“The BPTC is exploitative. Providers don’t care about you, they care about the money”: BSB focus group lays bare BPTC’s problems

The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) has been branded as “exploitative” and “not fit for purpose” by barristers, pupils and bar students.

The practitioners and students were part of several focus groups set up by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to examine how bar education and training needs to change. The groups comprised 51 people in total, made up of 21 barristers, 18 Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) tutors, seven BPTC graduates, three pupils and two BPTC students.

According to the BSB’s focus group report, almost everyone involved believed change was necessary and focused their criticisms on the cost of BPTC, the scarcity of pupillages and the reputation of the course among some practitioners.

One new practitioner said: “What I learned on the BPTC I have subsequently had to unlearn, and it is better that I unlearned it” while another new practitioner claimed they had been told to “forget everything [they] learned on the BPTC”.

Another commented that the poor standard of English of some bar pupils had a strong negative impact on others’ advocacy training, a claim which was backed up by the admission of a bar tutor that some students did not speak English to the required level as they were allowed to self-certify their language skills.

The price of the course, which costs around £18,000 in London, also came under fire. One new practitioner said: “The BPTC is actually exploitative. Providers don’t care about you, they care about the money”.

The comments echo a report into the BPTC released in April. ‘Criminal Justice, Advocacy and the Bar’, commissioned by the Bar Council and led by Geoffrey Rivlin QC, said that “commercial providers are using the system to make money from people with no realistic prospect of pupillage.” It prompted a robust response from one such provider, Nottingham Law School.

An experienced barrister derided the financial risk associated with the BPTC, saying: “It’s an absolute disgrace for a course this expensive that only one in five will get to use a qualification that is useless for anything other than becoming a barrister.” 

BPTC tutors called attention to the marking scheme of the course, the design of which is rigid and, according to tutors, allows able students to fail and less able students to pass because of its overly prescriptive approach to key words identified by the mark scheme. They also decried the lack of rigorous training for external examiners.

The suggestion to integrate pupillage and the BPTC was also considered, though ultimately rejected by the BSB in its consultation document, which read: “We are not currently contemplating abandoning a fundamentally “three stage” approach to qualifying”.

Entry requirements to the BPTC were also discussed. Some BPC graduates and pupils were in favour of interviewing all candidates for the BPTC while others believed that the entry requirement should be raised from a 2:2 to a 2:1, a proposal which the BSB recognised had some merit as in its consultation it stated: “We believe there is a significantly lower risk that an individual with an upper second-class degree would not possess the relevant intellectual abilities than that an individual with a lower second-class degree would not possess them.”