A fear of failure

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England's golden generation of footballers never achieved because they were driven by a fear of failing – not unlike our school system today. Our headteacher diarist refuses to jump through the hoops of our education system.

Sven-Göran Eriksson, he of the glamorous women and erstwhile England football manager, employed the sports psychologist Willi Railo to try to unlock the reason why our “so-called” golden generation of footballers, Gerrard et al, failed to perform in the big matches.

His, perhaps unsurprising, analysis was that the players were driven by a fear of making mistakes. Railo’s conclusion was that the players were stunted by the fear of failure, and therefore could not really excel or try things for the fear of the inevitable media scrutiny.

The aim therefore was to instil some fun into the England football camp, return the footballers to their roots, the reason why they became footballers. Take away the fear of failure and performance will increase. A lot of my work last term was spent trying to protect the staffroom and boost teacher morale.

Ofsted is looming, GCSE headline results due to the English marking debacle are down 10 per cent, and staff, contrary to Sir Michael, are getting in earlier and leaving later. The birth rate has conspired to produce two transition year groups where the threat of low year 7 numbers is a major financial worry and the two leading local independent schools are now offering a range of enticing scholarships for 11-year-olds.

So the aim has to be to try to create a protective teaching and learning environment where we can ensure that there is low performance anxiety. An acceptance of risk-taking is encouraged not just tolerated. This is the stated aim but is not easy to produce, we teachers are emotional creatures and the constant “harping” and easy sound-bite, glib teacher-baiting gets to staff. It also gives an excuse to not perform and not try new strategies.

We all need to be loved and with Gove/Wilshaw as your potential partners it is easy to see why a pre-nuptial agreement would be essential. The following suggestions are imperative:

  • Do not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” or to avoid clichés, not all GCSEs and modular exams are bad, some are essential, provide deep learning and skills for life.

  • End the publication of league tables; they are, with Ofsted as enforcer, simply a threat that does not aid performance and allows mediocrity to be the norm – all students should excel and a C grade in English and maths should not be the major judgement of a child or a school.

  • Provide fair funding for all schools. My Worcester comprehensive has for 20 years received annually £900,000 less than the Birmingham school I previously ran – this is offensive when you look at the demographics and SEN populace, which is more vulnerable for the Worcester school!

Failing this, I will continue to run my school with as much commonsense as we are allowed, taking away the power from those who would threaten performance, by first accepting that Ofsted will downgrade us to “good” – so what? I know we are better than our previous inspection and I have my arguments rehearsed. I am also currently an Ofsted inspector and know the failed system and their language for what it is.

Second, I will send staff home at 5:45pm (a 15-minute warning bell rings to encourage home life), provide food at TEDs and poor jokes for all at staff briefing – marginal gains is what I require not staff radically changing their performance.

Willi Railo found that David Beckham was the only one of the footballers whose massive desire was matched by a lack of worry about failure.

Teachers are talented people who go into the profession to do a good job, allow them to do this without threatening them and school performance will consequently rise to a consistent 9/10.

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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