Foreign nationals branded English exam cheats were ‘deported without proof of guilt’

East Ham MP Stephen Timms, who took up the cases of some of those accused of cheating, has welcomed

East Ham MP Stephen Timms, who took up the cases of some of those accused of cheating, has welcomed the NAO's report. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

East Ham MP Stephen Timms has welcomed a report into the Home Office’s response to cheating in English language tests.

The National Audit Office (NAO) published its investigation today (Friday) into the department's response to evidence of cheating in two test centres, revealed in a BBC Panorama documentary in 2014.

In response to the cheating at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) centres - which included English speakers taking oral tests instead of the real candidates - the Home Office investigated colleges, test centres and students.

It also began cancelling the visas of those considered to have cheated in the TOEIC exam - designed to show competency in English for non-native speakers.

Mr Timms took up the case of some of those alleged to have cheated - including people who lived in Newham - and has called for them to be allowed to sit another test.

He said: "The National Audit Office has confirmed - as many have been pointing out for years now - that 'those affected might have been branded as cheats, lost their course fees, and been removed from the UK without being guilty of cheating'.

"And, on top of the NAO's analysis, there is real doubt if a recording held by ETS is really the one for that applicant.

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"Thousands have been unfairly penalised, with catastrophic consequences for many.

"The home secretary must now give those affected, who remain in the UK, a chance to clear their names - for example, by offering them a fresh English test."

The NAO's investigation found that it was "difficult to estimate accurately the exact scale of cheating and how many people may have been affected" because of the quality of evidence used.

ETS used voice recognition technology to uncover suspected cheats and identified 97 per cent of all UK tests as "suspicious".

Those with a "questionable" result were allowed to resit the test but the Home Office began cancelling visas of those with an "invalid" result.

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said: "When the Home Office acted vigorously to exclude individuals and shut down colleges involved in the English language test cheating scandal, we think they should have taken an equally vigorous approach to protecting those who did not cheat but who were still caught up in the process, however small a proportion they might be.

"This did not happen. " ​

A Home Office spokesman said: "As the National Audit Office has highlighted, the Tier 4 system was subject to widespread abuse in 2014 and almost all those involved in the cheating were linked to private colleges which the Home Office already had significant concerns about.

"The report is clear on the scale and organised nature of the abuse, which is demonstrated by the fact that 25 people who facilitated this fraud have received criminal convictions."

The investigation found that thousands of people accused of cheating have been able to remain in the UK, with 4,157 of those with "invalid" results granted leave to remain. Of these, 477 are now British citizens.

There were also 12,500 people who appealed immigration decisions with 3,600 winning their cases.

The NAO said that Home Office data indicates around 11,000 people who had taken TOEIC tests left the country after the discovery of extensive cheating. The majority left voluntarily but 2,500 were deported and almost 400 were refused re-entry to the UK.

Closing colleges implicated in cheating, the report found, also affected students who did not sit the TOEIC exams as they had to find other courses, impacting on their visas and ability to remain in the country.

ETS has been contacted for comment.