The Cold War, leaking pipes and more. In this episode Andy, Emily and Adam discuss where they'd use funding in education. Is a certain area more important to invest in? What would the impact be? Plus, what happened when Singapore focussed on a particular area of funding - what was the impact?
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello. I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School Podcast. Welcome to the School of School Podcast.
Welcome back everyone. So today we're going to talk about funding. So what am I talking about here? What do I mean when I say funding? So what I want to throw you guys into the position of being for a minute, for a short period, Emily, you are now, imagine yourself as the minister of education. Okay? And I've given you a hundred million pounds, right? And your problem is, do you spend it on the bottom third, the middle group or the advanced learners or everyone? There you go.
Where are you going to get the most impact? So there is that theory, isn't it like the...
Adam, stop laughing.
If you spend it on the bottom third, this theory of the bottom third, I think that's interesting to decide what the criteria is, but I know what you're saying. I feel that you've got to put it where there's need. So there's been a lot of debate about pupil premium, like kids that need this money. It's got to happen there. But if there's good, surely we put it into good teaching, don't we? Because if there's good teaching, won't they then just sort all the other bits out?
I was about to say, Emily, I wouldn't spend it on any of them. I wouldn't spend the... I'd spend it on the teachers.
Yeah. Okay. But that's a copout. So what you're saying, so effectively what you're saying, if you're saying, you're going to spend it on the teachers is you're going to spread it across the whole system. So you're not going to give the money to any particular group. You're going to give it to the teachers, which, effectively is like you're spreading, it across the whole system.
No, cause I wouldn't give it to schools. I'd put it into teacher training.
I'm just saying you got, a pot of money. Forget about where you spend it. You now need to make a decision.
Right? About, am I going to focus this? So if your belief is that social mobility is the most important factor in society, then you would, one would imagine that you would try to help those who are struggling.
Give them a leg up. Give them a chance.
A hundred million is nowhere near enough, by the way, that's the first thing I say. But that's okay. I hear what you're saying.
Okay. A hundred billion. It doesn't matter a big sack of money. Right. So is it social mobility or is it equality, fairness across the system that you focus on? Or is it, the advanced learners? And there's lots of, lots of reasons why you might focus on the advanced learners. Right? So just think of the advanced learners as like, if you want to develop an Olympic team, right? You've got to spend the money on the most promising ones. Right. Otherwise you're never going to win any gold medals. So if your goal is to win gold medals, whatever that means in education. Yeah? Create the best, the brightest, the smartest.
So, think of the Cold War, right. In the Cold War, people were putting money towards the best and the brightest and the smartest, because there was a race, and you could lose, and the stakes were high. You had to have the biggest and the best and the strongest weapons. Right. So that's a social problem. Yeah. So then you need to invest in those brightest. You need to create the best universities. You need to create the give opportunities to the smartest, because they're the ones that are going to fix the problems. While if social mobility is your problem, right? So that's the question, right?
Yeah. But it's got to be social mobility Andy, because how can you define the brightest and the smartest if you're not actually going in there to give everybody the chance to kind of move forward. So like, if we've got people in society, I think, I take your point by the way about like, if it's Olympic or there's something very specific like music and you are wanting to kind of, you've got real talent. And if you said, which kind of area of like talent, like we've got to become number one in sport or something. You might take a different perspective on this.
But I think if it's fundamentally, like you've got to be literate, you've got to be numerate. And there's way too many kids in our society who are not able to do that. You've got to be able to have that because that then pushes everything to be better, which then results or issue of university. And it completely solves the problem that people are unable to function effectively in society. Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox now, cause I've gone off like a champagne cork.
No. So you're saying the bottom third, right? Like it doesn't matter how we define the bottom third or the top third.
Let's just agree that there is a bottom third and the top third and middle third.
Forget about whether you do that through testing or whatever, right?
