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Schools, football and short-termism

  • Too much focus on short-term goals clouds the long-term vision
  • Best schools plan 5 or 7-year student learning journeys
  • Urgent intervention demoralises students and exhausts staff
  • Natural fluctuation is not a crisis

 


Schools, football and short-termism
Football managers have notoriously short life spans. Just look at the current carnage at Leeds United or the fact that last season there were 11 managerial changes in the Premier League – a figure already matched in the Championship this season.

It is a culture of short-termism and a culture of panic but when the stakes are high it is understandable.

Increasingly, comparisons are being drawn between the high stakes world of football and the high stakes world of education. Heads are hired and fired like football managers, it is claimed, with one dip in performance likely to spell doom.

It is unsurprising then that a great deal of focus in schools is on interventions and quick-fix strategies to improve performance – because if performance isn’t fixed quickly, heads are likely to roll.

This is understandable. Of course, students will sometimes fall behind, making interventions necessary. In such cases, picking low-hanging fruit from the ‘quick fix’ tree is eminently sensible – if it results in the boost that your students need.

But focusing too intensely on the short term can mean that long-term vision is lost, teachers are left perpetually fighting fires, and too much resource and time is funnelled into ever more urgent intervention. Ultimately, this ends up being self-defeating and resource intensive – demoralising for students and exhausting for staff.

Teachers are left perpetually fighting fires, and too much resource and time is funnelled into ever more urgent intervention

Anyone in education will tell you that a student’s GCSE grade is not a reflection of their time in year 11 alone but a culmination of years of learning, months of teachers’ time and effort, and a vast array of experiences in and outside of the classroom.

When year 7s arrive at secondary school, the best schools know what they want students to be learning for the next five or seven years, and through collaboration with FE or 6th form colleges they prepare them for full-time employment or further education.

Naturally you can have a year group that is problematic – no matter what you do you can only get so far and your results may dip.

This isn’t to say that you don’t keep trying, but we need a system that recognises that dips do occur.

The best schools know what they want students to be learning for the next five or seven years

Children are children, and teachers are only human. The interventions a school applies should be seen as part of the big challenging picture, rather than as a crisis or failure of leadership.

If a school recognises that many students will not achieve the results that would make a certain pathway tenable, it needs to ensure that other pathways are available, to avoid students struggling in the world of work, or worse, become NEET.

This more sane and humane approach would also make it easier to identify when a school was genuinely struggling by reducing the tendency to classify natural fluctuation as a crisis.

When schools actively plan for the long term and get this totality of experience right it reduces the need to intervene and can dramatically improve outcomes for students.

The best schools and the best heads realise this and constantly plan for the future whilst managing the demands of the day.

If a school recognises that many students will not achieve the results that would make a certain pathway tenable, it needs to ensure that other pathways are available

When this long-term strategy is balanced with efficiency in the short term the results will follow.

It even seems that the topsy-turvy world of football might be beginning to realise this. Just look at the performances of Newcastle and West Ham of late; both clubs who avoided short-termism and are reaping the rewards.

Particularly good news for me as a regular visitor to Upton Park!


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