Using our latest data from international nurses currently working through the IELTS process with HCL, we’ve spotted a number of increasing trends. And all of these trends add further weight to our fundamental view – that IELTS testing in its current state isn’t supporting international nursing recruitment fairly or effectively.
Here are some of the highlights:
Across 1000 nurses tested, the average score is 6.9 – yet only 20% hit the mark
The margin between success and failure – between coming to the UK and not – is tiny, our latest data reveals.
The average overall score is 6.9 for both EEA and non-EEA candidates – just a fraction short of the 7 required to qualify and work in the UK. This supports the theory presented in our previous report to the NMC that a small adjustment to the banding would have a significant impact on the number of nurses recruited.
In our latest group, just 17% of non-EEA and 23% of EEA nurses had achieved the necessary level, as hundreds remain stuck in limbo, with job offers on the table but IELTS holding them, and NHS trusts, back.
The academic writing module remains the stumbling block
For both non-EEA and EEA nurses, the academic writing module is accounting for more problems than any other part of the test.
For non-EEA nurses, this was especially apparent. A huge 592 candidates from a total of 746 scored less than 7 on this module, representing 79%. Comparatively, only 28% scored less than 7 on the listening test, and only 39% on the reading test. And perhaps most pertinently, in every other module more than half of candidates scored either 7 or above.
This is important data, because in our previous publication to the NMC, we released recommendations from leading IELTS testers and experts that the Academic modules should be changed to General Training. In their expert opinion, Academic modules were simply not suitable for a number of reasons – including the irrelevance of the testing material.
Through upcoming interviews with international language coaches, we will provide further and more detailed information on how and why the academic writing module is not fit for purpose in this context.
The process is proving too long – and too costly
On average, non-EEA nurses are taking 298 days to pass through the IELTS process, and EEA nurses are taking 131 days. It goes without saying that this is an unacceptably lengthy amount of time, given the expense for both the candidate, and for the trust awaiting their arrival.
But upon further inspection, the stats become even more damning. Of the 127 candidates that have succeeded in the latest batch, only 43 did so on their first attempt. In fact, more than 25 candidates took at least 3 or more attempts. The actual numbers of attempts quickly dwindle after 3 or 4, because it simply becomes too expensive – our candidates from the Philippines have to make great personal sacrifices to commit to taking the exam even once.
Trusts are starting to pay the examination fees themselves
Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust has introduced a policy of paying the IELTS examination fees for overseas nurses. This is in direct response to its stagnant nursing vacancy rates which sit at around 15%. In this case, the costs amount to around £1800 per nurse when including further registration costs.
This is indicative of two important factors. Firstly, trusts are getting increasingly desperate to increase their uptake of overseas nurses in light of IELTS setbacks. But secondly, this also shows how expensive this process could become for trusts. From our experience and as highlighted in our previous report, international nursing recruitment when carried out efficiently can save trusts thousands. But if this trend continues, will that still be the case?
With 40,000 nursing posts currently unfilled, this issue needs urgent attention.
Read all the data, and examine our original IELTS report in full
This new data compounds what we had already established in our original report, and what has already encouraged the NMC to re-examine the way IELTS is currently working for nursing in the UK. Put simply, we feel increasingly certain that the test is unjustifiably difficult, and that the current banding and academic modules make it unnecessarily challenging.
In further upcoming reports we will also provide interviews and case studies with experienced language instructors working abroad, to get their insights into the realities of IELTS testing for nurses. And once again, these testimonies suggest that drastic changes are needed.