7.69 An important criticism of the LSET system is its relative lack of flexibility and responsiveness to change. Developments over the last four to five years suggest that some moves have already been made to increase the flexibility of legal education and training. This section explores the potential for further enhancement of the flexibility of LSET design and delivery, and considers some of the work, in terms of research and institutional processes and structures, that will be required to sustain that responsiveness over time.
Flexibility in design and delivery
7.70 There are three areas where there is potential to enhance the flexibility of LSET: multiple routes to qualification; common professional training; and integrating classroom and workplace learning. Flexibility here will further other ends for LETR, notably enhanced competence or quality for consumers, greater diversity and, where possible, reduced cost and other burdens on employers and trainees.
Multiple routes to qualification
7.71 The report proposes a market-led ‘mixed economy’ approach to training. There should be a presumption that new, flexible approaches should be encouraged and that the burden should be on the regulator, adopting a risk-based approach, to identify why a pathway should not be permitted.
Common professional training
7.72 A range of approaches to common training was explored during the research, but there was limited support for these from respondents. The increasing stratification of legal services, and moves to greater rather than less specialised practice was seen by respondents as running counter to common training. While the debate has tended to focus on some element of fused training for solicitors and barristers, the LETR research data demonstrated quite a high level of resistance to complementary or inter-professional training (which at its crudest might involve module-sharing) at this stage. Common, or shared, CPD on the other hand, was considered favourably.
Integrating classroom and workplace learning
7.73 The solicitors’ and barristers’ professions are distinctive in the sector in taking a linear approach to classroom and workplace learning. All other professional groups demand concurrent or integrated training or find that the majority of students train concurrently with study. There appeared to be a growing stakeholder interest in this topic during the research, supported by activity in relation to the SRA work-based learning pilots, the integration of LPC and training contract, and apprenticeships. Even among those occupations that blend classroom and workplace experience, there may be a marked difference between the experience of integrated classroom and practice based learning , and the experience of classroom and practice based learningsimply run in parallel. The majority of training systems that operate a ‘blended’ approach tend to operate concurrently. Some see this as a virtue. The patent attorneys thus argue that their system of modular examinations is highly flexible and modularised, enabling individuals to select their own path through training. CILEx trainees, while commenting on the challenges of an ‘earn while you learn’ approach, felt the system worked well for them and were keen that it be strengthened and retained. A blended approach has obvious financial and often logistical advantages; it does enable (opportunistic) synergy between classroom and workplace, but it is arguable how much consistency is actively designed in and whether a stronger integration by design would make a greater difference to the learning.
7.74 On balance, further experimentation with integrated approaches is encouraged, though the evidence at present is not sufficiently robust to warrant a wholesale move to more integrated learning for those professions which do not currently adopt that approach. The report strongly supports continued work on both the merged LPC/training contract approach and the development of higher apprenticeships. The latter may be particularly important in testing the capacity of the sector to develop a new blended approach, principally in setting levels of learning against existing standards and ensuring appropriate supervision and the space for learning over an extended period of training. The flexibility that this kind of experimentation may invoke in LSET is critical to future workforce development: it supports innovation and diversity and should assist in creating a more competitive legal education and legal services market.