Written evidence from Professor Thom Brooks – CCE0004





The Government does not appear to have made any progress relating to the 2018 report’s recommendations. Nor does there appear to be any backtracking: for example, the Government continues to be committed to publishing a new, fourth edition of the Life in the UK citizenship test as in 2018, but with nothing yet to show for this commitment.


There have been a few impediments to progress, including the 2019 General Election, the march towards completing a Brexit deal and the continuing Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020. While each would have consumed various amounts of attention, none excuse complete inaction for nearly three years before and after the start of the pandemic. I would gladly convene a Citizenship Advisory Group and group to draft the fourth edition of the citizenship test at any time. Such activities like these require the Government to follow through and not require that Government ministers are themselves undertaking them beyond providing oversight and support.


The inability of the Government to make any progress on all recommendations suggests a deeper lack of commitment or interest that I very much hope improves urgently.


Cross-Government champion


Related recommendation: 1



Recommendation 1 is excellent. This position would ensure that matters of citizenship and civic engagement have the attention of Government, especially given the importance of such matters.


If, for any reason, the Government is reluctant to appoint a minister for citizenship, the next best option would be to appoint a Commissioner for Citizenship and Civic Participation. This position would have the benefit of someone who can closely monitor matters of citizenship and civic participation who can regularly report back to Government. A second benefit is their independence. But a concern is that, since this is not a minister, these matters might not receive the urgent attention they may require. I prefer a minister, but a commissioner would be a welcome step forward, too, given the lack of either position.



No. There is an urgent need for this inter-ministerial group to reconvene. The fact it has not sat for so long could give the mistaken view that the Government did not place sufficient importance in citizenship education provision, the effectiveness of the NCS nor the experience of those taking the Life in the UK test.


Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, citizens old and new have often struggled with loneliness, low mood and insecurity about the future. Citizenship education can help bring people together constructively that can benefit these individuals. Citizenship education can help develop self-confidence and enable others in how to make a positive contribution. After the many and often difficult challenges faced since March 2020, the need for citizenship education has only grown and to be adapted to the current circumstances very different from when this group last convened.


There should also be some form of consultation with those who have taken the Life in the UK test especially since March 2020. These individuals faced unique challenges in securing the opportunities to sit the test and some may have since become British citizens.


It is important the Government understands the experience of naturalising citizens. It is supposed to be a process whereby new citizens come to learn and embrace British values and show an intention to live permanently. If this experience is negative, this is not a situation of disgruntled visitors but fellow citizens that become disillusioned from playing their full part as British citizens because of the process that led them to becoming British. This would be a failure of the policy that should not be allowed to happen unawares. There is still no official consultation yet of anyone who has been naturalised since the citizenship test was launched nearly 20 years ago. This cannot continue if the test is to be fit for its purpose.


Education/National Citizens Service


Related recommendations: 9,11,13,26



Yes. The Government’s levelling up agenda is about unlocking potential and opportunity in all communities, especially those considered left behind. The NCS does invaluable work that could support schools in delivering this essential training in citizenship education.



Yes. Young people have faced many hardships through school closures, unable to meet with friends during formative and key developmental years, family or close friends may have become very ill or worse, etc. Citizenship education can play a vital role in reconnecting young people to each and to society, better understand how to many a contribution to their community and bring people together. This should be undertaken as soon as possible.



Yes. I have not work in schools with the NCS, but I have heard from others who have. The experiences have been positive.






Yes. While these pupils are not required to follow the national curriculum, they do not depart entirely from it either. Every school is in a constituency. I would recommend that Members of Parliament consider approaching all schools – academies and non-academies – to raise the importance of good citizenship for their communities. They would be the appropriate champion for putting this on the radar throughout every constituency.


The Government might consider ‘nudging’ all schools to champion citizenship education through perhaps the award of a national badge or certificate. I would recommend that citizenship education for a democracy should be a pursuit all would choose to do. So I would recommend against compulsory changes for academies and favour encouragement for their voluntary participation – and very much hope all take it up.





Life in the UK test


Related recommendations: 75,76


75. The Government should set up an advisory group to conduct a comprehensive

review of the citizenship test, focusing on the key knowledge that supports

citizenship in various forms, including becoming an active citizen. Knowledge

of the working of bodies like local authorities and the NHS is essential, and

the group should include representatives of these bodies. (Paragraph 472)


76. The advisory group should revise the book on Life in the UK to focus

on the knowledge required for active citizenship. Sections of the book on

British history should concentrate on those parts that played a key role in the

development of the Shared Values of British Citizenship. (Paragraph 473)


The Committee's 2018 report found that "the Life in the UK test cannot be improved without rewriting the accompanying textbook" and recommended that "The Government should set up an advisory group to conduct a comprehensive review of the citizenship test focusing on the key knowledge that supports citizenship in various forms, including becoming an active citizen."


The Life in the UK test is based on the Life in the UK handbook, “Life in the UK: a guide for new residents”. In 2020, an updated impression of the current edition of the handbook was published. The Government has also stated that questions in the test are reviewed by the Government periodically and new questions were added between October 2020 and January 2021.



