Saturday, 25 June 2011

Public sector/Private sector

When I was at school the external examinations we took were set by the Northern Universities Joint Matriculation Board, and that continued to be the case during much of my teaching career. I presume the Universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham tried to cover their costs but I doubt if they tried to make much profit out of the operation.

I don't recall any great fusses abut errors and unanswerable questions, though occasionally the question papers were accompanied by a "correction" slip putting right some mistake in the printed paper. These caused no problems to those sitting the exam (indeed, the invigilators made such a performance of making sure everyone understood the correction that they gave us useful extra time to think) though they could cause a bit of a nuisance if the correction slip had been forgotten or misplaced when the papers were used in future years for examination preparation.

Now the examination boards have been merged and privatised and the media are full of a record number of errors and unanswerable questions. Presumably the errors are unspotted because the profit maximising boards are reluctant to incur the additional costs necessary for thorough checking. The deterioration in standards does not give much credence to the "market forces" mantra of private sector good public sector bad.

To be strictly fair public examinations are a much bigger and more highly publicised operation today than in the "good old days" when they covered a much smaller proportion of the population and examinations were more of a private matter between the student, parents and the teachers. Whilst having no wish to reduce the number of people gaining meaningful qualifications I do feel that the annual round of publicity is rather overdone, especially when, errors and omissions apart, it tends to be limited to moans that the standards of the students are are falling if the percentage passing falls, and the standards of the examinations are falling if the percentage passing rises.


  1. Why do you worship the public sector so much? Do you realise it puts you far beyond being a Keynesian and well into the realm of the Socialist? Why not change the name of this blog into Socialist Pro-Public Sector Lobbyist?

  2. My mother in law recently died ,when she retired she received the same state pension as her sister ,mum in law had worked all her life .her sister had never worked,now lets move on a few years and we can only work on todays figures,the civil servants pension benefits all of us ,when they retire they will not need as much if any ,pension credits,council tax rebates,plus other benefits available because their state pension plus their work related pension will see them have enough income to claim less or nothing ,where as those on smaller pensions will claim more when they come to retire ,are we attacking the wrong people,and i am retired and never worked in the public sector but unlike most people i stop and think before i make unfounded criticism of anybody .

  3. Response to anonymous 1 (25th June)

    I don't worship the public sector above the private sector: I just try to be even-handed. The private sector does many things very well:barbers, take-away foods, clothing, groceries (though we need to watch the development of monopolies)entertainment etc. But there is no reason to think that the public sector is less innovative or efficient (however that is defined.)The public sector has, for example, done a marvellous job in the provision of utilities,(water supplies for Bradford and Birmingham are good examples) education, health etc and I see little point in privatising, or having privatised, these.

  4. Response to anonymous 2 (1st July)

    You make a very good point which is seldom appreciated: if epople have adequate pensions they make fewer, often no, demands on welfare provision - and, of course, they retain their dignity.