16 June 2019

Future Bar Training

New qualification rules introduced in the fourth edition of our Handbook were approved in February by the Legal Services Board. These rules will enable the programme of reform known as Future Bar Training to be implemented. The new qualification rules are designed to ensure that training to become a barrister is more accessible, affordable and flexible whilst maintaining the high standards of entry expected at the Bar.

A phased approach to implementing the qualification rules

We will be implementing various aspects of the new qualification rules between now and September 2021. The main reason for taking a phased approach to implementation for some elements is to ensure that prospective barristers are not disadvantaged as a result of the introduction of the new rules. For example, students currently on, or yet to complete, the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), and those planning to start the BPTC in September 2019, will have the opportunity to complete the course as normal, with transitional arrangements in place for those who have not completed the course by Spring 2022. The final new enrolments on the BPTC in its current form will be in September 2019.  

The key milestones in the implementation of the new Bar qualification rules include:

  • from April 2019, organisations wanting to offer training under any of the routes to qualification permitted within the new rules will be able to apply to us for authorisation. Precisely what training becomes available to prospective barristers, and when, will depend on those applying to become Authorised Education Training Organisations (AETOs);
  • from September 2019, the way in which pupils are assessed will change to reflect the requirements set out in the Professional Statement for Barristers, and the minimum funding award for pupillage will increase to £18,436 per annum for pupillages in London and £15,728 per annum for pupillages outside London, taking into account the Living Wage Foundation's calculations of £9.00 per hour outside London and £10.55 per hour within London;
  • in December 2020, the first assessment for the new-look Civil Litigation centralised assessment within the vocational component of learning will begin. The Civil Litigation syllabus and examination will incorporate dispute resolution (which was previously a Provider-set assessment). The exam will be split into two parts - one of which will be closed book and the other will be open book; and
  • in December 2021, the first new Professional Ethics centralised assessment will take place with the BSB exam being sat during pupillage / the work-based learning component rather than during the vocational component. There will continue to be a Professional Ethics assessment during the vocational component which will be set by AETOs. 

A fuller version of the implementation schedule - including those aspects of the new rules which will come into effect with the publication of the new edition of the Handbook - is available on our website.

To coincide with the publication of the Bar qualification rules, we have also published a new Bar Qualification Manual on our website. This provides further guidance on the new rules for students, pupils, transferring lawyers, and AETOs. 

Transitional arrangements

If you are currently on the BPTC, have yet to complete the course, or are planning to start the BPTC in September 2019, then you will have the opportunity to complete the course as normal, with three attempts at each assessment as set out in the BPTC Handbook. However, if after Spring 2021 you have extenuating circumstances which means you have to defer sitting one of the centralised assessments, then you may be affected by the transitional arrangements which we have put in place for centralised assessments.

We have published a statement which sets out what the transitional arrangements will be for centralised assessments here. All current and prospective BPTC students should read this statement to find out how they may be affected.

For students who intend to start vocational training on one of the new approved pathways which will replace the BPTC from September 2020, more information will be published on the BSB website in due course. The process of authorising education and training organisations to deliver the new pathways commenced in April 2019 and courses will be advertised as "subject to authorisation" during this process.

One of the changes that we introduced early on during our Future Bar Training (FBT) programme was to publish the Professional Statement for Barristers incorporating the Threshold Standard and Competences.  This describes the knowledge, skills and attributes that all barristers should have on "day one" of practice.  

The importance of the Professional Statement

The Professional Statement is the bedrock on which our subsequent FBT reforms are built. The various components of Bar training are designed to ensure that anyone who starts practising has proved that they meet the standards outlined in the Professional Statement and have therefore demonstrated they have all the necessary competences to be a barrister.

The Statement helps prospective barristers understand the standards to which they must aspire and helps training providers to understand what the ultimate outcomes of Bar training must be.

Maintaining the core components of Bar training but making it more flexible

The knowledge and skills acquired by barristers during their training are essential but what is less certain is the best order for these skills and knowledge to be acquired. This is why our new rules permit what will be known as Authorised Education and Training Organisations (AETOs) to offer the three essential components of Bar training in a variety of different ways - "training pathways" as we call them. (The term AETO will include what are currently known as BPTC providers as well as Pupillage Training Organisations.)

The three components of education and training for the Bar will remain:

  • academic learning (gaining knowledge of the Law itself);
  • vocational learning (acquiring barristers' core skills such as advocacy); and
  • pupillage or work-based learning (learning to be a barrister "on the job").

