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Archive for February 25th, 2010

The Bar Standards Board has published a report on the ‘Triggered Visit’ to BPP Law School.

The report states, under ‘The Rationale for The Visit’: “The visit was held to discuss the over recruitment of students by BPP onto the full time and part time course for AY2009-10. An informal ‘fact finding’ meeting was held with members of BPP management on 11 September (right after notification) and a formal meeting, chaired by Nigel Cooper QC, was held on 29 September 2009. Notes of these meetings may be made available separately to relevant committees. The focus of discussion was on the reasons for over recruitment, how it had come about, the nature of infringement of the contract and what might be done to correct the situation – given that the students are of primary concern.”

BPP Law School prides itself as being one of the leading providers of vocational education.  The School is now able to award degrees following approval from the Privy Council.  With such privileges and powers comes responsibility. By oversubscribing on the Bar Vocational Course by a significant amount – the report states the accredited number and the oversubscription: “264 Full Time (318) (at time of visit) /96 Part Time (97) (at time of visit)” – BPP Law School has broken the rules.

I spoke to the Dean and CEO of BPP Law School, Peter Crisp, who told me that the over subscription was ‘inadvertent’. My response to him was that this may well be so, and suggested that he might like to focus his attention on the administration more closely so as to avoid any further inadvertent oversubscriptions in future.

The Bar Standards Board has clearly picked up on this inadvertence with a very strong Condition (Condition 1) which BPP Law School must comply with in future:

“Prior to making any offer for the courses commencing in Sept 2010, BPP must engage the services of an independent statistician or similar expert, (name and CV to be approved by the BSB) to review all available admissions data for the previous 5 years and clarify that in his/her professional opinion the number of offers that BPP wishes to make should not lead to over-recruitment. This certification is to be provided to the BSB before any offers are made, and thereafter the number of offers made by BPP shall not exceed the certified number. This procedure is to be repeated for the courses commencing in September 2011 and September 2012.”

The Bar Standards Board has no power to fine providers – which is fair enough and short of the ‘nuclear’ option of withdrawing accreditation (not merited here) there is little that can be done in terms of penalty.  Given my experience in the past (I founded BPP Law School with Charlie Prior, then CEO of BPP Holdings plc) I am well aware of the inspection process.  The Bar Standards Board is to be commended for what was clearly a rigorous inspection –  even a cursory read of the published report reveals this – and, more importantly, for being prepared to publish their findings.  The BSB plans to publish reports of all inspection visits in future, in line with The Solicitors Regulatory Authority practice  in connection with the Legal Practice Course for solicitors.

BPP earned an additional £793800 for their Bar Vocational Course  (318 enrolled – 264 accredited number of places x BVC fees £14700 (2009) = 793800.

This goes straight to the bottom line. I understand that BPP will have to pay the not insubstantial costs of the inspection visit and they will have incurred additional expenditure in terms of teaching costs, library and IT provision.

Only one other provider (Northumbria University) exceeded the accredited number of places. Other providers will have taken care not to exceed the accredited number of places for fear of being in breach. BPP Law School by breaking the rules, inadvertently or not, have enjoyed a bonus in terms of fee income.  Peter Crisp maintains that the enrolment process in terms of offers to places is not an exact science.  I would dispute this – given that when I ran BPP  Law School we did not break the accredited numbers for the GDL, the LPC or the BVC.  It is difficult to predict numbers but it is not impossible to do so accurately and stay..to coin a phrase from the world of politics… ‘within the rules”.

I am not surprised that the BSB has required BPP to appoint an independent statistician to review all available admissions data for the previous 5 years and clarify that in his/her professional opinion the number of offers that BPP wishes to make should not lead to over-recruitment. BPP made  “620 offers… and 434 acceptances were received by BPP (in April), for 264 validated places.”

This is serious inadvertence. Students are not supposed to make ‘multiple acceptances’. Given that most students who apply for the BVC will get the grades needed to progress, BPP must have been aware that a serious oversubscription problem was heading their way. Interestingly, the Bar Standards Board report states… “During an accreditation meeting in May, there was no mention of the possibility of over-recruitment occurring; in fact, BPP reported that they were ‘working to avoid over-recruitment.’

I accept Peter Crisp’s statement that the oversubscription was inadvertent and not motivated or connected in any way with the sale of BPP Holdings PLC to Apollo last year.  I have no evidence to support any other conclusion.

