Well it is less than a week since the World Cup finished and during this week a certain Mr Gove (with a lower public approval rating than Luis Suarez) has also been given a red card, of sorts, but more on him later. The inquest into the dismal failure by the England football team has rapidly restarted. A Radio 5 discussion, on the Monday Night Club show, considered why Germany had been so successful and several ideas were put forward. One of the most ridiculous suggestions was the idea that the lack of a winter break from playing in the professional leagues was why England had done badly. The so called experts, arguing either for or against this proposal, listed different leagues to back up their claim. There appeared to be as much evidence to prove as to refute the idea and therefore was irrelevant. To me this was a typical example of scientific, or research, illiteracy in the mass media (see earlier post on this topic).
However, buried amongst the discussion, one explanation seemed more sensible than the others. This was the issue of quality coaching from an early age. Apparently in many successful footballing nations (although I haven’t checked the source data here) there are far more qualified coaches working with young people than in Britain. Furthermore if you watch amateur junior football you will see unqualified parents and other adults screaming at very young, and impressionable, players. Most of the ‘coaching’ advice is along the lines of ‘lump it’. The manager or coach is usually the poor, downtrodden and miserable looking individual putting the equipment away at the end of the game. The teams will be kitted out in fantastic new kits and tracksuits, players will have expensive boots and will be playing with the the very latest FIFA branded World Cup ball (because it is what Messi plays with). And the coach or manager will be a volunteer, being paid nothing, and being criticised endlessly by everyone.
It seems that we simply do not value this sort of job. In fact it is often seen as nothing more than glorified childcare. The pay and conditions for such coaching positions is terrible, or non-existent, even in professional sport coaches earn much less, and are dispensed with far quicker, than the players. Sadly I may be guilty of adding to this problem in my role as a teacher educator. I have worked with students who, I thought, were going to find ‘proper’ teaching a challenge. Maybe, I suggested, they could try something else less challenging, like sports coaching. However, there are also some positive examples. The best players I saw play when I was a primary school teacher were both girls. They had both been coached regularly by a local professional club, and on the pitch it showed. Sadly the boys on the team, and most of the parents, did not see it and games often degenerated into ‘lumping it’ to the fast/strong/tall (and male) kid playing up front. It was all about the results – nothing about what the players were learning. Watching the World Cup seemed the same. The England players had learnt nothing whereas Germany, who last won the trophy (as West Germany) back in 1990 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990_FIFA_World_Cup) appeared to have learnt everything. More importantly though it seems (from my limited knowledge) that the Germans value education and coaching and have invested in both.
So what does this have to do with the erstwhile Secretary of State for Education (for England)? Well, Michael Gove has always argued that he wanted the best for children and students, and this may be the case. Sadly though he was also convinced that he knew best, about everything. Something that seemed very clear (ITV news could not find a single teacher to say something positive about him) is that he did not value educators and teachers. There may be teachers who are not up to the job, in the same way that some amateur football coaches may be failing. But instead of blaming the coaches and educators maybe wider British society (because I do not think this is a purely English problem) could start to value education and those given the great responsibility of educating. I am sure this would be a good place to start.