I have friends (all right, acquaintances) all over the country, one of whom lectures at a BVC course. Wishing to keep themselves up to date they have been following the various debates and one has sent me some information. I have anonymised this, but I have preserved the proportions and the essential message.
Let us assume that this BVC course has 55 people. Of those, 6 got pupillage in the year we are talking about (one of the last 3). That is a success rate of about 12%.
Of those pupils, 4 received the result ‘Outstanding’. The staff had predicted 3 of those 4 Outstandings on the first day.
The 2 remaining successful students got their pupillage with the grade ‘Very Competent’. They got that grade – and so did 47 other people. As already mentioned there were 4 Outstandings, and there were 2 ‘Compentents’. 47 people achieved ‘Very Competent’ and failed to obtain a pupillage.
Some students were told, after the course, that they were unlikely to obtain a pupillage, in the opinion of those practising barristers who had taught them. Those with ‘Very Competents’ generally rejected the advice on the basis of their grade and at least 5 had another go. That, of course, meant that the next year there were not 55 (assuming the intake to have been the same), but 60 people from this particular BVC competing for the same pupillages.
So where, asks my informant, is the added value of the course? And, says my informant “It is obviously not in the course providers’ interest to comment on an individual’s prospects; it is the Bar which must do this by way of an admissions test. If the above results are replicated in other institutions it would seem relatively easy to devise a fair test to weed out those who would never get pupillage. Even if the failures were still able to sit the bvc at least they had been fairly appraised and informed of their chances; the rest is up to them.”
However nice it is to get a Very Competent, it loses its meaning if it is the grade given to 49/55 pupils (89%). I have previously said that your BVC grade is unlikely to be helpful unless it is an Outstanding, and only likely to sink you if it is not a Very Competent – and this is why. Exciting expectations is unfair. Asking for a large sum to complete a course which then provides no grade upon which Chambers will rely is unfair.
I would really welcome comment on this by BVC providers – anonymously if required. If nothing else I would like to be wrong in my rather gloomy view that some people are spending a lot of money for nothing and that those people could be identified before they signed the cheque and warned. After that if they proceed with the course, that’s fine – it’s a free country.
In an effort to encourage debate I propose that the collective noun for BVC providers might be: an extortion. Yuck.