The Sunday Times reports that colleges are rigging English tests for indefinite leave to remain applications.
Advertisements in the UK Citizenship Centre in Birmingham, say it provides “Home Office Approved Certificates”, and boast a “very high success rate” and the process is “quick and easy”.
This is where immigrants, some of whom speak no English, come to buy English language certificates that will enable them to apply for permanent settlement in Britain.
Under a system introduced by David Blunkett, the former home secretary, certificates should be awarded only to migrants who have undergone lengthy language and citizenship classes and proved they can speak English “to a workable level”.
However, a month-long Sunday Times investigation has uncovered a network of “colleges” where staff cheat the system and admit they are “defeating the whole object of these exams”.
In a recorded telephone conversation last week Sadia Hussain, an assessor at the centre, said no coursework was needed before a candidate took the test. For a fee of £250, she said, candidates could arrive at the centre next Monday and take a two or three-hour exam. The certificate would be sent to them six weeks later.
Again there would be no problem even if a candidate did not speak any English. Hussain said she would write down the answers to questions in Urdu and that it would be “all right” if the candidate read her oral test questions from a crib sheet in Punjabi or Urdu.
An undercover reporter also sat an exam at the centre. The exams are tape-recorded to give independent accreditors the chance to check they are properly conducted. But the audio tapes cannot reveal how some candidates are reading from carefully prepared crib sheets.
After paying a £50 deposit, the reporter witnessed candidates being handed crib sheets, with both questions and answers written on them. He was then allowed to sit a 10-minute “exam” in which he was allowed openly to read out the crib sheet answers. At the end he was told he had passed.
Adil Khan, a manager for the company, initially denied it carried out any tests. He was unable to explain how an undercover reporter, along with 80 other candidates, spent three hours in its offices two weeks ago preparing and then taking the test. Shortly after the challenge, its website was removed from the internet.
The certificates are designed by the government to ensure that migrants will be able to integrate fully into British society. Those granted permanent residence have the right to claim benefits, to work and to use public services such as schools and hospitals.
Migrants with basic English can apply for a certificate known as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
National standards originally issued by the Department for Education and Skills and monitored by Ofqual, the exams quango, state that at entry 1 level, candidates must show they can listen and respond to simple narratives and engage in discussion about familiar topics.
Home Office guidelines also say that candidates should receive between 200 and 450 hours of tuition before taking a 45-minute test. But the reporter, posing as an immigrant whose wife spoke only Punjabi, was told by staff at one college in Birmingham that candidates did not have to take any course or speak any English to pass the test.
An assessor at the UK Learning Academy said the candidate would be given the answers to the exam questions beforehand and could note the answers in her mother tongue.The Punjabi notes could then be read out to sound like English in the live oral exam.
“That’s all right. You write it in Punjabi and it can come out in English,” the assessor said, describing the phonetic trick.
When told again that the “wife” did not understand “anything in English”, Hassan replied: “She understands Punjabi; that’s good enough. She doesn’t need anything else.”
Hassan asked: “Does she know her name, date of birth and address?”
When told that she did, the assessor replied: “Well, that’s all right then. That’s a guaranteed pass.”
Hassan said the test lasted only 10 minutes. A candidate simply had to pay a £100 deposit and could register to take the test immediately.
She was later confronted by the reporter who identified himself as a Sunday Times investigator. He asked: “Surely if it’s all written down phonetically in Punjabi and somebody’s reading it in Punjabi without actually understanding what they’re saying in English, that defeats the whole object of these exams, doesn’t it?” She replied: “Yes it does.”
One of the academy’s directors is Mohamed Mazharuddin, who lives in Bury, Greater Manchester. A former dentist, he was struck off the medical register in 1998 after being found guilty of misconduct.
The company said he was in America and unavailable for comment. It denied any knowledge of its staff helping candidates to cheat in the exams.
In a later statement it said it had sacked Hassan for gross misconduct and referred the matter to the police.
The school is accredited by City and Guilds, the UK’s leading vocational organisation which awards 1.8m certificates a year. It said that it would investigate the evidence about the rigged tests.
An assessor at New London College in Hounslow, west London, another of the hundreds of colleges offering the certificate, confirmed that knowledge of English was not required to pass the test. Again the phonetic trick was openly encouraged and used.
Our reporter sat in on one examination and witnessed a candidate using notes written beforehand in Tamil as a crib sheet from which English-sounding answers were given.
A relative of the Tamil candidate said he had been told he had passed the test, even though he could not speak any English.
Our undercover reporter told the assessor it seemed that “sometimes [candidates] must be reading and not understanding.” She replied: “Oh yes, I know of course. But what’s important to them when you have been here 10 years is a British passport. We do courses here where you have to understand properly, but this is just for a passport. This is different; very different situation.”
After being contacted by The Sunday Times, Vikram Kolagatla, the firm’s managing director, said he had suspended the entire course and “would take appropriate action against the individuals involved”.
A spokesman for Edexcel, which approves New London College’s exam results, said: “We take all allegations of malpractice seriously and investigate all issues brought to our attention.
“We reserve the right to withdraw approval for the delivery of a specific qualification or centre approval at any time, if the centre has not complied with any regulations.”
Jonathan Sedgwick, the UK Border Agency’s deputy chief executive, said: “We take the integrity of our immigration system very seriously and have put tough measures in place.
“Any reports brought to our attention will be passed to the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator.”
Source: Sunday Times
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