In May 2002 I spoke at a conference about the prospect of government making more use of text messaging – I was specifically thinking about exam results at the time (although there was a separate thread about “your benefit cheque has been deposited”). The idea was written up by Computing and then picked up by some daily newspapers (a slow news day I imagine). The Independent, for instance, said:

Children could receive their exam results in the form of text messages sent to their mobile phones next year, as part of government plans to expand “online” services. Similar systems are being considered for benefits claimants, to tell them when their money is being paid, and to inform people of the progress of their passport applications.

The plans were revealed by Alan Mather, of the Office of the e-Envoy, who said that the necessary security could be in place within a year. He also added that banks could join in, using software developed and tested by the Government.

“There are organisations that want to issue notification of important things through SMS text messages, such as exam results or benefits information,” he said. “This can be done in a 12-month timeframe. And if we get this up and running there’s no reason why the banks couldn’t do the same – we could extend the model to any commercial provider.”

However, a stumbling block could be that the proposed services would not work on “pay-as-you-go” phones, because they can be bought by anyone without further checks. At the moment some government services can be accessed via PCs with a password sent through the post.

Looking at it now, 7 years on, I have no idea what I was talking about with some of it. I remember being concerned that given 70% of phones (at the time, probably the same now I suspect) were pay as you go and so had no address information, we wouldn’t be able to use it as an authentication token or as something to send semi-secure information to. I can’t remember what I was talking about with the banking reference although at the time we were wondering if we could get banks to do authentication checks for us and then pass the confirmed check to us so maybe it was that.

There were some odd reactions from some people, such as:

Exam company, Edexcel thinks it would be difficult to co-ordinate all the phones numbers for 4 million students who take exams each year.


John Lettice noted: We do however doubt the examining bodies’ and/or schools’ willingness and capability to collate and distribute results in secure SMS form. Or indeed as email, or posted on a secure web site. Reality check: just yesterday The Register supplied sprog one’s school with a single first class stamp, GCSE result delivery for the use of. Under the circumstances we do not expect them to be asking us to stump up for our share of an SMS server in the foreseeable future.

When someone at work mentioned yesterday that her daughter had checked her results online and had to login to a website to do it, I wondered how far people had got with exam results by text. I found only a couple of references – and, as far as the UK goes, it’s Scotland leading the way.

From the BBC:

Nearly 160,000 school pupils across Scotland have received their examination results. Almost 30,000 students received their grades by e-mail or text message.

From Australia:

Interactive communications services supplier Legion Interactive has been chosen by the New South Wales Board of Studies to deliver exam results to students via text message. Up to 63,000 students will now receive the results of their HSC exams [by text]

From Tanzania:

Tanzania`s university students will from May this year access their examination results through mobile phone text messages (SMS), according to a local Information Technology (IT) expert. The executive director of Easy Life Group (T) Limited, Benjamin Sitta, said yesterday in Dar es Salaam that the use of mobile phone has widely expanded and starting this year, students will access their exam results through their mobile phones

What, I wonder, is stopping more exam authorities doing it? Back in 2002 I was told that youngsters receiving exam results might need others around them to counsel them … so how does sending them in the post address that?

HMRC has been texting me for perhaps 5 years to tell me that my Self Assessment form has been received, the refund is on the way or that I need to pay them more money.

John Lettice was certainly more right than I was … I just can’t see why it isn’t more common.

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