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Responding to the Training Framework Review: the UK Centre for Legal Education

The UK Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE) is the subject centre for law of the Higher Education Academy, the UK-wide organisation set up to support law schools and lecturers in enhancing student learning and the student experience. UKCLE supports effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment and works with law teachers at both the academic and vocational stages of legal education. It provides a range of services including staff development events, publications, Web resources and funds for research and project development. It has mutually supportive relationships with the key legal education organisations, all of which are represented on its Advisory Board. Through the Learning in Law Initiative (LILI), UKCLE has contact with each UK law school and maintains a database of the interests and concerns of the LILI membership that is used to inform UKCLE activities.


UKCLE cautiously welcomes the proposals for review outlined by the Law Society. Opening up the qualification process for solicitors to a wider and more flexible range of pathways is very positive. Below we first address the issues listed on page 21 of the consultation and then summarise those issues we broadly approve of and those that cause us greater concern.

Day one outcomes

The key outcomes of vocational education and training for solicitors in our view include having a solid and broad knowledge of legal principles and rules, the ability to apply effectively that knowledge to a range of situations, the aptitudes required for practice, including effective communication with clients, colleagues and other professionals, and finally a clear appreciation of and ability to behave as a professional with a sound ethical basis. These outcomes can only be achieved through practice, whether on a course of study, in the workplace, or preferably a combination of the two. We favour a training process that enables an entrant to the profession to develop these attributes incrementally, seeing the training as a continuum, rather than a series of discrete stages.

We agree broadly that the proposed outcomes in the consultation cover those areas of knowledge and practice that an entrant to the profession should be familiar with on qualification. Further comment on the individual outcomes is difficult in the absence of more detail.

1 Risks of reliance upon a solely outcomes-based approach

The dangers of relying upon a purely outcomes-based approach include:

  • Effective achievement of outcomes in a variety of areas must involve process. It is unwise not to recognise the ways that knowledge and skills are accumulated during training. An outcomes focus need not dispense with the processes by which those outcomes are achieved. Fragmented and piecemeal pathways will limit the opportunity for students to reflect upon and adjust their learning in the light of experience. In essence, learning from mistakes and formative feedback will be constrained. Sole reliance on outcomes and the separation of assessments from teaching will exacerbate the lack of continuum in legal education and training.
  • Further, the student learning experience, which cannot be separated from the outcomes, will be jeopardised if there is little or no quality assurance of the courses or programmes which equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills.
  • The would-be entrants to the profession would have no guarantee, in the absence of Law Society accreditation, that the programmes they follow would lead to achievement of the outcomes. There is likely to be insufficient information on the quality of study programmes for students and providers. We can illustrate this situation as follows: While we are in favour of inclusion of an outcome of knowledge of legal personalities to Level 3 or equivalent, the lack of specification of the stage at which this knowledge should be acquired, and the more general implicit abandonment of the qualifying law degree requirements, will leave law schools and students ignorant as to what should be provided and as to quality of provision.

These issues are returned to in para. 2, below, in the context of the divorcing teaching from assessments.

We welcome the increased emphasis on behaviour and values in the outcomes. However, we feel that the notion of being a professional, referred to in our own desired outcomes above, is not adequately represented in the consultation paper. While it is not possible or desirable to create a stereotype of a new entrant to the profession, understanding what it means to be professional is vital.

The proposed outcome as currently stated goes some of the way to identifying the professional, but it suggests that the required understanding need only be developed at the work-based learning stage. An even earlier grounding in these elements from undergraduate level would be more beneficial to students. While these are notions that are difficult to define precisely, development of a professional attitude commonly occurs over time through the socialisation of an individual as a member of a collective enterprise of learning or acculturation to specialised knowledge and practices.

2 Assessing knowledge, understanding and skills

Our concerns lie with the separation of assessment from process, the method of assessment, details of which are still sketchy, and the regulation or monitoring of the proposed assessments. These are linked to flexibility in course design and delivery.

  • It is admirable to enable course providers to be more innovative in their course provision. However, there is a danger that divorcing assessment from teaching will in fact serve to discourage the innovation and creativity that should be necessary for constantly evolving professional development. Consequently, providers will merely teach to the assessments. This will result in a reduction in the credibility of the process and lead students to regard their training as even more instrumental than they do currently.
  • A return to centrally set assessments, as we understand it, to cover knowledge only will be a retrogressive step. We would strongly recommend that careful research is undertaken before a final decision is made on whether to proceed with such assessments.
  • Greater emphasis on experiential and imaginative learning and teaching methods needs to be embedded throughout legal education, as part of the continuum that we advocate. Currently, as research has shown, students on the Legal Practice Course find it hard to make a useful connection between the course and the training contract. There is at present little continuum in the training process.
  • We would challenge the notion that assessment and process can be separated. Modern assessment methods, such as work-based learning, portfolios and assessment of skills, require process. Such separation is pedagogically unsound, and adds to our fear that there will be no guarantee for students of the outcomes being achieved in the fragmented courses that could develop.

