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Citizenry test 'a bad pub quiz'

A test taken by around 150,000 would-be British citizens each year is just a "bad pub quiz" with too much focus on culture and history at the expense of practical knowledge, an academic has said.

The Life in the UK test, which must be passed to qualify for indefinite leave to remain in Britain, does not require practical necessities in everyday life, Durham University's Dr Thom Brooks said. But it is required that new citizens know "trivial" facts such as the year Emperor Claudius invaded Britain, the year that Sake Dean Mahomet launched the first curry house in the country and the age of Big Ben.

Dr Brooks, a US immigrant who sat and passed the test in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 2009, becoming a British citizen in 2011, said the test is a key part of immigration policy but is "unfit for purpose" in its current form.

"The Life in the UK test has become a bad pub quiz. It has gone from testing practical trivia to the purely trivial and is a major opportunity lost," he said. "The biggest surprise is the lack of attention successive governments have paid to ensuring the test is fair and not out of date, a surprise even bigger than the sometimes shocking questions that can be found on the test," said Dr Brooks, a reader in law at Durham Law School.

"Many citizens that were born and bred in the UK would struggle to know the answers to many of these questions. Britain will not be more cohesive because more have heard about the Battle of Trafalgar, but rather if future citizens understand better how to participate in daily British life and make a contribution."

The latest edition of the test took effect from March 25 and was based on the third edition of the handbook Life In The United Kingdom.

Dr Brooks argues that the test is inconsistent in what it requires new citizens to know. They are not required to know the number of MPs in Westminster but are required to know the number of representatives in the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno, vice-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, welcomed Dr Brooks's report, launched at a lecture at Durham University. "I am delighted to echo his call that the test, which is both impractical and irrelevant as it stands, be reformed," he said. "Surely future Britons should better understand how to participate in daily life, instead of knowing by rote which emperor invaded Britain in AD 43?"

Dr Brooks stops short of recommending that the test is ditched, but instead reformed so that it is no longer "impractical, inconsistent, trivial, gender imbalanced, outdated and ineffective".

A Home Office spokesman said: "We've stripped out mundane information about water meters, train timetables, and using the internet. The new test rightly focuses on values and principles at the heart of being British. Instead of telling people how to claim benefits it encourages participation in British life. This is just part of our work to help ensure migrants are ready and able to integrate into British society and forms part of our changes which have broken the automatic link between temporary and permanent migration."

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