The Politics of Academy Conversion Amongst English Schools

The ‘academization‘ of the English schooling system has been much-remarked, but there has been relatively little systematic work studying the politics of this process. In a new paper, forthcoming at Public Administration, I document both the magnitude of the phenomenon of academy conversion and some intriguing features of its underlying politics.

On the magnitude of the change that is underway, the figures are rather stark. Using data from January 2013, one third of secondary schools had converted by only the third year of the push by Michael Gove and the coalition government to foster this change.

I use data from an FoI request (provided by The Guardian) regarding which schools expressed an interest in converting to academy status to show that there is a marked political gradient to these expressions of interest. This can be seen clearly in a raw bivariate correlation (below) of the (binned) Conservative-minus-Labour vote share of Westminster constituencies in which schools are located and the proportion of them that expressed interest in conversion. Schools in more strongly Conservative constituencies are much more likely to be interested in converting. (The relationship also easily survives in multivariate analysis.)

Proportion of schools expressing an interest in converting to academy status (July 2010), by rel- ative Conservative constituency-level electoral strength in 2010

Perhaps more importantly, these expressions of interest clearly drove the same pattern in actual conversions to academy status, as well.

Proportion of schools converting to academy status (January 2013), by relative Conservative constituency-level electoral strength in 2010

There is strong evidence of a political effect from the application side, but I find no discernible political effects of the DfE decisions regarding whether to authorize conversions. (Full details in the paper.)

Meanwhile, I do find evidence that schools that find themselves in more strongly Conservative-voting constituencies but under a Labour-controlled LEA are particularly likely to convert. Conversely, schools in more strongly Labour-voting constituencies and under a Labour-controlled LEA are less likely to convert. It appears that schools may be using academy conversion as a way of avoiding “governance” from above that comes with a partisan flavor that does not fit with the more local political environment.

Predicted probability (based on )of schools (rated ‘Good’ by OFSTED) expressing interest in Academy conversion as a function of the Conservative–Labour vote share, conditional on being in a Labour-controlled LEA or not. 90% confidence intervals shown in transparent colours. Other predictors held at their sample means.

For much more detail, see the pre-publication draft of “Partisan Governance and Policy Implementation: The Politics of Academy Conversion Amongst English Schools“.

New conference paper: “Class-Biased Economic Voting in Comparative Perspective”

I have a new paper (together with Alan Jacobs and Scott Matthews) that looks at the interaction between income inequality and vote choice in comparative perspective. This was presented at the APSA conference (Chicago, Aug/Sep 2013) at rather a good panel.

This is ongoing research, but the conference draft is available via SSRN. Comments are extremely welcome.

Here’s the abstract:

A growing literature has inquired into the political consequences of rising income inequality in the United States. Scholars have identified a number of mechanisms through which American democracy has become more responsive to the interests of the very rich than to the those of lower- and middle-class citizens. Among the patterns of unequal influence that analysts have observed is a strong “class bias in economic voting” identified by Bartels (2008). Specifically, Bartels finds that lower- and middle-class voters are far more responsive to election-year income growth among the richest Americans than they are to overall economic growth or to growth within their own income brackets. In this paper, we examine this troubling feature of U.S. electoral politics in comparative perspective, asking (i.) how widespread class biases in economic voting are in advanced democracies and (ii.) what generates them. Analyzing electoral behavior in three OECD countries (Canada, Sweden, and the United Kingdom), we find clear evidence of class-biased economic voting with substantively important electoral consequences outside the United States. Most surprisingly, we find that the class bias is not limited to national contexts characterized by market-liberal norms and institutions. We then propose two possible mechanisms that might contribute to the class bias — an informational mechanism and an ideological mechanism — and test for their operation in the United States and Sweden. The results are highly consistent with the operation of both mechanisms in the United States and weakly suggestive of an informational effect in Sweden.

Partisan Strategy and Path Dependence: The Post-War Emergence of Health Systems in the UK and Sweden

I have a paper just published in ‘Comparative Politics’. Get your ‘official’ copy via IngentaConnect or your ‘unofficial’ copy via SSRN.

Here’s the abstract:

Why did a highly redistributive, nationalized health care system emerge in the UK, where the Left was comparatively weak, while a more redistributively neutral, cash-centric, insurance-based system was pursued in Sweden, where the Left was strong? The explanation is two fold. First, in contrast to the Swedish Social Democrats, the weakness of the British Labour Party constrained it to pursue redistribution via health policy. Second, given the redistributive goals of the National Health Service, it became imperative for the Labour Party to construct a system that would be difficult for future Conservative governments to retrench. More generally, this formulation posits rational actors operating in the kinds of processes typically studied by historical institutionalists. The result is a tendency for a type of path dependence by design.

My Lords Reform Proposal: Abstention Voting for ‘Experts’

I have a post up on the Oxford/Cambridge Politics In Spires group blog where I propose a way of reforming the House of Lords.

In brief, the idea is that abstentions should count as ‘votes’ for an Appointments Commission list. The result, I think, would be a chamber that was directly elected, broadly representative, deliberative and populated with ‘experts’, as well as clearly subordinate to the House of Commons. What’s not to like?

See Getting the House in Order: brainstorming a novel approach to Lords reform for more details.

Update (2012/06/08)

I now have a related post on this at LibDemVoice. Commenters seem opposed, but not for good reasons.

My first paper accepted for publication

I’ve (finally) had a paper accepted for publication. It’s a re-worked dissertation chapter, now entitled “Partisan Strategy and Path Dependence: The Post-War Emergence of Health Systems in the UK and Sweden“.

I argue that the UK got the statist and centralised National Health Service it did immediately after the Second World War because Bevan felt that this would prove more difficult for “the vandals opposite”, in the form of the Tories, to undo. This was important because the NHS was a significant mechanism for redistribution.

I contrast this with the the Swedish Social Democrats’ explicit rejection of an NHS model and subsequent pursuit of a more cash-centric insurance design. Such a model was both less redistributive and (potentially) more malleable for future governments. I argue that they took this course as they were able to rely on redistribution in other areas – notably centralised wage-bargaining – making health policy less politically divisive.

I need to make some minor revisions before publication, but a very recent draft is available via SSRN. The paper has been accepted at Comparative Politics.