Dr Giles Proctor, CEO of The College of Legal Practice reflects on the first year of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination
As 2023 rolls in, so begins an element of reflection at the scale of change facing the legal education sector. Here at The College of Legal Practice it has been no different, and we have been on a learning curve as the first year of the SQE has initiated repeat cycles of preparation and examination. In this article I will share our reflections on the first assessments for SQE1 and SQE2.
Three points to make initially. Firstly, we have been privileged to have students who have chosen to study with us for the SQE. Your typical College student is working full-time, they are passionate, ambitious legal professionals, with the vast majority self-funding their studies. Therefore, in terms of enabling access to the profession, which is one of our main goals as an organisation, nearly half of our students have only been able to study and take the SQE, by accessing a Master’s Loan. This loan covers both the costs of the College’s LLM in Legal Practice, that includes SQE1 and 2 prep, and the costs of SQE Assessments. This is a deliberate choice on our part to position our LLM study at a cost of £6,900, (at up to half the cost of some other providers) to allow students to prepare for the SQE, pay Kaplan assessment fees and wrap around the technical and legal skills they need for practice. This programme undoubtedly enhances the career prospects of our students as they move towards formal qualification and entry into the profession.
Secondly, our students have also told us how much they have appreciated the true flexibility of our courses. For example, the fact that they can study in the evening and on weekends, every session is recorded so they can watch it in their own time, and weekly not daily deadlines help them with the practicalities of studying whilst working.
Thirdly, the feedback we have had from our students on the importance of having the opportunities to meet with tutors or supervisors as part of the preparation course is so encouraging. We believe this support is key to ensuring students have the very best opportunity to pass the examinations.
How did the students do? What common themes emerge?
Given the students direct relationship with Kaplan as the assessment organisation and their self-registration both for assessment information and results, there is no provider-wide data available as yet and therefore little analysis to that we can look to view for a sector-wide. Providers can only report on the performance in the examination by letting the provider know their results. We know that those that have passed are much more likely to do this than those that haven’t.
We appreciate the high satisfaction rates from our own students regarding their preparation and the preparation courses as a whole. For me the most important concrete data we have is from students telling us that our SQE1 and SQE2 internal assessments get them to the level to feel comfortable in the actual assessments; a reason we designed our preparation materials to be very closely aligned to the SQE syllabi.
We now recognise some emerging themes across our SQE student body that may help future students have the best chance of passing the SQE. Lets share a few of these with you here:
- Take up the offer of individual supervision to guide you and manage your performance helps with your chances of passing the exam.. Every student that came to the College for SQE1 was offered 10 individual supervisions from expert practitioners and tutors. The SQE2 students also receive high levels of individual feedback and supervision. This scale of individual supervision, (which we believe is unequalled in the SQE training space) is the cornerstone of our design and has been the most highly rated part of our courses by students.
- The amount of time that students have to study whilst working and with other pressures, greatly effects their ability to revise and perform in the assessments. This may seem obvious, but we are finding that students don’t know enough about the SQE or the amount of work required before they start. It is our responsibility as a provider to help them understand this and manage their expectations and their work/study/life balance. This is also something for employers to consider when they are looking at what time they need to give their trainees to prepare.
- For SQE1, teaching technique to students to address MCQs efficiently at pace is vital and builds confidence. It is very difficult to learn the functioning legal knowledge (FLK)principles required for SQE1 and pass the MCQs, without a specific learning design that supports your development and practice and incorporates guidance from the supervisors.
- For SQE2, students must have legal knowledge at their fingertips; mastering the legal skills alone is not enough. 50% of SQE 2 assessment marks come from a sound grasp of underpinning legal knowledge. So, students must revise for the relevant practice areas for SQE 2, particularly if it has been a while since they studied law on their degree, LPC or their SQE1.
- Be realistic and self-aware about your own progress as you prep for the SQE. Our individual SQE Ready Reviews and mock assessments aim to give students a clear sense of whether they will be successful in the SQE examinations. It isn’t ‘failproof’, but we are confident that we can give an expert opinion on a student’s chances of success towards the end of the course before the booking window closes.
My final point is that we are committed at the College to becoming a critical continuously developing HE academic community, part of which involves constantly talking to our students about what works for them and what doesn’t. I’d like to thank our students for sharing their views; they help us drive improvements to the learning experience for others, and we have already made changes based on their feedback. For example, extending our question bank for SQE1, and offering students early access to sections of our SLK and SLS manuals so they can get started early.
So what lies ahead for the SQE?
Looking forward, 3 thoughts for SQEs second year:
- How can we narrow or remove the attainment gap which has been evidenced in the past on LLBs and LPCs? In this respect we welcome SRA-commissioned University of Exeter research into attainment gaps in the SQE for different ethnic groups, particularly Black/Black British candidates.
- How will the legal sector adjust to the impact of the qualifying work experience (QWE) regime (which goes hand in hand with the flexibility of the SQE assessments)? Is there a new trainee model emerging here?
- As we see our first College qualifiers through the SQE assessments (and our first LLM completers), we will start to see the next generation of solicitors emerging through the new training regime. Will their grounding in legal principle and SQE2 skills give them a better foundation for practice than LPC? We believe it well may do this.
To conclude, as a team, we have learnt and refined a lot in 2022, and this year we are greatly looking forward to seeing more career outcomes of the SQE regime this year for our students, and being able to support many more students to progress towards their goal of becoming a solicitor.
Dr Giles Proctor
CEO, The College of Legal Practice