The Bar Standards Board has been lambasted by students and barristers for the "ridiculous" rules governing online exams for the Bar Professional Training Course.
In response to Covid-19, the Bar regulator decided that some exams on the BPTC will be taken remotely. The exams, set for August, are to be delivered by Pearson VUE, a company that specialises in computer-based tests. Students will be monitored via a microphone and webcam (take note).
Despite the novelty of being able to sit their exams wearing pyjamas, not all students are pleased, as Pearson VUE's terms have been criticised by some as being unworkable. One clause being picked apart by students states that an online exam will be void if "any third party" is "detected" or "overheard in any manner...irrespective of whether they are in your current location":
A barrister suggested the clause was particularly harsh for students with children:
A trustee for a legal charity agreed, describing the rule as "ridiculous" and "insane":
Another barrister criticised the wording for being far too broad:
Others highlighted that exams could be scuppered by a range of people - such as a neighbour, postman, passer-by or flatmate:
A solicitor specialising in discrimination cases questioned whether the term was fair for disabled people or their carers:
Other terms haven't gone down well. One clause forbids food or chewing gum, and dictates that the only permissible drink is "water in a clear glass". Breaks are also banned: “if your exam does not include a scheduled break, breaks are not allowed during the exam for any reason".
A criminal barrister said the strict rules on food, drinks and breaks could impact students with certain medical conditions:
"We are conscious that a number of students have questions about our approach," a BSB spokesman told RollOnFriday.
Regarding disabled students or those with other needs, the spokesman said that BPTC providers would "conduct an urgent reassessment of their students' equality and diversity needs" and discuss reasonable adjustments with the individuals. He referred to the BSB's website for further details.
In response to concerns that noise from a third party would render an exam void, the BSB spokesman said that if the "system detects a noise while a student is sitting an exam this will alert a human proctor who, if an infringement is detected, will attempt to notify the candidate to take corrective measures." He added "an extraneous noise will not therefore automatically end an exam as only a live proctor can terminate a session and this will only happen if there has been a clear infringement of the rules."
Given that students haven't always played fair, invigilators may yearn for the old days when rumbling a cheat in an exam hall just involved checking for notes in a pencil case.