Pressure for results puts schools off their game

10th June 2016 at 00:00
Football Leicester City
Sir Michael Wilshaw’s attack on the East Midlands is exactly the sort of criticism that panics schools into making quick fixes

There is a theory – one that is growing in importance in the world of business – that says the more a company concentrates on its mission rather than its profits, the bigger its profits will be.

Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry I Porras, was a huge success when it was first published in 1994. The idea has since become something of a touchstone for many business folk in the post-credit crunch world. The gist was, it’s better to be Google (mission statement: don’t be evil) than the Royal Bank of Scotland (mission statement: loadsamoney).

This theory has some very real relevance for schools at this time of year. Here at TES Towers, we are constantly in awe of the fact that teachers and school leaders, who are under pressure to produce ever-growing reams of results data – with the threat of being fired that underlies it – somehow manage to divorce this existential pressure from their concerns for their students.

Teachers worry themselves nearly half to death about exam season and results day, not because it’s their head on the block, but because they know what a B rather than a C in GCSE maths could mean for little Jenny’s entire future.

Almost without exception, it is schools that embed this ethos in their work, that achieve long-term, sustainable success in their work. In short, they are built to last. It is those that look for quick fixes – often under immense pressure from those above them – who can come a cropper.

All of which allows us to neatly segue into Sir Michael Wilshaw’s robust duffing up of the East Midlands this week.

Ofsted chief's 'crude' criticism

In a move correctly criticised by heads’ leader Russell Hobby as “crude”, schools in the region were singled out as being the worst performing in the country. A “culture of complacency” is to blame for this underperformance, Sir Michael explained.

It is attacks such as these that too often result in schools and academy chains opting for short-term fixes.

Not content with taking on a region, SMW turned his laser-like focus on to a city that has experienced more than its fair share of the limelight in recent months. “Leicester, meanwhile, has enjoyed great sporting success and is home to the new champions of English football [pictured]. Yet when it comes to education, its ambitions and achievements are decidedly Second Division.”

Setting to one side the fact that there is exactly no relationship between the success of a local football team and the results of its surrounding schools, let’s use this month’s European Championships as an excuse to stretch Sir Michael’s non-sequitur.

Time and time again, you find reports of Leicester City’s extraordinary achievement marvelling at the way that the club’s manager, Claudio Ranieri, fostered an extraordinary esprit de corps in his players.

It was the fabulous team spirit of Leicester’s players and the way they were allowed to concentrate on high-quality football that got them over the finishing line. No one ever talked about winning the league and only rarely were individual players singled out for praise or damnation. The goals just kept on coming.

There’s a lesson in that for those who think of school results like a bank’s bottom line, or treat heads like football managers. It’s got something to do with playing the ball and not the man. Or in educational terms: concentrating on the pupils, not the league tables.

Ed Dorrell is Head of Content at TES. He tweets as @Ed_Dorrell

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