3 Work-based learning requirements and assessment of the work-based learning stage

We welcome the proposals relating to the period of work-based learning, although with certain reservations. The current system of the training contract, and particularly how it is monitored, is in need of review. Requiring training of supervisors is in principle a positive step, but will increase the burden on practitioners, particularly those in smaller firms, and may deter firms from taking trainees. This would then lead to fewer job opportunities in what is already an overloaded market.

Our principal concern in relation to the proposals for assessing work-based learning (WBL) is that there is as yet insufficient understanding of the processes through which WBL could provide a basis for developing and evaluating the essential knowledge and abilities that the modern profession needs.

Requiring trainees to complete learning logs is commendable. However, it would be beneficial to a would-be entrant to have reflected on their experience throughout the course of their education and training rather than merely to have ticked outcomes achieved upon completion. We suggest that the use of learning logs need not be reserved to this particular stage of training. Completion throughout the process would enable trainees to monitor achievement of the outcomes, reflect on their experience and more effectively improve their skills. This would also allow students to gain a better sense of a continuum in their training.

Further, by the time such proposals are implemented, many, if not most, entrants to the profession will have had experience of reflective portfolios through progress files at undergraduate level. However, the form and content of the learning log must be given careful consideration to ensure that it is effective. Requiring a trainee to complete 500 to 1,000 words per outcome is a sizeable burden, as is requiring supervisors to assess the logs. We would be concerned that standardised wording could develop to save time, which would not accurately reflect a trainee’s experience.

4 Proposals for alternative pathways to qualification

We have already stated that the opportunity for alternative pathways is a positive step. We are not reassured however that the result will be an increase in diversity in the profession. There could be confusion for would-be entrants if numerous pathways and/or courses develop, unless clear and timely guidance is given The acknowledgement in the proposals of the need for appropriate guidance for students is therefore welcome.

As an alternative, to achieve greater flexibility in pathways, it would perhaps be more appropriate for the Law Society to change its rules, procedures and requirements, for example with regard to the availability of credit transfer.

5 Flexibility in course design and delivery

One area where the current process does need change is an increase in flexibility of course provision. We have already expressed our concern that whilst the consultation paper encourages innovation and flexibility, progress will be hampered by separating course provision from assessment. There is a risk that crammer courses will develop, of poor or unknown quality. The lack of monitoring by the Law Society of standards in courses of potentially variable lengths will add to the confusion and uncertainty for students. We would endorse the flexibility proposed, but encourage the Law Society to retain its quality assurance role. In addition, providers must be given ample time to develop and pilot new courses.

Summary of issues

We welcome:

  • Greater diversity in the opportunities to enter the solicitors profession.
  • The overall emphasis upon outcomes assessment, so long as this is not to the detriment of existing mechanisms for maintaining and promoting process centred learning programmes (for example problem-based and experiential initiatives).
  • The recognition that more opportunities need to be provided for more students from non-traditional backgrounds to contribute to the profession.
  • The explicit support for greater diversity in teaching and assessment methods, although we doubt that the potential benefits of such methods are seriously addressed by the proposals.

We are concerned that:

  • The justifications posed do not support the recommended remedies nor in our view do the outcomes resolve those issues.
  • The lack of detail or explanation of the effects of the proposals prevents meaningful comment. In the absence of proposals for maintaining the accreditation of existing programmes or comprehensive explanation of the procedures for assessing the final outcomes, we believe the consultation paper is too vague. At best it could reinvigorate legal education and open new pathways to qualification; at worst it could undermine the achievements of recent years and herald widespread lowering of standards.
  • As a result of the increased burden on firms, leading to some deciding not to offer training places and the resultant increase in costs, there will be a reduction in the diversity of entrants.
  • There is no analysis of the costs for trainees, firms or the profession. The costs to firms will in all likelihood increase, with added training burdens such as supervisor training and new courses, which could be very expensive. It is highly doubtful whether the overall cost to students or the profession will be reduced. If institutions that train and assess continue to be regulated (which we would support), there will be no reduction in the costs for students on such programmes. If assessment of the final outcomes is centrally organised, the cost would present a considerable additional burden.
  • We do not believe that the Morgenbesser case warrants such a drastic response. The Law Society could instead ensure that measures are in place to enable assessment of an EU national’s prior training in the context of the system here.
  • While the proposals are wide ranging and potentially radical radical, we are disappointed that the opportunity has not been taken to review the training framework in conjunction with the Bar.


In the light of the comments above, we would emphasise the need for careful and considered research into the principal areas of change proposed:

  • the separation of the learning process from assessment, and (over) reliance on outcomes
  • the development and assessment of learning logs
  • the greater recognition of periods of work-based learning
  • cost implications

Although there is a case for change in the qualification process, wholesale overhaul is not in our view necessary. In any event we urge a further period of consultation before the proposals in the third consultation are adopted, together with reassurances that current quality assurance processes will be maintained.

Last Modified: 19 July 2010