Tuesday 27 January 2009

The Geography of Recession (part II)

Back in October, I took issue with the way people were talking about the likely geographic impact of the recession. In short, it seemed to me that reports of the economic death of the "south" were greatly exaggerated. Past experience suggests that the gap between north and south might narrow, but is highly unlikely to be reversed. But I noted that even the first "prediction" - that the south was particularly hard hit in the last recession- is still the subject of some dispute.

Which brings us to some recent reports and figures. First, Centre for Cities City Outlook received wide coverage yesterday of its finding that cities in the north are seeing the highest increases in JSA claimants [NB: they also point out that the north-south divide language I am using here hides some important details - sorry for that]. Second, the ONS tells us that manufacturing made the largest contribution to the slowdown with a 4.6% fall last quarter, as opposed to a 0.5% fall for business services. This will clearly be bad news for those cities that rely on manufacturing more than services, and as we know those cities tend to be located in the north.

One final thing, the comment in my October post about "two quarters" now looks optimistic, but doesn't change my conclusion on the geographic impact. In short, it's grim everywhere.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Golden Handcuffs: Teacher Recruitment and Retention

One of the key problems for poor neighbourhoods is the bad educational outcomes for children that live there. As I have argued before, the evidence suggests that traditional regeneration programmes (with a strong focus on the built environment) don't do much to address this problem. So will the government's proposal to pay teachers more for working in the most disadvantaged schools (themselves generally in the most disadvantaged areas) fair much better?

The answer is that we don't really know. There isn't much strong evidence of a link between teacher pay and student outcomes. But these "golden handcuffs" are targetting recruitment and retention rather than pay per se. Unfortunately, we know even less about the extent to which this might affect educational outcomes. Intutively, it feels like it should matter, but there is little, if any, evidence to back up this intuition.

Even if the policy does work, it will not do much to affect the spatial concentration of poor educational outcomes. This is because about 60-70% of the variation in educational outcomes is down to pupil background, with only about 10% attributable to the school and even less, if any, to the neighbourhood. The fact that we have evidence that school matters more than neighbourhood at least argues that this is a move in the right direction. But the overwhelming importance of family characteristics and the spatial concentration of poor families, means that the targetting of disadvantaged schools can only ever do so much to improve poor education outcomes in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.