Three quarters of nurses fail to reach UK Ielts demands

By: Irena Barker 

Around three quarters of all nurses worldwide who sit academic Ielts fail to reach the grades they would require if they wanted to practise in the UK, an EL Gazette analysis suggests.

The findings, based on 2015 academic Ielts results, emerged as the UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) said it was ‘looking at’ the current requirements for all overseas nurses to have a level 7 in all four skills.

Ielts own statistics suggest that of all native speakers of English taking the test worldwide- regardless of their profession or status- only around 41 per cent would achieve this. Of nurse candidates worldwide only 24 per cent would pass.

The NMC said it was ‘gathering further evidence’ that a change to the standards may be necessary. This follows complaints from recruiters and employers that they are set too high and are a barrier to employing much-needed foreign nurses.

One key issue is that nurses are expected to score at least 7 in each of the four skills including writing.

Individual skills scores for nurses are not included in the statistics, but the results for all candidates from the top 40 language groups show that, on average, none reach level 7 in writing, with native speakers averaging just 6.3.

An NMC spokesperson said they were ‘aware of some concerns’ around the language policy, but did not yet have any ‘hard evidence’ on which to base a change.

‘It is important to state that this decision does not indicate that we feel the current standard we require is wrong or that we are committing to a change’, they said.

Stephanie Aiken, deputy director of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, said she welcomed the review but warned against ‘quick fixes’ designed to make up for the shortage of nurses in the UK.

*Our analysis follows a rule-of-thumb that writing skills are usually around half a band score lower than the mean score of the other 3 skills. Candidates achieving a score of 7 in writing would typically achieve 7.5 overall.