A-levels, culture, and the great regional divide

Last week saw the ritual tears and joy of the announcement of the A level results.  An encouraging aspect was the increase, albeit small, in the percentage of entries in traditional academic subjects, now standing at 51.2 per cent.  This is yet another example of incentives at work.  The universities have been signalling that non-academic passes, no matter how distinguished, will not count for much, and the message is getting through.

More dispiriting is the huge regional imbalance in the schools which perform strongly.  The league tables for the private schools have yet to appear.  But we know that the best results in these schools are concentrated overwhelmingly in London and the South East.  Only a mere handful of Northern schools, such as Manchester Grammar, challenge the dominance of the likes of St Paul’s, Eton and Westminster.

The league tables for state schools confirm the splits in regional performances.  Different criteria produce slightly different rankings, but the overall picture is robust to these variations.  The list in the Telegraph is as good as any, based on the percentage of grades A*, A and B at a school.  Only one school outside London and the South East makes the top ten, the Girls Grammar in the prosperous Cheshire enclave of Altrincham.   In the top 100, the West Midlands has 12 schools, the same number as the whole of the North, from Cheshire up to Cumbria and across to Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear.   The best performing state school in Wales comes in at number 168, and what used to be known as the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire manages an entry at 184.

True, London and the South East are wealthier, but the rest of the country moved on from flat caps, whippets and coal in the bath many decades ago.  Besides, a greater proportion of able pupils are creamed off by the private schools in London and its surrounding region.  This stiff competition for students does mean that the state sector here has a stronger incentive to perform well.  But otherwise, it is very hard to rationalise such disparities in success on the basis of purely economic variables.

Cultural factors drive these discrepancies in the state sector.  Crumpsall, for example, is a not particularly salubrious area of Manchester.  But the King David comprehensive makes it at 55 in the Telegraph rankings, stating on its website that the school is ‘founded on traditional Jewish values with a belief in respect, courtesy, self-discipline, diligence and the pursuit of excellence’.   In contrast, the Welsh Labour Party used to be proud that their schools sent young people to elite universities.  But under devolution, this ethos has gone into decline, with the politicians being more interested in shoring up their votes amongst politically correct time servers.   No wonder that Wales actually registered a positive swing to the Conservatives in the recent election.

Culture can be an elusive concept, but it is important and economists face the challenge of incorporating it into their analysis.

Paul Ormerod

As published in City AM on Wednesday 19th August 2015

Image: “Project 365 #231: 190810 The Proof Of The Pudding” by Pete is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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ELLIE EVANS

Partner

e: eevans@volterra.co.uk
t: +44 020 8878 6333

Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.