What can we learn from the new Premier League Champions?

About a year ago I reflected on what Bournemouth’s promotion to the Premier League could offer, by way of inspiration, to education (here). So now, a year on – following last weekend’s ‘Leicester Fiesta’ – what about our newly crowned, deserving, once in a lifetime champions? The great team, with a spirit… Oh, ok, I’ll admit it, before I go any further – I’m a Spurs fan. I didn’t want Leicester to win the league. I didn’t want Chelsea to ‘do a job for Claudio Ranieri’. And I certainly didn’t want to approach the last two matches nervous about not even finishing second (more so since our loss against Southampton!) But, there you go, as Mick Jagger sang, “You can’t always get what you want…”

Now that’s off my chest, I can say, I am delighted for Leicester and especially Claudio Ranieri – often described as ‘the nearly man’ for his ability to finish in 2nd place (as he did during his tenure at Chelsea!) I have frequently railed about the obscene amount of money being spent (or wasted) in football – especially when you hear players have missed a chance as it fell on their ‘weaker foot’! Not a claim that ever befell greats; such as George Best (I put that line in for my mum!)

However, as readers of this blog will know, this isn’t about football – there’s plenty of those out there already, as well as untold phone-ins, frequently starting with “I reckon…” (so you know it’s reasoned, balanced and worth a listen!) No, as I have with musicals, Kenny Rogers and Bournemouth (link above), I want to draw some inspiration from Leicester and use them to examine some of the aspects of the education system that are currently troubling me.

I begin with the question many are asking, how did Leicester do it? Clearly they don’t have; the most expensively assembled squad, biggest stadium, most fans, a history of titles, the best-paid manager, international stars or the depth of squad other teams have. Yet, despite the now famous 5000/1 odds at the start of the season they won the league – the toughest and best in the world if you believe the hype (from the Premier League!) I use this to explore a variety of areas of schools and education in general, more as conversation starters – though do hope that there are some answers, insights even, contained in the list of 5 here.

1) Team cohesion and a system:

Despite not being filled with a galaxy of (overpaid) stars Leicester showed tremendous team spirit and cohesion, which saw them through many games. However, more fundamentally in my opinion, what they had was a clear system – secured with everyone assured in their role within it. How refreshing for a school leaders, as well as for subject and year leaders, as well as all staff without responsibilities to have a system, with clearly defined roles for all. Many schools may claim to have this, but can they transition new ‘players’ in as successfully as Leicester (as shown during Jamie Vardy’s recent ban) and not suffer a dip in performance or result? If you say yes, would your supply teachers, or the classes they cover, say the same? This leads to…

2) Discipline

As my ITL colleague Jim Roberson says,

“Discipline is not what you do to yourself, but for yourself”

 Looking at the latest statistics (here) Leicester have only two teams with a better disciplinary record this season (matching Swansea behind Bournemouth and Arsenal respectively.) Surely this leads, in some way, to improved performance – although I recognise that on pitch (in)discipline does not equate to league table position (except for Aston Villa!)

However, how did Leicester maintain their discipline despite the build up of expectation? Having watched my own team capitulate and gather a Premier League record 9 yellow cards (and somehow escape any reds) we couldn’t manage it! But, what about in your school; does discipline get in the way of learning, progress and success? Consider the following:

  • Do children misbehave as a distraction? In my experience no child wants to fail, but if they know they are going to they do so on their terms, which can mean misbehaving to be told off for this rather than failure.
  • How well behaved are your teachers? Do they do as their expected, or (even) as the children are expected? [Before diving into answer this, what about in the staffroom, or conversation in corridors, or even seating during Insets/ meetings?]
  • How do the people in your school treat each other? (An interesting aside here, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham, both fundamental in Manchester United’s triple winning team, yet didn’t speak to each other for months – perhaps showing the importance of the strength of the overall team’s cohesion and having a system (Here’s an Independent article from 2010 where Cole explains his hatred for 15 years!)

3) Leadership


The books, websites, conferences and other material about this topic are numerous, so I don’t intend investing too much into it here. However, regardless of his ‘style’, it is clear that Claudio Ranieri managed to get his players playing for him, in a way he decided – whether it was the famous pizza nights, or things unseen it worked. Doubt the value of a leader? Ask Jose Mourinho, Luis van Gaal about getting ‘the team behind them’ this season, or for others of an earlier vintage Brian Clough (explored here by the BBC) and he not only won the league with an unfashionable team, but the European Cup – twice!