No. The Government has not offered updates on these recommendations.


Firstly, the test handbook does not require a new impression printing a new run of the 2013 edition, but a substantively new text. In a forthcoming new book about the Life in the UK test, I make 20 recommendations including the need to launch a new Citizenship Advisory Group to consult with public on content of next citizenship test, a redesign on chapters to ensure more consistently sized, the test must address EDI imbalances, there must be relevant information about the Cornish since it is a protected minority group, the test handbook must be a complete resource for the test without need of purchasing others texts – like at present – to know the test’s format, future editions must be printed more regularly such as every two or three years (the last was in 2013), citizenship test classes should become available at least remotely, the test must be seen as part of a larger strategy for improving integration rather than an afterthought and the citizenship test should be taught in schools (but not assessed) – a test for British citizenship should be one most, if not all, British citizens can pass and not only migrants wishing to remain here.[2]


Secondly, updating or changing questions to an impractical and, in parts, outdated test handbook does not make the test more fit for purpose. But it is difficult for the public to have much reassurance that test questions are set appropriately. This is because no actual official test questions are published. If they were, they could be examined for accuracy or difficulty level. Some countries do publish these questions like the United States. The Government’s keeping the actual official test questions secret from non-test takers seems aimed to making the test more difficult to pass. When I sat the test in 2009, I was the first to report that some of the actual official test questions appearing on my test and those of others had ‘correct’ answers that were factually untrue. I raised this with a BBC Radio 4 producer in 2011[3] shortly followed by several studies I published.[4] If I had not sat the test first-hand, it is highly unlikely that I would have uncovered that the test’s answers to some questions was incorrect.


If the Government refuses to make the actual test questions public, then a role of Commissioner noted above could play a very useful role in ensuring standards. I have spoken with individuals experienced in this field who inform me that data is kept for how well specific questions are answered and this data is reviewed regularly to ensure test questions are of comparable difficulty and overall tests are set at the correct standard. It would be beneficial to public confidence if there was an official who, in strict confidence, could pull back the metaphorical curtain to examine and report on the test’s administration, as well as the suitability of its contents. The public would have reassurance about the test’s form, content and delivery that they do not have now. It would further be of great benefit to ministers to receive such reports, as they do from others such as the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.



The Government’s changes will have a negligible impact on those taking the test. The actual official questions are not published. Changing the actual official questions for test takers should not help nor hinder test outcomes especially since the test content is unchanged.



No. It is unproven that the Life in the UK tests measures such progress at all and doubtful any similar memory test can do so adequately.


It has been recommended to me that one measure of progress is whether someone has resided in the United Kingdom for five or more years up to date with all tax payments and without a criminal record. I believe this captures a more passive citizenship that can be improved on.


I would propose something more radical: an extra contribution test. This would be a new requirement of those intending to settle permanently (Indefinite Leave to Remain) or naturalise. These individuals would be required to spend some nominal time frame volunteering at a charity, educational institution, religious organisation or some other registered non-political non-profit. The hours required might be a total of ten hours over a normal five year residency period prior to application. This could be done in one day or over any number of months. The aim is to certify non-UK citizens spending time volunteering in their communities. This can be in sharing skills and experience in schools or employability workshops; it can be in joining community activities or supporting others. No level of education or language ability is required.


The benefit is to give stronger encouragement for those wanting permanent residency or citizenship to become involved in their community through engagement with organisations like these. Some may not wish to continue when the hours are reached, but others might choose to continue and so this requirement can have longer lasting beneficial effects. It certifies an individual’s actual active citizenship, if only in time spent, rather than the test which cannot. The contribution test could assist the levelling up agenda as well a boost volunteering and supporting employability for local people. Furthermore, it might further raise the profile of migrants as visible contributors playing their part in their communities.


Nevertheless, I am not opposed to the continued use of citizenship tests if substantially reformed. I last wrote to this Select Committee to say: “The test is regularly seen as the test for British citizenship that few British citizens can pass, with many migrants seeing it as an opportunity by the Home Office to extract increasingly more expensive fees through a test of random trivia meant to make more fail.[5] My views have not changed since my last written submission.


Professor Thom Brooks

January 2022


[1] Source: UK Government education statistics Academic Year 2020/21 Schools, pupils and their characteristics (last updated 6 October 2021):  https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-pupils-and-their-characteristics [accessed 15 December 2021]

[2] Thom Brooks, Reforming the UK’s Citizenship Test: Building Bridges, Not Barriers (Bristol: Bristol University Press, 2022).

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b015mzl2 (from 23 minutes)

[4] For example, see Thom Brooks, ‘The British Citizenship Test: The Case for Reform’, The Political Quarterly 83(3) (2012): 560—566; Thom Brooks, The ‘Life in the United Kingdom’ Citizenship Test: Is It Unfit for Purpose? Durham: Durham University, 2013 and Thom Brooks, Becoming British: UK Citizenship Examined (London: Biteback, 2016).

[5] Para. 468.