Everything you need to know about the future of Bar training

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Bar Standards Board Director-General Dr Vanessa Davies summarises what is and is not changing to the process by which prospective barristers will train and qualify from 2019


Since 2014, the BSB has been undertaking a thorough review of the way in which barristers train and qualify in England and Wales. We have consulted extensively with the profession, students, education providers and other interested parties about those parts of the current process that work well and those that work less well. We have done this in order to develop an accessible, more affordable and flexible training system that can continue to attract the brightest talent to the Bar and develop it in such a way as to sustain the high standards rightly expected of barristers.

Our review has now reached the stage where, subject to the Board’s review of responses to our last consultation on our proposed rules and final Legal Services Board approval, new training rules will come into effect in early 2019. Here, I summarise what is changing and, equally importantly, what is not changing. The new rules are an evolution, not a revolution.

The importance of the Professional Statement

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 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.

Surprising as it may seem, before the Professional Statement was devised, there was no single source that defined the threshold standard and competences. 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.

Core components of Bar training but more flexible

It has always been clear that most of the knowledge and most of the skills acquired by barristers during their training are essential. After all, much of this knowledge and these skills have been acquired by barristers for centuries – and for good reason too.

"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"

However, what is less certain is the best order for these skills and knowledge to be acquired. In truth, what matters is not so much the sequential order of training prescribed in the current rules, but the actual training components themselves. 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;
  • 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 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 criteria under which we will authorise new courses in a draft Authorisation Framework available on our website. Any applications for authorisation under the Authorisation Framework must meet our criteria of accessibility, affordability, flexibility and sustaining high standards.

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 review will lead 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; 
  • 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.

Please check the BSB website for more information about these changes and when they are likely to come into effect.

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.

Dr Vanessa Davies, Bar Standards Board Director-General


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;
  • 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.


10 things you need to know about forthcoming changes to pupillage

As well as the aspects explained in this article, there are some additional changes in relation to the rules governing pupillage. As interesting as what IS changing, is what is NOT changing!

  1. 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.
  2. Whilst we expect that the vast majority of barristers will continue to obtain this component of learning via a traditional ‘pupillage’, our new rules introduce greater flexibility by allowing ‘pupillages’ to be known additionally as ‘periods of work-based learning’ 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Any organisation providing a pupillage can maintain the system of having pupil supervisors supervise only one pupil at a time.
  5. The new rules, when they come into effect in 2019, will 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.
  6. The normal duration of pupillage (and other forms of work-based learning) will continue to be 12 months (or part time-equivalent) although the new rules do permit it to be longer – up to no more than 24 months – as long as this is authorised by the BSB.
  7. 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.
  8. The minimum funding award for pupillage or work-based learning is to be set in line with the Living Wage Foundation’s recommendations. For example, if the award were to have been made on this basis in 2018, it would have increased from £12,000pa to £17,212.50pa in London, and £14,765.63pa outside London. All pupillages starting from 1 September 2019 onwards will be subject to the Living Wage Foundation minimum funding level.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 prescribe outcomes for pupil supervisor training.
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Dr Vanessa Davies

Vanessa is Director General of the Bar Standards Board and a Bencher of Inner Temple. She is currently overseeing the Future Bar Training Programme, including the new CPD arrangements.