Bar course pass rates fall and pupil barrister numbers drop, according to BSB

updated on 17 August 2021

Nearly 20% fewer Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students had completed the course in 2019/20 as of May 2021, compared with the 2018/19 cohort, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) reported in July – an additional 2.5% had withdrawn from the course at this stage.

The report states that the impact of covid-19 has clearly “affected the proportion of students completing the BPTC in 2019/20 academic year.”

As of March 2021, the number of BPTC graduates (UK/EU) who started pupillage also dropped from 23% (2018/19 intake starting in 2019/20) to 10% (2019/20 intake starting in 2020/21) – this equates to 47 out of the 421 from that cohort.

Meanwhile, the report highlighted that ethnic minority candidates who enrolled on the BPTC between 2014 and 2018 were less likely to have started pupillage than their White counterparts. Just over 41% of “UK/EU domiciled graduates with an upper-second class degree and Very Competent BPTC grade” from White backgrounds had started pupillage, compared to 23% of those from ethnic minority backgrounds with an equivalent degree and BPTC grade.

The overall number of pupils has plummeted by nearly a third across a 30-year span, the BSB revealed in its ‘Trends in retention and demographics at the Bar: 1990-2020’ report. In 1991, 757 graduates commenced pupillage. This figure has since fallen by nearly 30% to 542 in 2020. As pupil numbers drop, competition for pupillage spaces is only going to increase. In the latest recruitment round, over 3,000 aspiring barristers competed for just 246 pupillages through the centralised Pupillage Gateway, according to Legal Cheek.

In addition, the report indicates that the number of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds increased by just 5% from 1990 to 2020 to an average of 18.8%. Pupils from Asian backgrounds increased from 6.3% to 9.5% and those from mixed backgrounds jumped from 1.9% to 4.4%. That said, the number of pupils from Black backgrounds has remained the same at just under 4%

Chair of the Bar Council Derek Sweeting QC said that the report’s findings “will help inform the Bar Council’s future support for the profession.”