It’s a funny old game

Summer always brings sport. Like it or loathe it, you can’t move for the stuff. Football, tennis, cricket, athletics, the summer months are punctuated with the panting sweaty regularity of tournaments, competitions and the usual test of wills between historic sporting adversaries. At the point of writing this reflection, tonight will see the English football team play the biggest game since 1966.

As soon as the teams were delicately drawn from the lush velvet bag of surviving competitors, the usual media swirl and hyperbole that surrounds this notable sporting fixture began in earnest. The expected editorial headline tropes were soon pulled clumsily from the sport editors top drawer to ingratiate the many back pages of our national tabloid press, yet again.

Whoever the manager, regardless of experience, previous accolades and sporting triumph, this is the game that will either create a team of honourable sporting heroes or jettison those previous footballing hopefuls, in touching distance of national glory, to the unenviable deafening rancour of sporting failure.

However, the worst of the usual media-driven hostility will be saved for one person and one person only, the manager. The person who picked the team, devised the tactics, set the training and created the game plan will, without doubt, be the object of national disappointment. Alternatively, should victory be grasped in the ninety available minutes of play, and the footballing hoodoo of penalty shoot-outs be drenched in cement and placed, never to be seen again in the mausoleum of footballing nightmares of yesteryear, the team, and it’s leader, will be forever remembered as the footballing giants we all unwaveringly believed they would be. Football, it’s a funny old game.

Like many great managers and leaders within the world of sport, there are many parallels to the current thinking of headteachers up and down the country. The selection of the team, the placing of the players on the field, the tactics for tomorrow and the plan of execution for the new academic year is still being worked through and stress tested in readiness for September. However, unlike Southgate and co, we have no previous history with the fixture we are about to play and, like the last tricky clashes of schools vs 2020 and schools vs 2021, the next fixture could bring even more uncertainty.

Not only have the goalposts moved since we started this current fixture in September, but the field in which the game kicked off upon, has been redesigned and returfed beyond any recognition. Nevertheless, regardless of all the changes we have gone through of late, the ball has remained on the pitch and the collection of jumpers used for goalposts has continued to grow. Symbolic of the national dedication and passion of the teachers and educators keen to ensure the game continued in order to seek victory for the pupils watching the it evolve before their eyes. If the last year was a high profile football match, or a sporting event equal to the weight and expectation of Tuesday’s fixture, the back pages would be full of sporting accolades for the NQTs, RQTs, teachers, leaders, teaching assistants, premises officers, admin staff, catering supervisors, business managers and wider staff who have made school and high quality education available for all our pupils, regardless of circumstance and restriction. A resounding team effort.

For the coming year, the tactics need to be correct, the game plan for every eventuality sketched with precision and communicated with absolute clarity before our collective boots are even tied.

As we approach those early days of the autumn term, there will still be the unknown element, the maverick left winger who, prior to the game had never even been heard of, could, quite remarkably, make their surprise debut performance and simply and easily, without even breaking a sweat, unravel our game plan and ride roughshod through every possible defensive tactic we have at our disposal.

However when we picture the next academic year, it is still only an image based on unknowns and assumptions at best. Again, making reference to our national football team, let’s not forget the awkward fixtures against teams such as San Marino. We need to be careful, as choosing to play the game in this manner is full of upset and uncertainty born from the risky occupation and pastime of assumption and false hope; maintaining a clear sense of reality in the coming months is key. As the world around eases in to the new normal, let’s be mindful and not rush in too quickly. The counter attack of the last two years still lingers on the sub’s bench ready for a last final minute of game time – impatient and eager.

As we prepare for the challenge of our next fixture, let us now take the time to consider our players. From the young and inspiring debutants, eager to get their first cap, to those stalwarts of our educational teams who will provide stability, maturity and a reassuring sense of calm to those who need it. Furthermore, let us focus on those keen captains awaiting their first instruction of leadership, ready to take the helm in order to develop moments of clarity and ingenuity in the classrooms and corridors of our schools and, finally, let’s consider the spectators, our faithful parents, who have been waiting to come back to our community and celebrate with us every moment of success we create their our pupils.

As well as the operational obstacles that may reappear, the uncertainty of the outcome itself is still yet to be designed, developed and disseminated. From the language of TAGs and CAGs in our secondary schools to the removal of all assessment measure in primary, the language of destination and outcomes is still unclear as yet. We know we may need to score goals but how, when, why and with what.

Let the team talks we are about to have before the summer break be the stuff of history and legend. The battle cry of old, the pep talk of champions. The words well considered. Preparing for the very best year ahead with caution and, importantly, plan B.

It may feel like we are at the start of a tiring phase of extra time and, perhaps reflecting pertinently on the last week in schools across the UK, heading for the agonsing trauma of a penalty shoot out but, alas, believe it or not we are nearly there. The whistle is about to blow.

Could it really be coming home?

Dan Edwards