What does the SRA mean by validity?

Recently I was at the annual conference of AEA-Europe in the Netherlands.  I will leave a blog on the amazing Dutch cycle paths for another day….

The presentation which resonated with me most in relation to the SQE, was by Isabel Nisbet cryptically entitled: “It all depends on how we look at things” – Bringing a lens to fairness in assessment.

Fairness can mean many things to many people and Isabel identified five that are relevant to assessment:

  1. Purely formal – relating to accuracy (“a fair copy”)
  2. Implied contractual – meeting the legitimate expectations of those affected
  3. Relational – treating like cases alike
  4. Retributive – an appropriate reward

And the one I’m particularly interested in:

  1. Consequential – leading to fair/socially just outcomes – i.e. fairness should apply to society at large, and more specifically in the legal context, to clients and the courts.

Validity is a much-debated and much-written about concept within the assessment community.  At its most basic, validity is about whether a test achieves what it sets out to achieve (“the Ronseal test”).  However, academics continue to debate and explore the extent to which the concept of validity can, and should, be extended[1].

You may ask, why the meaning of validity, and the extent to which it includes a broader interpretation of fairness, is important to the legal community?

The SRA has said that its Board will only approve the SQE for implementation if it is manageable, value for money, reliable and valid[2].  Therefore, it’s important to know exactly what it means by validity, how it will test it and what evidence it will produce.

For example, what impact will the SQE have on solicitors’ ability to conduct court advocacy? When will it be tested? And what standard can clients and courts expect of solicitors who have qualified through this route?

The SRA has said it will conduct research 7-10 years after implementation to look at the predictive validity of the assessments.  This is to be welcomed, but what is the benchmark they will use for their predictive validity research 7-10 years down the line?

Given that the LSB’s regulatory objectives[3] focus on clients, the courts, the rule of law and access to the profession, there is a very strong argument for the SRA (and the LSB) taking a holistic view of validity incorporating fairness (and consequential validity) which interrogates the impact on society as a whole.

What is absolutely clear is that all stakeholders in the SQE process need to understand what the SRA means by validity and how they it intends to evidence it.

[1] If you are interested in reading my assignment “How feasible is it for the SRA to assess the validity of the new assessment framework for qualification as a solicitor? (A review of the literature on validity)”, let me know.

[2]https://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/what_we_do/regulation/pdf/2018/SQE_LSB_application_January_2018__v_1.0_FINAL.pdf (p5)

[3] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2007/29/section/1

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