Yeah. And it's not a six week catch up program. Sorry, just to say. It's like proper long-term. It's not like, "oh yeah, we'll give this little cash, and we'll just, oh, thanks very much." You did your little thing. Well done, move on." It's like consistent properly invested long-term. It's not a one hit wonder, but it's done properly. Absolutely social mobility, social justice access.
The idea is, do you give the money to like Oxford and Cambridge and Harvard and Stanford and say, "these are the best and we need to make them even better?" Or do you say "no, all these poor kids here who don't have the opportunities, they're the ones we need to help," right? Or do you just give it all to the teachers? Right. Adam, you, you need to tell us what you think.
So, here's the problem with that top third model? Yeah, there's countries out there that do it now. Like there's children being trained as gymnasts from four years old because their attributes at four would suggest that... The problem is that that top third is a bit like a triangle with a point at the top because the, everyone who goes through any sort of elite program, you're after a winner. Singular, not a group of winners. So you might have the byproduct of the top third that you're going to get some very good people and very good areas if you like, of their expertise, their single area of expertise, but it's becoming so limited in terms of what they're focusing on. That's what I would say about elite sports programs is that you are looking for one. You're looking for one out of the lot, but you have to take a gamble on a chunk of people who have shown that they're already above the norm.
So I would say that that model for me is flawed. So that's the first thing. I'd go for the bottom third. I think that not only is there a moral responsibility to that. I think that we have to accept the system's got limitations. And if we can expand that out, then what's tested might be something that, with increased opportunity is found. So those people can show their talents in areas that perhaps they wouldn't otherwise. There's just a pure money value thing to it as well. Think tax revenue. So if the statistics are that I'm not as qualified, or I can't read, or I'm not as employable in certain jobs, right. Let's just say, I'm struggling to find a job. Then I'm a burden on the state in one sense. Don't take this as, like I'm saying everyone, who's... You understand where I'm coming from?
I'm costing the state. If I am able to get an education beyond what I may have been able to get without the hundred million, hundred billion, whatever. Doesn't matter. Then maybe then I'm earning for my society in ways that can then contribute to the greater society. So if we're just looking at it in pounds and pence, right? So no humanity to it, just the straight business. What do I get back? Well then if I invest in a hundred of my top third, I get back one champion. One person at the very, very pinnacle of it all in certain models.
If I invest in my bottom third that have the potential to be, need a huge amount of support post education, then actually that can be flipped on its head. And now I've got a hundred contributors that can feed into the system. So I think, I mean, that sounds pretty cold, but that is a reality of society, I suppose.
So Adam, just one thing, because I obviously agree with you. But something that wouldn't cost too much, but I think has to happen at the same time is, if you had put the investment in there, but you still need to be assessing across all areas so that we don't end up in a situation where everything is focused then on where the money is for the lower third and the middle don't get stretched and the gifted and talented don't get opportunity. So it's kind of got to be done effectively, but then everybody is because I have seen that before where suddenly like everyone jumps on what's the latest where the funding is, or where's the latest thing.
And so it's making sure that every child has opportunity to grow and to do their best and to have opportunity offered to them. But the investment and the real kind of focus on making a difference happens in that bottom third, I think it's critical
For me, this is taking the human humanity out of it, right?
The way I was just talking then. It's kind of like if I've got 10 leaky pipes, right. And one pipe that shoots water super fast, do I want to spend money on the one so it shoots water even faster? Or do I want 10 leaky pipes fixed so I'm not wasting my money with the water that just constantly leaks all the time? Well, no, because that's just a burden. And so when I talk about that, I'm not talking about children, people being like literally...
Adam said children are a burden, right?
Yeah. But when we're talking about cold, hard cash, wouldn't it be great to generate more cash if the cash that you first put in can help? Wouldn't it make sense if you can get a return on that investment that then goes on to extrapolate out? Just makes sense. Where are you at with this, Andy? Where are you at?
