Speaking for Ourselves

The English Test Scandal is the Post Office mark two

The English Test Scandal is the Post Office mark two


 Migrant Voice - The English Test Scandal is the Post Office mark two

If you have been following the Horizon Post Office Scandal then the similarities with the English Language Test Scandal are striking. One company refusing to take responsibility for IT errors. Innocent people affected criminalised, and expert evidence ignored. As with the Post Office Scandal, there is not just one point where everything went wrong. It has been a catalogue of errors and injustices, compounded over a decade. In reality, the IT errors, or manipulation, almost take a backseat to the wider range of issues. So many people were criminalised, that it shows a system which is broken, and one in which people have lost trust. It shows a system where trust in IT systems is placed above trust in people.

Imagine you are at your wedding. You are filled with nerves for the big day. You are excited for what is coming. Then immigration enforcement officials come into the registry office and take you away, and you have no idea why? This is just one of the many, many, things which has happened to tens of thousands of international students who were unjustly stripped of their right to study due to IT systems errors on the English language test.

It has been ten-years that students have been fighting for justice. In 2014, it was revealed by BBC Panorama that incidents of cheating had been found at two English language testing centres in London. The response from the Home Office, under, then Home Secretary Theresa May, was to strip more than 30,000 students of their right to study, and leave more than 20,000 in limbo, after being told that their results “were questionable”, despite comments to the contrary by some officials, some of these have since been left also denied their visas.

Students were not just denied the right to study though. Many were detained, and nearly ten thousand were either deported or forced to leave the country. Their lives were destroyed, their futures cruelly taken away from them. Some became separated from their families, after being told that they needed to clear their names before they would be accepted back. Others were left in destitution. Many have suffered from mental health issues. All of this because of IT errors, and subsequently then denied the right to defend themselves initially.

Students were not even given the evidence against them at the start of this. Many were denied the opportunity to challenge the accusations. They were prevented from being able to appeal. By the time things had changed, many had already been removed from the country. The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” was upended.

Approximately 3,500 students have won their cases in court. For many others the fight continues. The thing is, the case is not a simple one. 

Legal experts, including judges, have already shown that evidence used to strip students of their right to study was “unreliable” and “flawed”, yet it is still being used as a justification by the Home Office to continue denying students justice. What the government did do though, as it seems in the Post Office Scandal, was ask the company in charge of the IT systems to investigate itself, and has since appeared to ignore the evidence which contradicts that investigation.

Over the course of the last decade, students, and the country, have been through seven different Home Secretaries and five Prime Ministers. In April 2023, a group handed a letter into 10 Downing Street calling for action to over-turn this injustice. They are still fighting, just as those affected by the Post Office Scandal are.

The English Test Scandal has destroyed lives. Some cheating did take place, but not 97 per cent of 56,000 people. The numbers alone do not make sense. Imagine if 97 per cent of an entire year’s A-level students not only had their grades cancelled but were also denied the chance of ever studying again because cheating had been found in two schools. Imagine having your door crashed through in the early hours of the morning and being dragged away in front of your loved ones for a reason you do not know. Imagine being told time and time again that nothing could be done because the computer could not be wrong. International students do not have to imagine this; it has been their lives for the last 10 years.

This case goes much deeper than a simple testing scandal. It speaks to the discrimination faced by those who come to the UK. It reflects an institutionalised concept of disbelief: 56,000 students accused and the majority stripped of the right to study based on a handful of cases at two testing centres and the evidence of one company, which was subsequently removed as a test provider. This is a scandal that does not pass the common-sense test yet continues to drag on. 

The 10-year anniversary of the Panorama investigation should mark not just the end of this injustice, but also the moment that students get their futures back. This scandal has destroyed countless lives. It has left people separated from their families and even their children in some cases, such is the stigma of the cheating accusation. 

All they want is the chance to clear their names. 

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Phone: +44 (0) 207 832 5824
Email: info@migrantvoice.org

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Number: 1142963 (England and Wales); SC050970 (Scotland)

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