Sport, Football, England, 1980, Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough with the European Cup trophy  (Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

Sport, Football, England, 1980, Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough with the European Cup trophy (Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

How does your leader lead? How do you lead? Are you effective? What is the system of leadership in your school? Following on from this, especially looking at the Brian Clough piece…

4) Talent

talent standing out


A series of questions here:

Where is it?

How is it nurtured?

How is it identified?

How is it encouraged?

What are the blocks to it?

How is it harnessed?

What are the dangers?

How do you ensure inclusivity, not division, around the talent?

The story of Leicester’s season may well focus on Vardy and Mahrez, but Huth, Morgan and Schmeichel are also vital and cannot be ignored in favour of the record setting Premier League striker Vardy.

5) Luck (and belief)


This quote by Gary Player (also attributed to others) and also cited by Sir Alex Ferguson may seem to counter my talent thoughts, but in schools there is a huge amount of luck involved and – as in football – the league table comparison can be influenced by this.

Surely, whatever their hard work, team ethos, manager, etc, etc might demonstrate, Leicester have been more than fortuitous to have these elements align in the same year that the major, usual title chasing, teams have had such a severe dip in form? Bookmakers aren’t known to get things wrong too drastically – especially over a 38 game season – so surely an element of luck has to be involved in Leicester defying 5000/1 odds?

To put these odds another way, if the Premier League had started when the Egyptian Pyramids were built and this was 2416, we would only expect them to win the title once in all of that time! Or, to put it another way, their odds were the same as Elvis being seen walking down Oxford Street! In fact, Simon Cowell being the next Prime Minister is 10 times more likely at 500/1 – the same as you could have got in the last World Cup for Germany to beat Brazil 7-1 and for England to beat Australia at Headingley in 1981!

However, looking at the way these odds are, is the message more that the right conditions can lead to remarkable levels of performance and outcomes? As only children really lose out, we should ignore the league table element. Yes, your school may ‘beat’ the neighbour one year thanks to; staff turnover, an incident during the exams, you focusing on a topic that came up prominently whilst they spread their net wider across topics or for a similar reason, but how often are you prepared to challenge the odds?

I worked with a colleague who always cited chance graphs, showing how every year children predicted an E scored a C or above, “Why can’t it be you?” he would ask – clearly channelling his inner lottery spirit! But he was right, because – having applied this myself – it’s amazing the ‘lucky’ results you can get when children are encouraged and instilled with that belief. A personal example demonstrates this…

As a deputy head I was in charge of target setting and tracking performance, however I realised that staff were coasting (before the term was de rigueur) identifying and dismissing children, and often their own colleagues. This meant that the school was able to always meet their predicted performance, but never exceeded it – ironic as many colleagues would criticise children who did ‘enough’ to get a C but no more (see behaviour!) Therefore I devised a ruse – I’m sure others have done similar. Simply put, I lied!


I told subject leaders that I had been analysing the previous 3 years’ data, KS2 and 3 results and internal tracking – including our T&L Reviews and found that our current predictions were too low and we needed to change our targets. I introduced this in the September and this meant that for that year’s Year 11 the target moved from 59% to 63%, but the Year 10 target became 69%, from 63%. I told colleagues that over the Summer I had gone through every child’s data and realised that we had set the bar too low and shared with them new figures for all children.

How did I do this? Simply put, I inflated childrens’ grades by 1 grade and that led to a 4% increase in year 1 and 6% in year 2 – there had been no analysis necessary, all I’d done was work out a target, see how many children were required to meet it and gone from there. This was not just done for C/D grade children, but others too – I couldn’t be too obvious! Now, before some people get too irate, I put one simple caveat in; there were to be no extra revision classes/ holiday sessions/ homework (of course!), this data was based on the children’s ability and expectations, so we needed to meet those, not do extra work – work smarter, not harder. Raise expectations, not meet them.

The result? That year the school hit 64% in the GCSEs and the following year 71%!

Yes, I was lucky that colleagues believed it, but I made them. Why did Leicester win and not another team? Ranieri made them believe and the luck fell into place. How could you use that in your school?




Channel your inner Trekkie and… “Make it so” Make-It-So

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