#EducationFest No.1: Play up, play up, and play the game

This is the first in a series of posts on the Festival of Education at Wellington College.

I’m a little surprised that Michael Wilshaw chose the glorious surroundings of Wellington College to launch an attack on state sector mediocrity in sport. Given that anyone wanting to attend his speech had to park on the athletics field and walk past the 1st XI cricket pitch with its pavilion the size of a small comprehensive, the possibility that different levels of facilities might contribute to the divide won’t have been far from anyone’s thoughts. I think he made a decent point on Radio 4 about schools working with whatever local facilities they have but I don’t suppose Antony Seldon has ever needed to know where the local park is. However, I think the facilities are a red-herring; that’s not why £33000/year translates into sporting success. The real difference is the 7 day week at Wellington College, and the balance of teaching, residential, and extra-curricular responsibilities that go with a boarding school job. This is a lot more significant to sporting opportunities for pupils than whether or not a school has a boathouse on the Thames. I can’t see the DfE stumping up to give teachers a chunk off their teaching load in exchange for a longer working day and weekend commitments. It’s all very well implying that teachers don’t do these things because they lack ambition and have been subverted into lazy and/or anti-competitive mind-sets by the progressive movement but that ignores the reality. My first teaching job was in an HMC boarding school, and for sure I was working 80+ hours a week with the children, putting in a couple of evenings and a fair chunk of weekends, doing sport. But I also got paid £3K over a state-sector starting salary, had a free flat, got three meals a day, and had someone pick up my laundry and return it cleaned and ironed. My timetable was about 70% compared to the 90% a state sector teacher would expect and I got 19 weeks holiday a year.

This is a shame because his speech was actually a rallying call to make comprehensives everything he would like them to be, and whilst I don’t think that having a decent rugby team matters a jot, most of what he said about academic standards, parental responsibility, behaviour, and leadership, are not a bad combination to be aiming for. He didn’t really say so much about sport – it certainly didn’t dominate his speech – but given that Ofsted published their report on competitive school sport the same day, with this as the focus of their press release, that’s what everyone will be talking about. I can’t help thinking that Wilshaw was a better headteacher than HMCI and that what he achieved at Mossbourne had far more potential to influence the quality of comprehensive education in this country than all the speeches he makes now about how we all need to pull our socks up. I wonder if he has considered going back into school leadership and leading by example rather than exhortation. I will always listen with an open mind to what he says, because of what he achieved, but the more he suggests it’s just a case of making a bigger effort, the less convinced I will be.

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