Cheaper and more flexible routes to qualification have been mooted in a consultation published by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

Mixing up the academic, vocational and pupillage stages is suggested in a paper that the BSB said could result in the “most sweeping reforms” in a generation.

Focus groups, comprising 51 people, including 21 barristers, set up to inform the paper, agreed that change is needed to address the cost, content and reputation of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and lack of pupillages.

One new barrister said: “The BPTC is actually exploitative. Providers don’t care about you, they care about the money.”

The BSB’s Director of Education and Training, Dr Simon Thornton-Wood, said, “We have reached a crucial stage of considering what the future of a more flexible system of training and qualifying might look like”.

The consultation closes on 30 October. A further paper on more concrete reforms will follow in 2016.

Speaking at the Australian Bar Association conference, Bar chairman Alistair MacDonald QC also called for an overhaul of the BPTC to make it cheaper and more flexible.

He said that he supported the idea of the director of the Council of Inns of Court, James Wakefield, to spilt the course into two parts, with the first knowledge-based element delivered online and the second practical part delivered over a shorter period than at present.

MacDonald said: “I have every reason to believe that this system will be accepted and will become available in the foreseeable future.”

Meanwhile, the Bar Council has brought forward the opening of the Pupillage Gateway – the online application system – from April to January so that candidates know if they have secured pupillage before committing to the BPTC.