IOC Fellow Maya Terhune Reflects on Summer with City of Manchester, England

There’s a New Mayor in Town: My Summer with Manchester’s First Directly Elected Mayor and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority

Maya Terhune

IOC City of Manchester, England Summer Fellow Maya Terhune

From the inception of its textiles industry, Manchester has been an engine of industry-led innovation, defining the city as a center of economic and institutional development. Manchester’s origin as a pioneer of development influenced its decision to devolve from national government. The city-region, composed of ten local authorities, aims to better accommodate the needs of Mancunians through this gradual release of centralized powers to local institutions. With its first mayor and newly-formed Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), the city-region plans to use devolution to address some of the region’s profound problems with education, housing, and transportation. By expanding their evidence base, they aim to argue for the effectiveness of local implementation of national agenda. I was involved in the development of this evidence base in my work with the GMCA this summer. My contributions to the skills and employment team were part of a larger effort to understand how GMCA could best implement change within the school system and what powers it would need to devolve in order to do this.

My primary project involved performing data analysis for an advisory paper on schooling and disadvantage in Greater Manchester. In his campaign, the Mayor announced his government would reassess widespread issues in early years schooling. Understanding disparities in Manchester’s youth can reveal the long-term impacts of race, class, economic status, health, and gender on children as they progress through the school system and point to structural issues which augment these disparities.

My team was asked to compose a report evaluating education and achievement in the North to inform the political conversation about reinvigorating the region. I was tasked with evaluating the relationship between student achievement on their GCSEs and labor force composition by local authority. I determined that the most significant links were between median income for full-time employees and achievement (a strong, positive correlation) and qualification level and resident employment rate (also a strong, positive correlation); local authorities with higher median incomes and employment rates had higher achievement levels. This proved especially interesting when considering how the proportion of disadvantaged students affected overall performance; local authorities with more non-disadvantaged pupils tended to have higher scores than those with more disadvantaged pupils. While this would seem to imply that the economics of a region has significant effect on performance, Manchester was an interesting case; it had an almost equal proportion of disadvantaged students as Knowsley, but much higher levels of achievement. This may indicate that Manchester’s school system works for disadvantaged students.

This project helped inform our team in how to proceed with our report on the economic landscape of Greater Manchester schools. My research with regards to these same economic aspects held when looking at just Greater Manchester schools. However, as our report encompassed a holistic view of the school system, rather than only later qualifications, I was able to see that these same relationships between achievement and employment and salary extended throughout the entirety of the school system. This implied that many students from economically disadvantaged areas have low attainment from the onset of their education and are never able to fully catch-up with their peers. Despite the differences in their systems, American schools and English schools both appear unable to cancel out the profound effects of economic disadvantage.

Throughout the process of assembling this report, I devoted a great deal of time to acquiring data sets from government organizations. Information that would seem readily accessible, especially under a transparency doctrine, would be difficult to obtain. Because of how information about schools is reported in an increasingly privatized system, certain schools do not have statistics published about them because they are not state-maintained. Despite a need to understand the system holistically, I learned that because of the lack of standardization across departments, staff resources were being devoted to just locating information rather than analysis. I felt the direct effects of how these structural issues resulting from the lack of communication between departments that operated independently before GMCA impeded efficiency and effectiveness in research.

Many of my colleagues referred to Greater Manchester as the “lab rat” for devolution. Seeing this process and how it was being conducted first-hand, I began to understand the power struggle between local and national powers. The most interesting thing I learned from this experience was how similar the problems of American and English schools are. I was struck by how applicable the conclusions we drew about Greater Manchester schools were to my own school system in New York. The similarities between England and New York with regards to the North-South divide and the highly racially and economically stratified school system were staggering. Despite American schools being largely state-controlled and English schools under a centralized system, they both faced almost identical issues with disadvantage and disparity.

I was originally attracted to this opportunity through the Initiative on Cities because my parents, who are civil servants, have always stressed the importance of cities. Being able to participate in this experiment of devolution and creation of a new government was something that excited me and fed into my love of political science. As someone who has worked in schools, with city government, and with private organizations on ways to help the students left behind by the education system, I have seen education at work through many different platforms with varying degrees of success: it is an institution I am passionate about helping. While government desperately attempts to fix the system, it seems from my experience in Manchester that the problems our school system faces does not result so much from a failed structure, but in underlying factors that need to be addressed. This experience helped me understand the kind of work I want to do in education policy, research and data analytics, and gave me the skills to do so. Being able to understand how data feeds policy development and implementation has made me want to focus on how to address the underlying economic disparities of the communities and groups that the system fails.