Colleges rig immigrants English tests
Kevin Dowling and David Leppard
From The Sunday Times
November 22, 2009
IN the windows of the UK Citizenship Centre in Birmingham, posters say it provides Home Office Approved Certificates. They 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.
Thats 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; thats good enough. She doesnt need anything else.
Hassan asked: Does she know her name, date of birth and address?
When told that she did, the assessor replied: Well, thats all right then. Thats 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 its all written down phonetically in Punjabi and somebodys reading it in Punjabi without actually understanding what theyre saying in English, that defeats the whole object of these exams, doesnt it? She replied: Yes it does.
One of the academys 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 UKs 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 whats 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 firms 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 Colleges 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 Agencys 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.
Foreigner with all the answers on Britishness
Citizenship language scam exposed
Keith Slater wrote:
Enterprise is to be applauded, but this is criminal activity. This government has let us all down by ignoring these things. To blatantly break the law and work against the national interest used to be treason. Prosecutions MUST follow.
November 24, 2009 11:31 AM GMT on community.timesonline.co.uk
Clive Burghard wrote:
The British People, have every right to decide, who makes theit laws, and, who eats at their table!
November 23, 2009 1:25 PM GMT on community.timesonline.co.uk
joy B wrote:
Don't forget Labour wants mass immigration and will do anything to allow it to happen. All potential voters and cheap workers making huge profits for their big business pals.
November 22, 2009 3:37 PM GMT on community.timesonline.co.uk
Johnny English wrote:
Vote for the main parties if you want to see more of this every year. Vote for the BNP if you want to end this kind of thing.
The choice is yours at the next election.
November 22, 2009 3:05 PM GMT on community.timesonline.co.uk
Dave Chorley wrote:
Arrest the staff, seize their assets and deport them.
Stop being week these people just take advantage.
November 22, 2009 11:40 AM GMT on community.timesonline.co.uk
Anand P wrote:
amazing kerfuffle.keeping the natives busy against the immigrants always is good idea when you dont want the main policies looked at.feel sorry for the natives 24/7, they cannot win .
November 22, 2009 9:56 AM GMT on community.timesonline.co.uk
josi callaghan wrote:
Surly this criminal activity, and the people engaged in this activity should be charged and either imprisoned and/or deported. Have they?
November 22, 2009 9:47 AM GMT on community.timesonline.co.uk
T A wrote:
Every government leaflet and website is also in Bengali, Gujurati, Urdu, Punjabi, bla, bla bla, bla, bla.
By accepting this we created this situation.
I've watched a UK citizenship ceremony where an Iranian woman couldn't say any of the oaths because she didn't know a single word of English.
November 22, 2009 9:42 AM GMT on community.timesonline.co.uk
Maria M wrote:
City & Guilds are awarding 1.8 million certificates a YEAR? A YEAR? No wonder the UK is so overrun. We have heard so many horror stories concerning immigration in the last few weeks, with various politicians saying how outraged they are. BUT are they doing anything about it? My guess would be not a thing. Close those border doors firmly right now to all immigrants, and put some plans in place regarding sending illegals back, too. NOW.
November 22, 2009 7:19 AM GMT on community.timesonline.co.uk
Chris Frankland wrote:
The answer is glaringly simple; the authorities must only accept accredited examinations, such as Cambridge (UCLES) where all tests are centrally marked, and certificates only issued from the university. Duhhhh