Within the new system, however, the three components may be attained by means of four approved training pathways:

  • Three-step pathway: academic, followed by vocational, followed by pupillage/work-based component (This is the same as the current mandatory pathway.);
  • Four-step pathway: academic component, followed by vocational component in two parts, followed by pupillage or work-based component;
  • Integrated academic and vocational pathway - combined academic and vocational components followed by pupillage or work-based component; and
  • Apprenticeship pathway: combined academic, vocational and pupillage or work-based components.

As to which pathways will be available to students from 2019, this depends on what applications we receive from prospective AETOs. The new rules permit us to authorise delivery of any one of these pathways. We have issued much more detail about the pathways and the criteria under which we will authorise new courses in a Authorisation Framework. Any applications for authorisation under the Authorisation Framework must meet our criteria of accessibility, affordability, flexibility and sustaining high standards.

The Bar to remain a graduate profession

Completing a law degree (or degree in another subject followed by a Graduate Diploma in Law(GDL)) which covers the seven legal foundation subjects and legal research skills will still be necessary to become a barrister in England and Wales.

What is changing is the concept of having "Qualifying Law Degrees (QLDs)" which are jointly approved by the BSB and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). This is because the BSB and the SRA are taking divergent approaches to qualification as solicitors and barristers and the previously agreed "Joint Statement" will be ceasing. If you want to become a barrister, as long as your law degree that is compliant with the QAA subject benchmark statement for Law, your law degree or GDL course covers the seven legal foundation subjects and the skills associated with graduate legal work such as legal research then this will be sufficient to meet the requirements of the Academic Component of becoming a barrister.

There is more information about this change - and what it means if you want to become either a barrister or a solicitor - available in our Common Protocol on the Academic Component of training, which we have published jointly with the SRA.

Confirming the Inns' role in education and training

Our October 2017 consultation considered the role of the Inns of Court in the education and training of barristers. After considering the responses we received to the consultation, the Board made the following policy decisions which will be reflected in the new training rules and their supporting documentation. The BSB will:

  • continue to oversee students intending to become barristers in England and Wales, but with strengthened oversight arrangements between the Inns and the BSB;
  • continue to require student membership of an Inn;
  • require AETOs to check prior educational attainment;
  • continue to require the Inns of Court to administer the "Fit and Proper Person" test and other checks made before somebody is permitted to be Called to the Bar;
  • require a Standard Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check to take place;
  • review the wording of the declaration made when students are Called to the Bar, and its associated guidance;
  • continue to delegate matters of student conduct to the Inns (subject to reviewing roles and responsibilities and agreeing appropriate BSB oversight of the process); and
  • continue to require a minimum number of professional development events provided by the Inns which are known as "qualifying sessions".

The issue of whether to retain "qualifying sessions" as a mandatory part of Bar training generated a lot of interest. When deciding to retain them, we concluded that qualifying sessions should not only be aligned to the Professional Statement but should also focus on public interest matters such as the advocate's role in the rule of law and integrating trainees into a "community of practice" through interactions with more experienced practitioners and the judiciary. The Inns are uniquely placed to provide this important function and we have been considering in more detail with the Inns how many sessions would be appropriate and the detail of the oversight arrangements to be put in place. We also believe that more of this activity should be available to prospective barristers outside London, through coherent collaboration between the Inns, circuits and regional training providers.

You can read more about joining an Inn of Court online.

Changes to pupillage

There will be a number of changes in relation to the rules governing pupillage. As interesting as what IS changing, is what is not changing!

