Eleni and Grace's stories

Eleni and Grace contacted us separately to make complaints about the application of the English Language Skills Registration Standard

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Eleni and Grace contacted us separately to make complaints about the application of the English Language Skills Registration Standard (the ELS Standard).

Eleni complained that Ahpra did not accept the result of an English language test that she completed at home using remote proctoring. The test cost $400 and took three hours to complete. Eleni said there was no available information available stating that Ahpra and the Boards would not accept at-home tests. Eleni said that she needed to complete another test at an additional cost of more than $250 to demonstrate that she met the requirements of the ELS Standard and to become registered.

Grace also sought to meet the requirements of the ELS Standard by completing an English language test. Grace explained that the test provider’s website said its computer-based test was accepted by Ahpra. Grace successfully undertook the test and submitted her registration application to Ahpra.

However, Ahpra advised that it would not accept the test results because the speaking component of the test was done via remote proctoring. Grace explained that Ahpra told her this information had been available on its website, but Grace said it had only been published in an inaccessible location after she had already taken the test. Like Eleni, Grace successfully completed another test and became registered.

Our assessment of the available information showed that after Eleni and Grace had obtained registration, the Boards published new information stating that they would temporarily accept the results from English language tests that they had previously refused to accept.

Our office commenced an investigation into both Eleni’s and Grace’s complaints.

What we found

We concluded that it was reasonably open to Ahpra and the relevant Boards to decline to accept the initial results of both Eleni’s and Grace’s English language tests.

However, we found there were significant opportunities for improvement in the handling of these matters. We observed that the position of the Boards with respect to remote proctoring in English language tests was only available on Ahpra’s website and was not recorded in other documentation or the ELS Standard itself.

We also found that Ahpra and the Boards could have responded more quickly to the changing circumstances surrounding English language tests during the COVID-19 pandemic. The types of tests taken by Eleni and Grace were relevant due to the circumstances created by the pandemic, when it was more difficult for candidates to attend testing centres in person. Ahpra indicated that it could not have developed a temporary position regarding these types of tests earlier because it needed time to undertake appropriate research and consultation. Ahpra also submitted that the time taken was not unreasonable because the remote proctored tests offered by one provider only became accessible to the public in mid-2021.

The evidence our office gathered, however, did not support these arguments. Information about one provider’s remote protected tests was available, for example, in March 2020. Our view is that it would have been better if Ahpra took action to respond to the changing nature of English language tests in mid-2020, rather than in mid-2021. This appeared to be the approach of other comparable international regulators.

Our office acknowledged the improvements that had been made to public-facing information about accessing appropriate English language tests since the time that Eleni and Grace sat their tests. However, our office highlighted ongoing barriers to practitioners being able to easily access clear, accurate and consistent information about English language test requirements. For example, relevant information was hosted on Ahpra’s COVID-19 FAQ webpage, but not on its pages dedicated to the Standard. Further, during our investigation the Boards’ temporary position regarding one type of test expired without public facing information being updated.

Complaint outcome

The Ombudsman made formal comments to Ahpra regarding the importance of addressing the issues identified in our investigation. The Ombudsman commented that:

  • Ahpra and the Boards’ English language skills-related webpages should be reviewed and updated to ensure that complete and consistent information about English language test requirements is readily accessible and accurate
  • Ahpra and the Boards should develop a change management protocol to ensure that any future clarifications or changes in the application of the ELS Standard, even if only temporary, are fully cascaded across Ahpra’s communication channels and each of the websites of the Boards
  • where changes to public-facing information are time dependent (as is the case with the temporary position), Ahpra should develop a monitoring process to prepare for the required updates before the information becomes out of date.

These complaints also informed our office’s submission on the review of the ELS Standard. Our investigation, and subsequent submission, emphasised that the ELS Standard should be updated to clarify the Boards’ position on tests offered by approved English language test providers that use remote proctoring.

Find out how to make a complaint to the Ombudsman or Commissioner.

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