The Lance Armstrong Theory of Educational Accountability (@davewhitaker246)

Professional cyclist and legend of the sport, Lance Armstrong, was stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he gained between 1999 and 2005. Having heroically recovered from cancer and returned to professional cycling to win The Tour, his fall from grace was spectacular. His doping confession on The Oprah Winfrey Show in January 2013 sent shock waves through the sporting world. If Lance Armstrong was a cheat, then who else was?

He was a cheat!  He admitted to the systematic and continual taking of performance enhancing drugs in order to win. He wanted to be judged as the best, and not playing fair allowed this to happen.

During this particular period, the sport of cycling was rife with cheats. Why did they feel the need to do this? The answer is simple. High stakes accountability. Without cheating you fail. If everyone else is cheating you have to cheat to keep up. If you don’t cheat you loose and if you lose you lose your job. If you lose your job you lose your livelihood, reputation and self-esteem. There’s therefore no option – cheat or lose everything anyway. High stakes accountability! As long as the cheats are held in high regard, given accolades and status, have their egos stroked and are rewarded with financial gain then they will continue to cheat. Why wouldn’t they?

When the public found out that Jimmy Carr wasn’t paying his taxes, he claimed he wasn’t doing anything illegal. As did household favourite, Gary Barlow. Ok, so they weren’t being illegal. They weren’t ‘breaking the law’. But were they cheating? Is there a moral issue at work here? Does cheating have to be illegal or can cheating just be described as not playing fair with the others who play the same game?

Is this a question of ethics, morality, legality, cheating or just being downright selfish?

So why are exclusions higher than ever? Why are there more children than ever in alternative provision and on Elective Home Education? Why are the words ‘off-rolling’ being brandished around? The answer is simple. High stakes accountability. The Lance Armstrong Theory of Educational Accountability.

So, if you can’t afford to play fair, are selfish and losing isn’t an option, you cheat.

It could be argued that cheating is easy. Playing fairly is harder and more challenging. It’s easy to exclude pupils from school. It’s harder and more expensive to meet their needs, make reasonable adjustments, employ specialist staff, commission specialist training, support their families, put in place interventions,  develop resources …….

So, lets recap. If accountability is high stakes and/or there isn’t enough money to be the best, then not playing fair is just about the only option. Also, cheating may not be illegal, but it certainly is immoral and is clearly not ethical or collaborative.

So, there we have it: The Lance Armstrong Theory of Educational Accountability

Having spent over a decade working as a senior leader in Alternative Provision, PRU and SEMH Special Education, I have witnessed a phenomenal rise in the numbers of pupils no longer educated in mainstream settings. Complex children fall through the system and end up educated in PRUs. These settings are often underfunded and under extreme pressure.

Imagine if you will – take the most challenging children in your school; think about the time, effort and resources it takes to meet their needs; the emotional and physical demands on staff and the school; the skill and expertise needed to engage and support the children and their families. Now take 300 of these pupils and put them all together in the same school. Challenging?

High Needs funding is being stretched and stretched. Not enough money is in the system and vulnerable pupils are suffering. More and more pupils are demanding high needs provision and there isn’t enough money to go around. In PRUs a lack of funding can be dangerous. Literally dangerous. Increasing class sizes, reducing pastoral support and interventions can lead to potentially damaging consequences. Staff are vulnerable to physical injury and emotional damage. Recruitment and retention is hit hard, training is limited, and the children’s needs are not fully addressed. The vast majority of children in PRUs suffer from mental health problems, attachment difficulties, have suffered developmental trauma or are from environments that are challenging on a daily basis.  PRUs work with an increasing number of volatile and violent youngsters.

This, coupled with a constant stream of children knocking at the door of PRUs, is putting an excessive burden on an already pressured system. Millions of pounds are being spent on independent special school places because a lack of investment has caused, what looks like, an irreversible bottleneck.

Unless someone looks at making some radical and swift changes to the accountability system, then the crisis will escalate. Unless someone realises that more funding is required (or redirecting funding from the independent sector), then the balloon will go up.

“I lied because you wouldn’t like me if you knew I was cheating, and you wouldn’t have let me keep winning. I love to win, and you loved it when I won” –  Lance Armstrong

“Two things scare me. The first is getting hurt. But that’s not nearly as scary as the second, which is losing” – Lance Armstrong

Dave Whitaker

Executive Principal

HTRT Core Member

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One thought on “The Lance Armstrong Theory of Educational Accountability (@davewhitaker246)

  1. jon le fevre April 11, 2018 at 11:12 am Reply

    so so true and also leads schools to behave in ways that are not in the best interests of the children..be it exclusion, off rolling, sats cramming and over assessment. it is harder to keep to principles and not cheat!

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