Education and training authorisation and monitoring activity September 2019 – August 2020

16 December 2021

Introduction and overview of 2019-20

We have a statutory responsibility for the education and training of solicitors, as set out in the Solicitors Act 1974 and the Legal Services Act 2007. Education and training requirements are a key regulatory tool to protect consumers of legal services. The purpose of this report is to tell our stakeholders about the outcomes of our quality assurance activity in relation to education and training. Unless otherwise stated, it relates to the period 1 September 2019 to 31 August 2020.

We introduced the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) on 1 September 2021. This is a single, rigorous assessment for all aspiring solicitors. The SQE means that everyone who becomes a solicitor will meet the same high standards in a consistent way.

Ahead of the SQE, in November 2019 we introduced transition regulations allowing anyone who was already studying or training when we introduced the SQE, to continue to qualify through the previous system, now called the Legal Practice Course (LPC) route. This means someone who has a qualifying law degree (QLD) or the Common Professional Examination (CPE)1, an LPC and a period of recognised training. These regulations mean that there will be people qualifying through the LPC route for some years (until 2032). However, we expect most LPC courses to start to end over the next few years.

We have arrangements in place for the orderly closure of LPC courses. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor and report on both the LPC courses and route for as long as the numbers qualifying remain high enough to do so. We know that we must remain vigilant to the risks to quality and standards as these courses come to an end and are replaced by the SQE.

We asked LPC providers to start collecting socio-economic information in April 2019. This information will help improve our reporting on the LPC and help inform the baseline of our evaluation work for the SQE.

This report covers the first five months of the Covid-19 pandemic. In March 2020, shortly after the introduction of Government restrictions on contact and movement, we decided to relax some of our requirements for the teaching and assessment of the QLD, CPE and the LPC.

For the QLD and the CPE, we do not specify the form that the assessments take, and so we left it to providers to make change to assessment arrangements. However, we did require that some form of assessment must be taken.

Our Board decided that temporarily during the pandemic, we should relax our assessment requirements for all parts of the LPC. This meant that for skills assessments and elective subjects, where we usually require an exam but not necessarily under supervised conditions, we allowed alternative arrangements, for example, assessment using coursework.

For the core subjects, to protect the integrity and security of assessments, we kept our requirements for supervised assessment but permitted online or remote proctoring of these assessments. LPC providers then applied to us for temporary approval of changes to their teaching and assessment arrangements.

We required all providers to explain how they would maintain the integrity and security of all LPC assessments undertaken remotely. We only approved remote assessment where we were confident that the proposed arrangements would make sure that they would be robustly supervised. For example, the remote proctoring software used recorded assessments in full and flagged any potential issues for immediate review. We are therefore satisfied with the arrangements put in place by providers to assess the LPC during this period.

We considered 55 applications from LPC providers to change their teaching and assessment arrangements in response to the pandemic. These included changes to how they taught and assessed electives, skills and core practice areas.

The LPC comprises of two stages: Stage 1, covering core practice areas and skills and Stage 2 covering three vocational electives. All LPC providers applied for approval of alternative assessments for Stage 2 electives and skills. Only 85% of LPC providers applied for and were approved to administer Stage 1 supervised assessments via remote proctoring. The remainder continued to assess traditionally.

Executive summary

The vast majority of those who qualify as solicitors under the LPC route will have completed:

  • the academic stage of training - QLD or CPE
  • the vocational stage of training - the LPC, period of recognised training (PRT) and Professional Skills Course (PSC).
This report looks at the information received from the course providers that we approve or authorise. It also considers information we hold as a regulator on the qualification routes people have been admitted through.

Key findings

This year, rates of successful completion2 for the LPC remained consistent with last year - 57.7% of students passed in 2019/20 compared to 58% in 2018/19.

Successful completion of the CPE was also in line with last year - 58.9% of students passed in 2019/20 compared to 58% in 2018/19.

There continue to be significant differences in the successful completion rates between providers, with pass rates for the LPC ranging from 100% to 31%. There are a number of different factors which may influence pass rates, including candidate ability and engagement, teaching quality and assessment arrangements, but we are unable to draw firm conclusions from the data available.

In addition to the differences in rates between providers, there are significant differences between providers in the proportion of students who achieve pass, commendation or distinction grades.

Data shows that students from ethnic groups other than white are less likely to successfully complete the CPE and the LPC, as has been the case throughout our monitoring. This attainment gap is widely seen across higher education and professional assessments. We have initiated external research to better understand the reasons for the attainment gaps in professional assessments.

Male and female students appear to perform equally well on the CPE and LPC, and women outnumber men on both courses and at the point of admission.

Our data on the ethnic origin and disability of those undertaking PRTs is less comprehensive. As shown in figures 12 and 13 below, large numbers of training contracts registered indicated ethnic background as 'unknown' and few declared a disability.

  1. The CPE is also known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). In this report, we refer to it as the CPE throughout
  2. We define ‘successful completion’ as being where a student has passed the LPC in the period under consideration. Students who have not successfully completed may have additional attempts available to them. They may be ‘referred’, meaning they have failed one or more assessments and may resit, or they may have ‘deferred’, meaning they have postponed their assessment because of exceptional circumstances, in one or more subjects. This means that those students may successfully go on to complete the LPC in future.