The pursuit of excellence – ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’…

Firstly – I do admire those bloggers who keep their blog up to date with daily or hourly bulletins – one day for me perhaps? However my lack of updates simply illustrates the fast changing world of education where fire fighting has become the norm and reflection a thing of the past – but perhaps more of that later.

Secondly – the focus of this update is in response to the the growing calls to increase school sport to two hours a day in order to secure a legacy of the UK success in the Olympics which are taking place at present. I need to note that I am a strong advocate of sport – in fact I think sport was was the best part of my own schooling.   However I want to focus on the decision making that surrounds the call for more sport rather than the need for more sport.

The decision making goes something like this: We have had an outstanding Olympics, we have done incredibly well for a relatively small nation – let the legacy be more sport so we can have even greater success. Whilst this may seem fairly logical – logic is not what produces Olympic champions and the outcomes of Olympic champions should not be the legacy of the Olympics. The legacy should be the pursuit of excellence which is characterised by every medal winner.  Almost without fail every athlete has commented on hard work and the support systems around them – most notably their coaches. In any competitive activity it is the attention to detail and pursuit of excellence that makes the difference. So increasing the amount of school sport is great – but it will only be through pursuing excellence and instilling a strong work ethic that you create the opportunity for success. It is only through the relentless aggregation of these marginal gains (a term I heard during the games) that you achieve success – simply increasing the numbers playing sport won’t do this as perversely you may end up with less success at the top end – which is a different form of success.

Therefore in recognising complexity you need to acknowledge not just the athletes but the whole infrastructure that operate within that  structure to produce success. This the psychologists, the nutritionalists, the physiotherapists, the coaches,  the designers,  technologists and so on – each has to be the best and has to pursue excellence.  So if the UK does want to have a games legacy let it be recognition of the diversity of  excellence needed to achieve success.

The parallels with education are all too clear. At present in England a relentless focus on  ‘notional success’ through PISA and other simplistic measures fails to recognise the myriad of factors that influence success. Failing to scrutinise what pursuit of that success may do  or failing to recognise the associated complexities merely distorts education in the pursuit of something that may not be achievable or desirable….


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