Just under three years ago I attended the Wellington College Festival of Education and heard Sir Michael Wilshaw give a speech about reclaiming comprehensives. The speech was to to launch ‘Going the extra mile: excellence in competitive school sport‘, which was an OFSTED report looking into the educational background of those who participate in sports at the elite level. Although only 7% of children are educated at Independent Schools, 42% of the 2012 Olympic medals won by Team GB came from those of a private education background. It isn’t really that startling when you look at the comparison of sporting provision between the state and independent sector. It seems from Sir Michael’s perspective state schools had either forgotten the educational power of competitive sport or just weren’t interested in it. In his speech he stated that “the school that wins on the pitch wins in the exam hall” and for teachers to go the ‘extra mile’. Whilst I do not share that sentiment, I do wholeheartedly believe good quality school sport provision can be a vehicle for a child’s education that supports, complements and enriches their academic endeavours. In state schools, that provision is built on the time, effort and goodwill of individuals.
A colleague and I spoke about it recently in a rare moment away from the hustle and bustle of teaching. He said “Goodwill in school is essential but fragile. If you don’t look after it, it goes.” I’ve thought long and hard about that recently. I agree with the first part of what he said. Goodwill is essential for schools who want to provide something beyond the classroom. It needs to be cultivated and protected. Reflecting back to my secondary school days I got to experience the school choir, school orchestra, debate club, historical association evenings, trips (both domestic and foreign), school plays, house competitions, community service and school discos on top of all the school sport I could ever want. Having now assisted in delivering many of them I understand the commitment and effort required. However I don’t believe goodwill is fragile for everyone. For those individuals who do things beyond the classroom to further their own interests and ambitions perhaps it is. When that goodwill doesn’t result in what they want, then it disappears breaking in an instant. However most provide opportunities beyond the classroom because they believe that opportunity will help the education and development of those children involved.
Those individuals where the provision has some root in altruism then goodwill is strong, such as when PE Teachers provide opportunities for school sport. The memories of those experiences when we were young and how much it enriched our lives is so deeply rooted in us, it is hard to break. We don’t need money, we don’t need medals and we don’t need plaudits because we enjoy it. We enjoy seeing children flourish the same we we flourished through school sport. We are just paying back what we got and because of this our goodwill is as enduring and resistant as a marble statue. No matter what, we tend to be there week in and week out watching over those children who have decided to grace us with their presence.
Just like a marble statue though, that goodwill can erode over time. Instead of being open to the environment. the wind and rain, we are open to a school’s culture and to the words and actions of others. Colleagues belittling your time spent on the school field in comparison to what they do. Line managers highlighting your lack of marking in passing, as if workload is a competition and a stick to beat colleagues with. School Leadership talking about cup wins but not really understanding the value of what you do and how it can have a positive impact on a child’s development. Saying school sport is a priority, but constantly having it come second when something else ‘more important’ appears in the form of a box to tick. These moments day in and day out don’t break goodwill. From my perspective I don’t see how it can. It is too strong for that. It can be forgotten, ignored, unappreciated or even manipulated. Over the years, day in a day out, that can chip away at it though. It can begin to warp and disfigure what was at the beginning something pure and perfect. In some cases the goodwill continues, but begrudgingly so. In some cases it becomes a warped and grotesque version and can eat away at the individual, only causing resentment and more harm than good. In my experience this can be a contributing factor in a teacher that has ‘lost their way’.
A simple rally cry of ‘going the extra mile’, when teachers already do a marathon isn’t going to help. Those teachers who give up their time for school sport (and other enrichment activities) do so out of goodwill. It is strong and enduring, but that doesn’t mean some sort of care, attention and protection isn’t needed. This doesn’t equate to financial reward or recognition but hopefully a school leadership that creates a culture where the value of these things are mutually understood and appreciated by all in the school community.