  • Pupillage will continue to be an essential element of training for the Bar, so all prospective barristers will continue to have to complete this component of training successfully in order to be authorised to practise.
  • Whilst we expect that the majority of barristers will continue to obtain this component of learning via a traditional "pupillage", our new rules introduce greater flexibility with a view to encouraging a wider range of AETOs to offer this component. This "work-based learning" might, for example, be offered by employers offering training to future members of the employed Bar.   
  • Any chambers or other organisation already approved by the BSB to provide pupillage, or new organisations wishing to do so, must apply to become an AETO if it wishes to continue or to start providing pupillage or work-based learning. We will provide guidance to help you through the authorisation process. We have already been in contact with all chambers, and organisations that currently provide pupillage, to start this process. There will not be a renewals process. AETOs providing pupillage will be subject to risk-based supervision by the BSB.
  • Any organisation providing a pupillage can maintain the system of having pupil supervisors supervise only one pupil at a time.
  • The new rules permit supervisors at the self-employed Bar to supervise up to two pupils (one practising and one non-practising). Greater flexibility will be permitted in the structure of pupillage supervision for the employed Bar, subject to approval through the authorisation process.
  • The normal duration of pupillage (and other forms of work-based learning) will continue to be twelve months (or part time-equivalent) although the new rules do permit it to be longer exceptionally - up to no more than 24 months - as long as this is authorised by the BSB.
  • The normal duration of the non-practising period of pupillage (or work-based learning) will stay the same - six months for full-time 12-month pupillages. A provisional practising certificate can be applied for after this time. An AETO may exceptionally apply for a variation to this norm as part of the authorisation process. The minimum funding award for pupillage or work-based learning is to be set in line with the Living Wage Foundation's recommendations. The rate for the minimum pupillage award that will apply from 1 September 2019 will be £18,436 per annum for pupillages in London and £15,728 per annum for pupillages outside London. The minimum award will then be increased in future with effect from 1 January each year, the first such increase being in January 2020. 
  • AETOs will be required to assess pupils in line with the threshold standard and competences specified in the Professional Statement. This is a change to the current requirement to complete the pupillage checklists. We are currently testing this with a group of early adopters and developing guidance before rolling it out as a requirement for all AETOs in autumn 2019.  The current rule granting automatic exemption from the pupillage funding rules for transferring lawyers will be removed, but AETOs may continue to apply for exemption in individual cases;
  • Refresher training will be mandatory for all pupil supervisors, and will be required every five years, or after three years for someone who has not supervised any pupils in the intervening time. The BSB will no longer prescribe the eligibility criteria for pupil supervisors and pupil supervisors no longer have to apply to their Inn for approval. It will be for the AETO to determine the suitability and competence of an individual to act as a pupil supervisor and to ensure that they have received (and continue to receive) appropriate training. Pupil supervisors will still need to attend training; this will have to meet the outcomes prescribed by the BSB. We will be publishing more information about this shortly.
  • A new mandatory Negotiation Skills course will be introduced and will need to be completed during this component of training. The compulsory advocacy course will remain and will still need to be completed during the non-practising period of pupillage or work-based learning. Pupils who have trained under one of the new pathways, (ie those how have only taken an AETO set Ethics exam during the vocational component), will need to take and pass the centralised Ethics exam during pupillage. The requirement to complete the Forensic Accountancy Course ceased on 1 March 2019. Those already registered on the course will still have the opportunity to benefit from, and complete, the course as BPP will provide continued support until 28 February 2020. The standard access period is 12 months starting from the date you enrolled onto the programme with BPP. If your enrolment to the programme has expired, please contact BPP to discuss this matter further.

You can read more about the current requirements for pupillage and the Work-based Learning Component online.

A new curriculum and assessment strategy

Aligned to the Professional Statement, we have also undertaken a complete review of the curriculum and assessments for prospective barristers. The aim of this was to ensure that all newly qualified barristers are enabled to meet the requirements of the Professional Statement by their first day of practice.

The curriculum and assessments review has led to a number of important changes. These include:

  • splitting the assessment of Professional Ethics between an assessment set by AETOs during the vocational component and a BSB centrally set and marked examination during pupillage or work-based learning, and making the centralised assessment of Professional Ethics an open book exam, thus better reflecting the real-life environment in which ethical questions are dealt with in practice; 
  • splitting the way that Civil Litigation is assessed into two papers - a closed book exam and an open book exam;
  • removing the current "Very Competent" and "Outstanding" grade boundaries from centralised assessments and thus focusing the outcome of a student's performance on whether they have achieved the minimum threshold standard required; and
  • removing the need to complete courses in Forensic Accountancy and Practice Management during pupillage or another form of work-based learning, and introducing a new mandatory Negotiation Skills course to be completed during this component of training; retaining the compulsory advocacy course during pupillage or work-based learning.

A new Curriculum and Assessments strategy has been published.

Taken as a package, we believe our changes to the training and qualification system strike just the right balance between reforming what needs to change and maintaining the proven, long-standing methods for training barristers. We think this more flexible, less prescriptive approach will stand the Bar in good stead for many years to come.

We believe the reforms will help to make Bar training more accessible, more flexible, and more affordable for prospective barristers while sustaining the high standards of entry expected within the profession. They will give the public confidence that newly qualified barristers have been rigorously trained and assessed and that they will provide them with a high standard of service.

If you have any questions about any aspects of FBT and what they mean for your plans to train and qualify as a barrister, please contact us at futurebartraining@barstandardsboard.org.uk