I take the view, not unreasonably, that BPP Law School has behaved badly on this oversubscription issue.  They have demonstrated that their administration needs to be sorted out on the admissions process and, given that there appears to have been a flurry of activity to reduce numbers by bumping students off the course by seeing if any had paid their fees late

  • Students who had payment problems were sent emails telling them they were not on the course (an action BPP admitted they would not have taken if they had not over-recruited) on the 1/2 September.

There were also reports that BPP were asking students to defer for a year because the Bar Standards Board required them to do so.  This, I am told, was not the case. … The report makes indirect mention of this:

A problem was reported, by some students, regarding the admission process. There are two groups of students who were all, one week before the course was due to start, told they had lost their place on the course due to late payment of fees. The panel was also told that the correspondence merely cited that BPP would love to be able to help, but because of BSB policy regarding numbers, they had to lose their place on the course. It later transpired that most of them had either paid by bank transfer (the money had been floating, unidentified) or were under scholarship from an Inn, so they were subsequently told that they could remain on the course. They students found this very stressful, and felt that the situation could have been dealt with in a much better manner. They were given no warning, or request for payment, but just told they no longer had a place on the course, with no chance to offer an explanation. They have subsequently felt as if the course was organised and tutors allocated without their groups in the equation. This is a cause for concern for the BSB, since the BSB is concerned with a consistent, quality assured experience for students.”

The rest of the report deals with quality assurance and health and safety issues.  BPP Law School is still a good law school. There is no doubt about that.  I had a twitter message from a fellow user of Twitter to indicate that things improved at BPP following the BSB visit and I have also heard or read first hand reports from BPP students confirming that the teaching and provision was good.

BPP Law School hasn’t been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They have, however, broken the rules.  They have not got away scot-free. It is true that the costs incurred are far less than the profit they made by the oversubscription.  BPP Law School has been given a fairly sharp slap on the wrists by the Bar Standards Board – the requirement to appoint an independent statistician is, in anyone’s money – a pretty scathing comment.

Perhaps the Law School’s new masters – Apollo – would like to start a scholarship fund with the additional profit to pay CASH and fee grants to prospective law students who wish to read for the Bar?  That would be a fair and honourable thing to do – but will BPP do it?

They are now under the gaze of the Bar Standards Board (and an independent statistician!) and they are certainly going to be looked at, rightly, by their competitors, journalists and… of course…. me as a blogger!

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Listening to Nigel Farage of UKIP being rude about the new barely visible President of Europe (Herman Von Rumpoy) – a pretty poor attempt to do a Dan Hannan and go viral –  I was struck not only by the astonishing ‘crudeness of the  rudeness’  (Rather un-British) but also by the poor quality of the oratory…  As Oscar Wilde observed… “A gentleman is never unintentionally rude”

The Press Association reports: Mr Farage declared: “We were told that when we had a president, we’d see a giant global political figure, a man who would be the political leader for 500 million people, the man that would represent all of us all of us on the world stage, the man whose job was so important that of course you’re paid more than President Obama.”

He continued: “Well, I’m afraid what we got was you… I don’t want to be rude but, really, you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk and the question I want to ask is: who are you? – I’d never heard of you, nobody in Europe had ever heard of you.”

Mr Farage went on: “I can speak on behalf of the majority of British people in saying that we don’t know you, we don’t want you and the sooner you are put out to grass, the better.”

I have removed Farage’s third finger with Photoshop in the picture above.  It seems he doesn’t need more than two fingers to make his political points. I can see Mr Farage shouting obscenities at opposing football fans and flicking V signs, safe in the knowledge that the Police presence will ensure that there is no ‘physical’ retaliation.  Perhaps Mr Farage could be a consultant for the British Tourist Board?

And now for a bit of Law…

Mercy killers to face the full rigour of criminal law, says DPP

Frances Gibb of The Times writes: “Mercy killers will face the full rigours of the criminal law under guidelines to be announced today by the Director of Public Prosecutions. But people who answer a loved one’s request to assist them in committing suicide are unlikely to be prosecuted, Keir Starmer says.

Writing in The Times today, he makes clear that his final revised policy on assisted suicide reflects the concerns of the 5,000 individuals and groups who responded to his proposals. And he emphasised that the policy did not cover so-called mercy killing, nor murder or manslaughter.”

