UK streamlines approved English exam list

24, February, 2015

The UK Home Office has announced a streamlining of its approved Secure English Language Tests (SELTs) and new test centre stipulations, meaning only exams from Trinity College London and Ielts will be accepted for UK visa applications that require proof of English level from April 6.

Credit - Trinity College London, one of the approved SELT providers on the new streamlined UK Home Office list

The four exams that are accepted by the UK Home Office are: the Integrated Skills in English (ISE) and Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE) exams by Trinity College London; and the Ielts and Ielts Life Skills exams. The Home Office has published the full list of exams, levels and grades required from April 6.

A statement on the Home Office website confirms that tests taken from the current approved list valid until April 5 can be used in visa applications until November 5. This includes exams by Cambridge English Language Assessment (other than Ielts), City & Guilds and Pearson.

The new Ielts Life Skills exam has been launched specifically for people that need to prove speaking and listening skills at levels A1 and B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

The streamlining of SELT comes after a retendering process and a Home Office investigation into instances of fraud at two UK-based Toeic test centre uncovered in a BBC documentary last year. In the aftermath of that investigation, ETS withdrew Toeic and Toefl from the SELT list.  

Students applying for a Tier 4 student visa for degree-level (or higher) study at state-funded universities may still be able to use non-SELT approved exams as proof of English language ability under the ‘vouching’ system, where universities are trusted to verify an applicant has the appropriate English skills for their course.

The UK Home Office has also introduced new rules in the way that exams are administered. Exams can only be taken at authorised centres, which must follow procedures specified by the UK government. StudyTravel Magazine (STM) has learned from the Home Office that plans for test centre regulations are due to be presented to parliament later this week.

Ielts said in a statement that when a test is booked, the takers must specify what the test is for and ensure the centre is authorised to run tests for that purpose. A Spokesperson for the British Council/Ielts told STM, “People will be able to take the test in over 100 locations worldwide, and Ielts will be working with UKVI [UK Visas and Immigration] to increase the number of accredited centres available over time.”

Ielts currently lists around 1,000 test locations worldwide, suggesting only around 10 per cent of these will initially be UK approved under the new rules. Ielts is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: Ielts Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment.

Trinity College London confirmed in a statement that it will be conducting tests at ten centres based in the UK from April 6. Sarah Kemp, Chief Executive of Trinity, said, “I am delighted that the Home Office has chosen Trinity as one of the two providers of SELT tests in the UK. We have been assessing English language proficiency since 1938, both directly testing candidates as well as supporting other examination boards worldwide.”

Trinity College has also announced the acquisition of English Exam Centres, a nationwide chain of English testing centres, in preparation for the new regulations.

English UK, the language school association representing more than 470 members, said in a statement to STM, “English UK is disappointed to hear that the new SELT contracts have now been awarded with insufficient consultation and communication with those likely to be affected. English UK is seeking urgent clarification from the Home Office.”

“This is quite a radical change in policy which will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the English language teaching industry,” said independent further and higher education college association Study UK in a statement given to STM.

“But what is not clear yet is the impact it will have on students. Study UK looks forward to seeing full details of Ielts and Trinity’s plans soon, as the whole sector will need to be assured of their ability to meet the rising demand for these tests across the world.”

The forthcoming April issue of StudyTravel Magazine will feature a special cover story on the English language exam sector.

We will update this story with further details about test centre regulations as they become available.



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