Wednesday 29 February 2012

Work experience: we still need better evidence

Last week I wrote here that the debate on work experience seemed almost entirely divorced from the evidence of whether work experience actually improved the employment opportunities of jobless young people.  I pointed out that, when Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling argue that around half of those on the scheme leave benefits within 13 weeks, this in itself tells us nothing about the success of the programme, since many would have left benefits without the scheme.  It is worth reproducing again Inclusion's chart here, since it remains the best data we have: 

Tuesday 28 February 2012

University admissions and "social engineering"

FT education correspondent and part-time data nerd Chris Cook published a fascinating analysis of the Oxford admission process here.  The point was to explain why pupils in state schools - especially, of course, those in poor areas - are far less likely than independent school pupils to gain admission to Oxford. It did this by breaking down the disparity in actual admission probabilities into three stages of the process:
  • first, the relative probabilities that students from different types of school got "very strong GCSEs"; ranging from 3.4% for a student from the poorest tenth of schools, to 23.4% for those from independent schools;
  • second, the probability that a student from each type of school who got "very strong GCSEs" did in fact apply to Oxford at all, ranging from 14.1% to 24.6% (even higher for pupils from the richest tenth of state schools;
  • third, the probability that such a student who did apply got admitted - over half for pupils from independent schools, but only about 15% for students from the poorest schools.  

Thursday 23 February 2012

Immigration: what's it doing to our schools?

Today's migration figures show that long term international migration to the UK remains at historically high levels.  Even for those who, like most mainstream economists, think that the evidence is pretty strong that immigration generally has a positive impact on the UK economy, it is reasonable to ask what the impact of the resulting rapid demographic change will be on public services; in particular education, where the impact is likely to be the most immediate.   Two thirds of babies born in London have at least one foreign parent, as the Telegraph reported, while nearly 17% of primary school pupils do not have English as their mother tongue, rising to over half in Inner London. 

In a recent report for the Migration Advisory Committee, researchers from NIESR looked at precisely this question.   Our headline finding was that "non-European economic and student migrants impose costs on UK public services that are small both relative to the total cost of these services and to the share of these groups in the population as a whole." This in itself is not surprising, but what I found particularly interesting was what our review of the evidence suggests about the impact on the overall quality of state education, especially for those who are not of immigrant origin.   

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Work experience: does it work? (updated)

[Updated 22/2 at 8pm with new analysis and chart from Inclusion].

The amount of political "heat" surrounding the government's Work Experience programme seems to be in inverse proportion to the amount of policy "light". Critics describe it as akin to "slavery", while the Secretary of State retorts by describing them as "modern day Luddites".  Not only is this exchange of insults neither sensible nor constructive, it obscures the more interesting and important issues.

Friday 17 February 2012

"Neighbours from hell": who is the Prime Minister talking about?

How would you describe an unemployed single mother, with moderate depression, who can't afford new shoes for her children, and whose roof is leaking? The Prime Minister calls her a "neighbour from hell", and argues that she, and people like her, are part of a "culture of disruption and irresponsibility."

Now I am not saying, and indeed I don't believe for a moment, that this is what the PM thinks.  But it is precisely what he said.  What began as a shortcut taken by civil servants with the data was translated into a speech by the Prime Minister that simply misrepresented the facts. That in turn resulted in sensationalist and misleading headlines; the end result, more likely than not, will be bad policy.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Today's unemployment figures: the costs of inaction

Yesterday I wrote about Moody's decision to put the UK's credit rating on "negative outlook" - and why we should pay no attention at all.  What we should be worrying about is today's unemployment figures; but unfortunately there is no sign that concern will translate into meaningful action.  

What the figures showed was not only a further rise in unemployment, but that it is becoming entrenched.   Jobseekers' Allowance is supposed to be, and until recently largely was, a short-term benefit for those who should be able to find work quickly. But the number claiming for more than a year has been shooting up, and is now well over 300,000; up more than a third over the last year. The number of young people claiming for more than a year has doubled. 

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Moody's downgrade: both Osborne and Balls get it wrong

The reaction of politicians to Moody's decision to put the UK's AAA rating on "negative outlook" was predictable - and predictably tendentious.  The Chancellor described it as "proof that, in the current global situation, Britain cannot waver from dealing with its debts" while the Shadow Chancellor said it was a "significant warning."

They are both wrong. It proves nothing and signifies less.  The misdeeds and incompetence of the credit ratings agencies in the run-up to the financial crisis has been well documented. What is less well understood is that when it comes to rating sovereign debt, they simply do not know what they are talking about; worse than that, they do not even understand what their own credit ratings mean.

Thursday 2 February 2012

NIESR's UK and World Economy forecast

Our latest forecast is published today: here are the highlights.

Scotland, Vickers, and policy evaluation: NIESR's latest quarterly review

As well as our regular UK and world economy forecast, this issue contains:

a discussion of Scotland's fiscal and currency choices; Angus Armstrong concludes that an independent Scotland is likely to find the implicit constraints on economic policy, especially fiscal policy, are even more restrictive than the explicit ones it faces as a full part of the UK.

a commentary on the Independent Commission on Banking's final report and the government response;  Angus suggests a radically different response.

and a set of articles on policy evaluation, to be discussed at a seminar at NIESR on 20 February.  All available here.