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Pearson hits the ground running as the race to re-open language testing takes off

English language testing ground to a halt as Covid-19 locked down the world. Freya Thomas Monk, Senior Vice President of English Assessment at Pearson, explains how the ELT giant is leading the way as the market re-opens

As strict lockdowns being to ease, the world of international education is facing a logjam. Universities and colleges in the Northern Hemisphere are gearing up for the next academic year, but would-be students around the world are struggling to find open exam centres where they can sit the English language tests they need to complete their applications.

As we report on page 19, Pearson English Assessment has been at the forefront of the race to re-open test centres, not least because they are in the unique position of being able to open in China. So, we asked them for feedback on the re-opening of the market.

“What we are seeing is a high demand for our tests, in markets where we have re- opened such as Australia, China and India,” Pearson’s Freya Thomas Monk, tells us, “and in some of these places we are opening up more temporary test centres to meet this demand.

“This is great to see as it shows students and workers are still aspiring to study and travel abroad despite what we are facing with the coronavirus,” adds Thomas Monk, Senior Vice President of English Assessment at Pearson.

All students applying for a visa to study in the UK need to meet English language requirements set out by the government. Those applying to an institution not on the government’s list of highly trusted sponsors or applying for a course below degree level must take a Secure English Language Test (SELT), such as PTE Academic UKVI, approved by the government. Otherwise, the institution can choose how to assess an applicant’s English.

Again, Pearson is up and running. They already have 8 centres open in the UK which are approved by Britain’s immigration authority (UKVI).

How many have they opened worldwide and where?

“At Pearson we have now been approved by the UK Home Office to deliver our PTE exam for UKVI purposes in 92 locations across the world, including in major markets such as China, India and here in the UK, with the remaining locations due to be approved this summer.”

But as Freya Thomas Monk points out, government restrictions are still in place in some countries. “Although bookings can be taken at all centres, some currently remain closed due to Covid-19.”

Clearly, with the pandemic still with us, changes such as introducing social distancing have to be made to indoor areas such as testing centres. How does Pearson Vue, the sister company which runs the test centres, ensure candidate safety?

“Pearson VUE test centres follow health and safety guidance provided by global health organizations and local governments,” Thomas Monk explains.

“Amid Covid-19, the test centres operate with increased disinfecting and hygienic procedures and additional social distancing measures to support the safety of testing candidates and staff.”

Of course, international students are not the only people to need government- approved English language tests, and the level of language people need and the kind of test they need to take can vary.

As we explain in our introduction on page 17, for example, people entering Britain to join their families and applying to extend their family visa are required to take a test

showing they can speak and understand English at an elementary or lower intermediate level: B1 for those applying to stay in the UK permanently, for indefinite leave to remain and citizenship, A1 for family visa applications and A2 for family visa extensions – all on the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference).

Again, Pearson has come up with a solution: a low-level Secure English Language Test, as Freya Thomas Monk explains.

“PTE Home is a new, computer-based English test that supports individuals, families and communities wishing to live, work or stay in the UK, at each step on their journey from arrival to settlement,” she tells us. “It is a two-skills language test, testing speaking and listening skills.”

And what is the main advantage of choosing Pearson Home?

“Results are typically available within 48 hours,” she smiles, “reducing the stress that can be associated with a long wait for results.”

Once again, with the race on to re-open English language testing, Pearson are aiming to keep at the front of the field.

Freya Thomas Monk is Senior Vice President, English Assessment at Pearson. Freya holds an MA (Hons) from Oxford University and an MBA from INSEAD.

Images courtesy of PEARSON, Pearson and Library
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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