Fakes, facts and dodgy statistics

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It’s not always easy to tell the genuine article, even in education. But the job of a journalist is to try to do so, say Melanie Butler and Ron Ragsdale

All that glitters is not gold. Here in the UK we have been floating in the sea of dodgy data and sloppy statistics that is the modern parliamentary election.

And now, no sooner has a new government taken power than they announce a whole new list of Secure English Language Test providers in whose Secure English Language Centres migrants and students in search of a UK visa will be able to sit an authorised exam.

SELTs, as the tests are called, were introduced following the revelation that several UK centres were helping students cheat on their TOEIC tests. Around 50,000 international students had their visas revoked and, despite a string of reports questioning the evidence, tens of thousands are still fighting to clear their names.

Stories of fake test takers, fake (or illegal) teachers (see page 9 for news on continuing expulsions from China) and even fake universities have long filled the Gazette news pages. But in this issue, we report on a brand-new scam: fake agents. Human traffickers have been smuggling illegal migrants into the UK via British boarding schools, unbeknownst to the schools involved (see page 6). Like all these scams, it’s bound to turn up in other countries, too.

Talking of British boarding schools, they have had their own case of Breaking Bad, with the conviction, in Singapore, of one former headmaster found in possession of crystal meth. OK boomer, we’ve put you on the naughty step on page 13.

“Like all these scams, it’s bound to turn up in other countries, too.”

It’s hard to know who to trust these days. Even the august world of academic journals is plagued by a plethora of pay-to-publish publications. How can you spot the dodgy papers? Gill Ragsdale gives you her top tips on pages 38- 39. And Wayne Trotman reviews a new title on page 40 that aims to help English language learners develop critical thinking skills, like assessing the validity of content on the internet.

And talking of dodgy data, try finding out the hourly cost of a UK language course! We started out with a list of nearly 90 accredited schools in London, but you can’t find the fees on half the school websites. They ask you to email, ring their salespeople or talk to a screen bot with a chirpy message, “Hello. My name is Maria, how can I help you today?”

But we persevered and can reveal, on pages 18-20, the best value schools in London, based on their price and their quality, as judged by the British Council inspectors. And, in our annual Masters listings supplement, we do our best to evaluate the evidence and help you choose the jewels.

Botty box Maria, of course, is not a scam. But she is a mistake – not least because she only speaks English, the language that the student is trying to book a course on in order to learn.

And some mistakes we just have to live with. One such mistake may well be English as a Medium of Instruction in non-English medium countries, as Professor Ernesto Macaro explains on page 36. It may not be a good idea to have academics who don’t speak very much English trying to teach Physics in English to students who don’t speak it either, but we must find ways to help them.

Needs must, as we say in the UK, when the devil drives.

MELANIE BUTLER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

RON RAGSDALE, MANAGING EDITOR

Image courtesy of Shutterstock