I did a podcast with Keir Starmer QC late last year where he touched on this and other subjects.

Fortunately, there isn’t time for Gordon Brown to start a war in the Falklands to get his ‘Maggie Moment’ – but the heat is rising on the issue of the Falklands Islands.  The Argentine president, they say, is suffering in the polls and needs to bolster support for her ‘Eva Peron Moment’… The Argentine government, with the full support of the buffoonish Venezuelan president and most of the ‘Americas’ (Not Americas as in Canada and United States – they are excluded from South America’s grand vision of a political power block ) are taking the issue to the United Nations.  HMS York has been sent to the Falklands to stiffen the already potent militarty presence in the islands and there are reports of a submarine skulking in the waters nearby.

Argentina appeals to UN over Falklands oil drilling

The Guardian reports: Buenos Aires moves ahead with sovereignty claim following mobilising of Latin American support against Britain

“Argentina has demanded an immediate cessation of the British drilling for oil and gas that started this week, terming it “the latest illegitimate and unilateral actions by the UK”. The next step would be to table a resolution at the UN general assembly.

The UN has called for talks between Britain and Argentina but has little power to intervene without the backing of the security council, where the UK would be able to veto substantive resolutions.”

Commons accountant held over expenses scandal

The Independent reports: Senior Fees Office official suspected of false accounting in handling of claims

“An official in the House of Commons Fees Office has been arrested as part of the long-running police investigation into MPs’ expenses. Andrew Gibson, a Resources Budget Officer, was well-known to MPs as the man at the desk in the Fees Office who handled their expenses claims. Mr Gibson, along with another suspect who was not an employee of the House, was arrested on suspicion of obtaining money transferred by deception and false accounting, and bailed to appear at a police station in March. Neither has been charged.”

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‘You ruined my life’, Blair told in fit of rage

The Rawnsley story continues… The Independents reports: ” Gordon Brown told Tony Blair “you ruined my life” in a fierce showdown between the two men shortly before the former Prime Minister agreed to stand down, according to the latest allegations to emerge from a book about New Labour.

The fresh revelations from The End of the Party, by Andrew Rawnsley, document the exchange that saw the tense relationship between the pair reach its lowest ebb. It also suggests that during the confrontation in September 2006, Mr Brown demanded that Mr Blair step down and ensure he be allowed to take over unopposed but that the then Prime Minister retorted that he was unable to deliver on such a pledge.

During their final two-hour confrontation on the issue, the book states that Mr Brown asked Mr Blair: “Who do you think is better than me? Do you think there is anyone who is better than me?” John Reid was “far too rightwing”. Alan Johnson was “a lightweight”. David Miliband was too young. Was Blair saying, Brown demanded, that any of them was “better qualified to become PM?” It adds that Mr Blair later revealed that the exchanges had been “terrible”, saying: “He kept shouting at me that I’d ruined his life.”

Yesterday’s ludicrous performance by Brown at PMQs when he was showing his ‘cuddly’ side by grinning and cosying up to Alastair Darling was risible and as Kirsty Wark said on Newsnight …’Not very Scottish’.  Cameron managed to land one with his… ‘if they get any closer they’ll be kissing’ pre-prepared sound byte…

Guido Fawkes sums it up rather well in The Last Days of Hell

Gordon told GMTV this morning ”I would never engage in divisive or partisan politics.” The spinning is out of control. What would he describe his entire budgets designed to attack the opposition as? What would he describe his maneuvers over many years that finally saw Blair ousted? What would he call what McBride was up to?….Guido has long suspected Darling might be the one to emerge out of the mud and poison surrounding Brown’s government with any semblance of dignity and reputation intact. From his icy put down of McBride with the cutting “I’m still here“, to his description of the Brown/Balls/Wheelan/McBride combo as the “forces of hell”, the ill-treated Chancellor knew exactly what he was doing in keeping the story alive…..

As Guido remarked… ‘No-one believes the lies any more.”

Later today, I shall be covering the very detailed report into BPP Law School’s over subscription on the Bar Vocational Course and the conclusions of the Bar Standards Board panel following the ‘triggered visit’ by the BSB to BPP law School… it makes interesting reading.

But now… it is time for coffee, Marlboros and a read of the tabloids and the broadsheets at a cafe… a piu tarde.

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