What T20 Finals Day taught me…about going back to school

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1.
Getting the right team?
It’s not always about the big names. Yesterday’s winners Notts Outlaws could have picked their test player Stuart Broad, but they didn’t. Instead they chose the right team for the right format, and the consistent players who had got them to the final. Actually on finals day, the biggest names of each of the 4 semi-finalists (big hitters Alex Hales and Shahid ‘boom boom’ Afridi especially) failed. Strong internal day-to-day consistency from everyone is always better than flashy ‘outstanding’ individual showcases.

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2.
Knowing the situation you are in
: Samit Patel and Brendan Tayor won the final match with a 132 run partnership, just when it looked like the team was crumbling. They did it by batting slowly, carefully, not at first with lots of big, popular T20 hitting, but assessing the situation and slowly, deliberately building an innings. The crowd were impatient, knowing that the run rate might be too slow. But, faced with a potential collapse, these two made the right decision, built slowly, then accelerated. Knowing context, planning methodically & choosing the right strategy for the long journey.

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3.
Are we really a team?
 More than any other of the 4 teams on the day, the victorious Notts Outlaws had a discernible habit. As we watched from the stands, every wicket they took would precipitate the whole team, from all corners of the field, sprinting together for celebratory high fives and hugs. Contact which spoke clearly of authenticity. The other teams did it to some extent, but it wasn’t the same. More tokenistic, with less intensity. How much do we come together as a team and really build each other up, genuinely spur each other to become better at our practice, authentically celebrate what is going well and revel in our collective strength? Build strong team-building habits 

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4.
It’s not about the manager:
For the girl who is struggling in that maths group in Y8, it is the teacher who is more important to her than the Head or the CEO. Moores is a steadying, strong presence but the attention of the media and the crowd is focused on the players, not on him. Know who is really important.

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5.
Learn from failure:
Peter Moores, who had two unsuccessful spells as England manager (including one spectacular falling out with Kevin Pieterson) says “To win both white ball trophies in a season is a really rare thing. If you do that then it’s very, very special,” he said. “I think a lot of it comes down to mindset. We’ll go there as a settled team, a settled group of players who have gone through a bit of a journey. We were slow out the blocks and honestly, we weren’t really a proper team. We’d made a lot of changes – we had four or five different players and that took a bit of settling. Credit to (captain) Dan Christian and the players. They were honest and admitted they hadn’t got it right. ” We learn much more from our failures than our high points. 

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6.
Catching practice at night:
while we waited for the final to begin, Andrew Flintoff and David Lloyd (Freddie & Bumble to aficionados) goofed around singing Karaoke Elvis and Jonny Cash. Magic. Some players relaxed, watched and laughed along with the crowd, but there was a small, core group of players in the darkest corner of Edgbaston, away from the flashbulb media-scrum, who did catching drills for 30 minutes before the final game, as the sun was setting over West Bromwich. Catching in the dark. Adjusting eyes. Yesterday catches won matches. Remember what our colleagues do and achieve for children in schools in the quiet moments, thoughtfully and away from the spotlight. That’s what counts.

7.
Learn from the best
– 25 years ago the game was dying on its feet. County Cricket had all the vim and vigour of a picnic in Tunbridge Wells. Anticipation for a game looked a little like this:

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Rather than this (people queuing for tickets for an Indian IPL game):

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So the game learnt from mass-popular formats such as IPL (Indian Premier League) and it became more international, more sexy, attracted the big channels, and and caught the imagination of young people again.

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Over the summer reading the excellent Cleverlands by Lucy Creehan, has reminded me that there is a lot to be learnt from the performance of schools in other countries, not just for their quantitative PISA rankings, but also for the qualitative learning we can take. This can guide us in how we re-culture our schools to drive better progress and think more widely about what school should look like to be successful in the future and feel less like an annual slog for teachers and leaders (as well as students). Educating our next generation is a serious business, but it needs to be a profession with huge amounts of heart and fun, so that it attracts the best next generation of young talented inspirers. Let’s enjoy the ride!

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8.
Award sensitively!
 And finally the beautiful moment when the only injury of the day was incurred by the oversized trophy being presented rather forcefully, amongst the flowing champagne, into the Notts skipper’s head. Note to self!

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Pochettino and Pencil Cases

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I have supported Tottenham Hotspur since I was 4 yrs old, and in that time they have wavered from also-rans to jostling with glory in the FA Cup to relegation. Their regular underachievement has helped remind me of my own humanity. As West Brom is to Frank Skinner and Adrian Chiles, so Spurs have been to me in my teaching career. Down the years Yr11 boys would, on a chilly Monday at break time call across a cold wet playground “Unlucky yesterday sir!” and that spirit of compassionate, slightly downbeat camaraderie has often aligned me with them. Sometimes sulking helps.

Possession is one tenth of the law.
But something has utterly changed. Spurs fortunes have transformed this season and they are on the verge of doing something ridiculously successful. They are not immune from snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but it really looks like they might do it. So what has happened? A lazy conclusion one could draw would be that they have two or three class players at last in Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Moussa Dembele. But the truth has to be different: the evidence shows that over the years even when they have had great partnerships in the same team; Ardiles & Villa, Hoddle & Crooks, Gilzean & Chivers they have never quite reached expectations. But this year the Spurs coach Pochettino has done something monumental and yet simple which is way beyond bringing in big-name players. Added to this, and incredibly, ten of the last 18 England debutantes have grown through Pochettino’s coaching philosophy, at Spurs and at his previous club Southampton. He is doing something special. Sometimes the most effective transformations come from simple ideas.