Look, I don't really know. Right? I don't know, but I'll tell you where the question came from. You know we have a lot of discussions at home and my oldest daughter, Anthea, she's currently studying at university. And she's really interested in, she wants to go towards medical profession, but right now she's really into like psychiatry and how the brain works and she's doing a lot of neuroscience stuff. And I posed them the questions, her and Sebastian, and my youngest daughter. And we ended up having a debate for hours over Sunday lunch, right, about this. What's the right thing to do, right? And I guess it's really difficult question to answer. I don't know. I guess what I kind of keep gravitating towards is I look at the rising tide in Singapore, right?
Like Singapore, they never close the gap. Right. So that's really the thing you're asking yourself. Do you want to close the gap or do you want to focus on a particular group? And those are really your two options or do you just kind of do everybody knowing that if you do everybody, you're going to have less of an effect on anybody. Right. And although they didn't really set out to do this, to rise the tide, what they did was they lifted everybody up. Right. They lifted everybody up. Everybody went up. So now the bottom 10% of Singaporean students, or if you look at like, so we're looking at Piza and Tim's results here, right? The bottom 10% of Singaporean students, right, attains the same levels as the average student in England or Canada. And I think about that. If you could say, I'm going to take the bottom 10% and I'm going to bring them up so high, that they're as good as the average students everywhere else. That's pretty damn fricking amazing. Right? Like that's, everybody wants to be able to achieve that. Right.
But they didn't do it at the detriment of the highest achievers. Right. Everybody went up. So now what you've got is the middle achievers, right, are doing better than the best students in other places. And their top students are in the stratosphere. They're not even on the same scale as the rest of the world. Right. So that's kind of like, that's what everybody wants. Right. But that's almost impossible to do.
So where was their focus though, Andy? Just for everyone listening. In terms of Singapore, so they've managed to do everyone, right. They've managed to increase that. Was there a clear focus as to maybe who they were looking at in order to support with their curriculum? It's a relatively young curriculum. The progress has been astounding over a short amount of time.
I can't answer that question with any authority, but what I've heard talking to people like Ben Har and Kyun Yoon and stuff, is that effectively, they originally set out to create a program that would lift the bottom third. Right. And it just so happened that it worked for everybody, but they didn't know that that would happen. Right.
So that's interesting, isn't it? When you look at systems that work really, really well, the keyword in there is it's a system that works really, really well. It's not the individual teacher. It's not the funding because the best performing nations aren't the best funded nations. Right. It's none of those things. It's really the system. The problems are systemic, right, in nature. There's something in the system that's not working. There's tons of cases where governments put more money in the education system and the results get worse, right. Now why does that happen? One would think money is the lubricant. Money is the fuel for making change, right? So you give people a bunch of money and it doesn't work any better. We see this in corporations as well. Right?
I'm not sure there is, but I think that one of the factors. And I know that lots of people struggle with this when funding is increased in certain specific areas, is that when you talk about systems, when you talk about countries like Singapore, that's been a long process relative to the amount of time that we have in schools that when funding comes in, we're expected to have a result because of that funding tomorrow. And so I think, that's the other thing is you give me a hundred billion today. With the best will in the world I don't think it could be spent that by Monday, next week, it would have an immediate impact on children. I'm not convinced. Yes, there's some things around like free school meals or schools at home and eating well and those sorts of things.
But I just mean that in terms of that systemic, ongoing sustainability of ensuring that all children leave school educated and able to function in a numerate and literate world, then that takes a long time. And I think that that's where the hundred billion can be a bit of a poison chalice because if it's a hundred billion in 20 years, no probs. You know, maybe we get a chance. Maybe we get a shot at this. And we really put some time and effort into it. If it's a hundred billion, just in a election cycle, that's the cynic in me, then possibly that's not enough time to turn it around. And if it's a hundred billion and all you've got is one term, then I will be the headlines of every major newspaper in England, because I'll be the guy that blew a hundred million and show nothing for it. So I think these are the things also that we need to realize.
Crazy stuff. Huh?
Tough question, Andy. Tough question.
You know, here we are nothing but challenging problems we're trying to solve here in this podcast. Thanks for joining everyone.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School Podcast.