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National Audit Office releases report of its investigation into Home Office's response to cheating in TOEIC English-language tests


NAO finds some people may have been wrongly accused and unfairly removed from the UK

Date of Publication:
24 May 2019

National Audit Office releases report of its investigation into Home Office's response to cheating in TOEIC English-language tests

24 May 2019

The National Audit Office (NAO) today published the report of its investigation into the Home Office's response to allegations of widespread cheating by international students in TOEIC English-language tests.

You can read the 47-page report here.

The NAO's headline finding is that widespread cheating did take place but some people may have been wrongly accused and unfairly removed from the UK.

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."

The report found: "It is difficult to estimate accurately how many people may have been wrongly identified." The Home Office used voice recognition technology to identify cheating and the NAO noted: "Voice recognition technology is new, and it had not been used before with TOEIC tests. The degree of error is difficult to determine accurately because there was no piloting or control group established for TOEIC tests."

Part two of the report takes a detailed look at how cheating was identified by the use of data by Educational Testing Service USA (ETS). The NAO says: "We could find no evidence that the Department had actively looked at whether innocent people were wrongly assessed as cheats. The Department provided us with evidence of the steps it had taken to analyse ETS data to check for errors and explained the processes it followed to correctly identify people on Home Office systems. It did not check whether the ETS classification was correct or investigate anomalies for people wrongly implicated."

NAO further noted that the Home Office "did not carry out any independent checking or testing of the data, trusting that ETS had correctly categorised individuals as having invalid or questionable results."

Part three looks at the action taken against people accused of cheating.

Accusations of cheating led to thousands of students either leaving or being removed from the UK, NAO said. "By the end of March 2019, Department records showed that at least 11,356 people associated with an invalid or questionable TOEIC test result had left the UK. Most of these left voluntarily. The data indicate that at least 5,000 people left within a year of being flagged on Department systems, and at least 8,000 people left within two years. Some 2,468 people were subject to enforced removals by the Department, and 391 were refused re-entry to the UK on arrival at a port. People may have departed for reasons other than allegations of using deception in TOEIC tests. The numbers are based only on individuals matched to invalid or questionable TOEIC certificates and may be underestimate."

The NAO report notes that thousands of people accused of cheating have won their appeals to stay in the UK.

The report states: "Around 12,500 appeals involving individuals matched to invalid or questionable TOEIC certificates have been heard between April 2014 and March 2019. In most cases, appeals had to be made on human rights grounds. The Immigration Act 2014, which became law in May 2014, removed international students' right of appeal against applications for leave to remain in the UK. Students could challenge refusals of leave through judicial review. Where students made a separate human rights claim to the Department, and that claim was refused, the student could lodge a human rights appeal.

"Individuals with TOEIC flags have won some 40% of First-tier appeals compared with 60% by the Department up to March 2019. The Department told us it could not provide accurate numbers on the total number of appeals people had won specifically against allegations of TOEIC deception because it had not carried out significant analysis on this in recent years, and HM Courts and Tribunals Service records these appeals as human rights appeals.

"Up to May 2019 the Upper Tribunal had heard 1,720 appeals against First-tier tribunal appeals. Figure 12 shows that the Home Office overturned 167 (20%) of the cases it appealed while 231 (27%) were remitted for a fresh decision. Individuals overturned 178 (20%) of the cases they appealed with 182 (21%) remitted for a new hearing. The Department appealed three-quarters of the cases it lost up to September 2016 as it sought to establish case law. It told us that since mid-2016 its policy has been to only appeal cases where the court has not followed case law."