If you could distil success in football down to one key variable, it would be possession. A quick look at the correlation between possession stats in the English Premiership shows that 5 of the top 8 teams have the best possession figures. Roughly the same picture emerges across italian Serie A and La Liga in Spain. 

So then presumably possession is the number one ingredient to successful football teams. Retaining possession for around 56% of the match means that the opposition have less time on the ball and obviously, less time to score. The exception in the Premiership of course is Leicester, with their twin pairing of Mahrez and Vardy who rely on speed and attack on the break, rather than through a slow, possession build- up.  The evidence suggests that with Barcelona (the most successful club in years) at the top of the European possession league at 62% then this assertion is true. Pep Guardiola, the former Barca coach must have distilled the essentials of this approach to perfection. But of course there is more to it than that. Barcelona use an ABAC passing structure (eg. Xavi to Messi, back to Xavi then onto Neymar), which separates them from other clubs with similar high profile players (who more often use an ABCD routine). So not random possession but a carefully planned structure, which breaks through defences. The Spanish national team has dominated world football for years, and has changed football into a game that is less about brilliant attacking play and more about patience, avoiding mistakes, and making certain that mathematics ensures you cannot lose. (bear with me if you have a football allergy – there is method in my madness)

Pep Guardiola is the most wanted manager in the world and will soon move to Manchester City, the fifth richest club in the world according to Forbes’ rankings (Barcelona is second to Real Madrid). Clearly great coaches don’t come cheap. Of course this knowledge is not new. A brief look at the Spanish ‘tiki taka’ style of close touch possession football, shows that these simple concepts were built on the ‘Coerver’ method of Dutch football which emerged through the 1970s through Feyenoord and Ajax and which the Dutch master Johan Cruyff brought to Barcelona.pep

This also influenced the way that young children were coached across Britain over the last 20 years, my boys among them. Less physical, less Wimbledon 1990s long ball; more of a two-touch, non-contact possession game. And so great young coaches like Mauricio Pochettino are borrowing this knowledge, from Cruyff and Guardiola before him, and harnessing it to their advantage. I watched from the Hawthorns stands before Christmas as Moussa Dembele utterly controlled the Spurs – West Brom match  dominating possession in the middle and yet only achieving a draw. Sometimes the means do not always achieve the ends, but in creating the conditions for teams to become more reliably successful, coaches have taken some of the randomness out of the game. Great coaches develop predictable success.

Knowing that we never stay still for long, and that after half term I wanted to see another real hike in expectations at school, I decided to go and see an example of what constitutes success in education.

I went to Magna Academy in Poole four weeks ago. Sometimes disparaging comparisons between education and football management are made, but in this instance I was looking to see what simple truths & techniques the head coach/headteacher had distilled in order to springboard a school from special measures to outstanding within three years. There were many very robust and incisive approaches to tracking data and creating much more ambitious flightpaths for children the moment they arrive in year seven now that key Stage 3 is dead. Teaching was clearly changing lives. But three of the key drivers for this transformation had been:

  • Equipping all students with full pencil cases where the majority of children receive the Pupil Premium
  • Students moving in silence around the academy (while all staff stand on duty), and
  • Teachers controlling the first five minutes of each lesson with silent starters.

Establishing a baseline of behaviour routines has meant for staff that this is a joyous place to teach, has taken much of the behaviour management stress away from teachers (at a time when we are reminded daily that teachers are leaving the profession), and equally importantly has meant that children are thriving in a calm environment of exploratory, high class learning. Children at Magna Academy are now competing with the two grammar schools in Poole for progress and even for overall attainment.
Like Poole, Gloucester is a city where for years the status quo has permitted a small number of underperforming state schools to wane while the grammars and high performing state schools remain in pole position, seemingly in glorious isolation.Two weeks ago, the next step change in expectations happened at Gloucester Academy and it is that perfect combination of the trilogy of right equipment, quiet movement between lessons and perfect, silent starters which have transformed learning in the last two weeks. No excuses about equipment save hundreds of minutes each week. Our regular nudges in our schools demonstrate a desire to want our children to receive and benefit from the kind of ethos, behaviour and quality of teaching that formerly only existed in a few schools. Can this culture change that schools embracing such ‘no excuses’ transformations create social mobility? Of course it can.

It has brought greater consistency without destroying the individuality of each teacher and it has allowed students to thrive in their learning. It creates predictable success because it supports the least experienced teacher in the building. The feedback from children has been immense, and teachers describe how much more enjoyable it is not giving out equipment and being able to focus on the essentials of good quality instruction for well-equipped, well-organised students right from the outset of each lesson.
What are the things that will have the greatest impact for the least input? In sport and in schools learning from great coaches and leaders can sometimes help us distil and simplify what are essentially complex organisations in order to find simple and clear nudges which can yield surprising results. Pochettino has learnt this for Spurs and increasingly I am learning this for GA.