SQE1 pass rate drops and diversity gap remains in latest SQE results

updated on 31 March 2023

Reading time: three minutes

The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) latest report shows a drop in overall pass rate for the first part of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), SQE1, from 53% in the November 2021 sitting to 51% in the January 2023 sitting.

However, firms are being urged not to make any “sudden negative decisions” regarding future or current trainees.

Introduced in September 2021, the SQE is now the centralised route to qualifying as a solicitor. The SRA report released this week highlights the performance of candidates for SQE1, which tests the functioning legal knowledge (FLK) of aspiring lawyers. The pass rate for candidates who passed first time in January 2023 was 54%, with candidates performing better in SQE1 FLK1 (57% pass rate) compared to SQE1 FLK2 (56% pass rate).

The report also highlights the difference in pass rates between candidates with different characteristics and backgrounds. According to the report, the overall SQE1 pass rate for:

  • white candidates was 63%;
  • Asian/Asian British candidates was 47%;
  • Black/Black British candidates was 29%;
  • mixed/multiple ethnic groups was 54%; and
  • other ethnic groups was 38%.

This is a very similar picture to that of the first SQE1 sitting in November 2021, with the pass rate for white candidates at 66% and the pass rate for Black/Black British candidates at 39%.

Chair of the SRA board Anna Bradley said that they’d “anticipated” the “troubling different in performance” between these groups. The University of Exeter has been appointed to carry out research to better understand the reasons driving this gap.

The report shows little difference in pass rates between candidates who considered themselves to have a disability and those who didn’t, as well as between male and female candidates (65% and 60%, respectively).

Meanwhile, the overall pass rate for candidates who said one or both of their parents attended university was 58% and for those who said neither of their parents attended university it was 45%. The report highlighted a clear discrepancy between candidates who went to state-educated or independent schools – of those who went to a state-run or state-funded school between the ages of 11 and 16 (non-selective) the pass rate was 51%, while the pass rate for those who attended an independent or fee-paying school was 61%.

This disparity in pass rates between candidates’ class was picked up again when the SRA looked at the occupation of candidates’ main household earner when the candidate was around 14 years old. The pass rate for those who declared the main household earner to be of a professional background was 56%, while the pass rate for those who cited a working-class background was 48%.

Prior to the report's publication, the City of London Law Society’s (CLLS) training committee held an emergency meeting with 16 law firms and three legal education providers to work out how to support those who fail to pass SQE1 the first time. Patrick McCann, director of learning at Linklaters LLP and chair of the CLLS, took to LinkedIn to encourage employers to offer understanding and support to future or current trainees who were unsuccessful in the January 2023 SQE assessments and to keep their talent. He wrote: “We need much more data before we can be in any way sure that first-time failure is indicative of lack of trainee-solicitor capability.” He described the assessment as “unvalidated” and said it “tests performance with a methodology unfamiliar to nearly all candidates” while urging employers not to make any “sudden negative decisions”.

For more information and updates on the SQE as they happen, head to LawCareers.Net’s SQE hub, sponsored by The University of Law.