Bellerbys Economics - Mr Stephenson

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Exams

The Examining Boards became independent foundations in 1987 - in effect, private businesses. Before this, they were run by the government. This was a government attempt to introduce competition into a missing market (module 1). At first, there were twelve examining boards - but these soon became an oligopoly of three - AQA, OCR and EdExcel.

They exhibit all the characteristics of oligopolies - sticky, high prices; barriers to entry; abnormal profits; asymmetric information; product differentiation and so on. the industry is regulated by the QCA - a government department.

Most teachers think the QCA is weak and is suffering from regulatory-capture.

There may be a conflict of objectives here between the profit objectives that drive business and the educational objectives that drive teachers and a number of issues have arisen since the privatisation including:

- Are educational standards falling? Do the examining groups make their exams easy so that teachers choose their exams over their rivals? Or sometimes make the pass marks so low, it's almost impossible not to get an A-grade? Some universities now automatically ask for AAA for university entrance and some professions - medical / legal etc - have started setting their own entrance tests eg LNAT and BMAT.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4229532.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2297937.stm

- Are examiners underpaid? Each year, the exam groups struggle to find markers for their exams - this often means exams are marked by inexperienced examiners

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2540357.stm

- Are the costs of administration being reduced to the point where the system is breaking down. There are increasing signs of strain in the system - big mistakes being made - such as this:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2196241.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/5005642.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hereford/worcs/3846075.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/1978140.stm

- Are there too many exams. The more exams, the more exam fees. Do we really need six modules for each exam? Before the change, most exams made do with 1, 2 or 3 papers

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2527443.stm

- Are there too many new levels of exams. UK students now sit exams at 7,11, 14, 16 and 18
- Is there too much coursework. It's cheap to mark bacause the teachers have to do it for no extra pay but causes terrible stress for the students.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/1998440.stm

- Is there too much exam stress? Isn' t this an externality?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/beds/bucks/herts/4154452.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4973748.stm

And yet, there may also be a lack of innovation. With 30% of students taking the exams now from overseas, teachers have been calling for a long time for papers to be avaialble in other languages and in other exam centres worldwide - but the examining boards have been very slow to capitalise on this.

Meanwhile, some students have been fighting back - property rights:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2131579.stm

But one of the weaknesses of the property rights argument, of course, is demonstrated here - one small student against the mighty EdExcel

Meanwhile, on a slightly different topic - here's an interesting development for our Chinese students:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/5008036.stm

There will soon be many jobs available in the UK teaching Chinese in independent and state schools.

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