It’s not a game of two halves

Comparisons between school leadership and football are often drawn – and are rarely positive, says Geoff Barton in SecEd.

With the World Cup kicking off more or less as you read this, it seems like a good time to reflect on the extent to which footballing analogies have crept into the education lexicon. 

And it may also be worth making the point that the world of education is nothing like the world of sport. It is not a game of two halves over 90 minutes with winners and losers. It is a long game played over many years with the objective of helping every child to achieve. Indeed, the use of football terminology when applied to education is rarely positive. As we shall see.

League tables

We all know about league tables. Even with the new, fairer measure of Progress 8 we know that schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils are likely to record lower scores than those in more affluent areas, regardless of the quality of teaching. Indeed, no performance measures are ever likely to provide an entirely level playing field

Football manager syndrome

In a climate of extremely hard accountability it is perhaps not surprising that heads roll far too easily. A single set of poor results can mean the end of a career. 

Talented deputy headteachers may feel they are safer where they are. Leaders may be reluctant to take on a struggling school. And when a headteacher loses their job we also lose all that training and experience from the system. 


The fragmentation of the school system over the past few years has inevitably pitched schools into a more competitive environment than existed in the past. Now we are trying to reconstruct greater collaboration through the growth of multi-academy trusts. That is a recognition that we can often achieve the best results for children by working together and supporting one another.

And finally…

We often talk about goals. They abound for our students and for our schools. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with aiming high. Indeed, we should have the very highest aspirations. But the problem with goals is that sometimes you miss the target. 

Read more of Geoff’s take on the world of football  It’s not a game of two halves

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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