Monday, March 25, 2013

New "Life in the UK" citizenship test is "unfit for purpose"

. . . is the headline from this new press release that can be found here. The new test starts from today and its launch is a shambles. For example, two of the three books (including sample questions) are not yet published with delays to their release. The test is highly important -- it is required for any one seeking permanent residency -- so it is all the more alarming that the Home Office is so poorly organized on this launch.

The test is flawed and in urgent need of reform. On its front cover, it claims to be "A Guide for New Residents" but there is little substance to this. The new test has removed requirements that permanent residents know how to report a crime, contact an ambulance or register with a GP. There is no chapter on Education, Employment or Health Care. There is encouragement for new residents to become involved in their local schools - and information on where to learn more about setting up a "free school" - but nothing at all about the need for CRB checks, the different kinds of schools (state, etc.), the different qualifications (GCSEs, A-levels, etc.), school uniforms, etc. The test has gone from testing trivial facts to mere trivia in a departure from being the more practical test it had been previously.

This is not to say I have no problems with the former test. The test required changes. One major problem was that the "correct" answers to many questions were factually untrue. This is because the test had become woefully out of date. So it asked about the number of MPs claiming the "correct" answer is 646 (true when the test was published in March 2007) when it was, in fact, 650 MPs.

The new test addresses these problems by getting it worse. So we learn that there are MPs, but not how many they are -- a convenient solution to getting the numbers wrong is to remove them altogether. But what is strange is that the test does not ask about the number of Westminster MPs, but it does ask questions about the number of parliamentarians in the devolved governments for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Why should new permanent residents be expected to know the number of Welsh Assembly members but not the number of MPs in the House of Commons? This is the kind of mistake usually found in documents that are rushed without proper consultation -- and it will be interesting to see if this is the case here.

I have also been doing the media rounds with interviews on BBC Radio Newcastle (from 1:19:20), BBC Radio Tees (from 1:53:35) and Voice of Russia later today with more likely to follow. Links will be noted when they are online.

UPDATE: A Home Office statement can be found here. It claims that the test has stripped out inessential information and that it focusses on participation in British life. But this is inaccurate. Surely, 'essential information' about 'participation in British life' must include how to contact an ambulance, how to report a crime or register with a GP. This is all missing in the new book. Plus, the book recommends participating in volunteer work at schools with children - even setting up a 'free school' - but says nothing about the mandatory CRB checks that will be required nor anything about the national curriculum, etc. The handbook has struck me as a job rushed and opportunity missed. I would be highly interested to know whether anyone involved in its construction has had experience of moving to a new country and sitting a similar exam. If so, many of the obvious problems could - and should - have been addressed from the outset.

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