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SQE2 pass rate up – but ethnic attainment gap continues to yawn

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(23 August 2023)

Latest results for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination show that ethnic disparities in pass rates remain stubbornly intractable – in a process that was designed to boost diversity.

Exam results for 996 candidates who sat SQE2 in April were released yesterday. SQE2, which also tests practical skills, is marked using professional judgements. In this aspect it differs from the multiple-choice SQE1, which is designed to test ‘functioning legal knowledge’.

While the overall pass rate has increased since last October’s sitting – 77% compared with 71% – SQE2 pass rates for black and Asian candidates remain significantly lower than for white candidates.

White people made up 57% of candidates sitting SQE2 for the first time, with a 90% pass rate. Asian people made up 21% of those sitting the exam for the first time, with a 71% pass rate. Black people made up 4% of candidates, with a 52% pass rate.

Performance data for everyone who sat the exam in April will be presented in the SQE annual report.

Last October, white people comprised 38% of all candidates who sat the exam, with a 74% pass rate; Asian people comprised 32% of candidates, with a 67% pass rate; and black people comprised 7% of candidates, with a 53% pass rate.

The first SQE2 exams were held in April 2022, where white people represented 50% of candidates, with an 85% pass rate. Asian people made up 21% of candidates, with a 72% pass rate. Black people made up 8% of candidates, with a 53% pass rate.

The attainment gap is on the SRA’s radar. The regulator has commissioned the University of Exeter’s School of Law and Business to examine the potential causes, which is due to be completed by the end of this year.

The first phase of the work, a literature review, was published in June.

SRA chief executive Paul Philip said at the time: ‘We know that there is a longstanding and worrying pattern of different outcomes for candidates from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in many professional qualifications, including those in law. We want to know why this is happening in law and develop a plan to address this, where we can. This independent research is the first step in better understanding what reasons lie behind the picture we are seeing.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)