exams, they will not be a fair reflection or indicator of students’ abilities; to treat them as such is manifestly unfair and unreasonable.
The implementation of a waiver would ensure that those groups most disproportionally effected are not further barred from entering into this already challenging and highly competitive field.
Students have already sat 9 out of 12 exams, testing a wide range of skills and showing a significant amount of knowledge, including content which is included in the centralised assessment. The BSB should base overall classification on those grades.
The BSB has promised resits in December while some members of the profession are proposing resits in September instead of December to allow those with pupillage commencing in October to begin on time.
A December resit is not a reasonable solution. A small proportion of students have pupillage lined up and due to start in October. A larger number cannot afford to forego paid employment, having already been compelled to forgo summer commitments or employment, due to the exams being deferred till August. Some are due to begin further courses of study. While a September resit is preferable to a December resit, it is still not adequate for the following reasons:
- The BSB has indicated they would only extend the right to sit to a limited number of students (i.e. those who struggled with technical issues and those whose reasonable adjustments were not delivered) when in fact almost all students have struggled with these exams in some form. Students will not have their results in time to assess whether their performance was so badly affected that they will need to sit the exams again before the September resits.
- September resits do not serve the students who felt compelled to defer their exams until December in order to avoid waiving their adjustments.
- The BSB is not in a position to reassure students that any resits will not simply lead to the same systemic problems students have already faced. The BSB has had 5 months to design and deliver these exams via PearsonVUE. We fear what they will deliver given less than a month.
WAIVE THE CENTRALISED ASSESSMENTS NOW!
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