Michael Lewis’ ‘Moneyball’ tells the story of how, in 2002, the Oakland Athletics baseball team used their comparatively limited $41 million salary budget to purchase a squad of players that went on to be competitive with larger market teams like the New York Yankees, who had spent over $125 million in payroll that same season.
The team manager, Billy Beane, based his influential strategy on rigorous statistical analysis that had demonstrated on-base percentage and slugging percentage are better indicators of success, and are often cheaper to obtain, than more historically valued qualities such as speed and contact. The approach flew in the face of the collected wisdom of baseball insiders, including players, managers, and scouts, which were shown up as subjective, or even flawed, and revolutionised the game.
Unlike Billy Beane, we can’t (and wouldn’t want to) pick our players/pupils, but Pupil Premium funding does give schools the freedom to choose who our players/pupils work with, and how we train/teach them.
Understand your needs
What does your school need to do to be competitive? If no pupils secured places at Russell Group universities last year, you may decide that a new approach to Higher Education access is needed. If your higher ability pupils are passing the 5A*-C including English and maths threshold, but failing to get the top grades required to make successful transition to A level, you may decide to prioritise work with these pupils.
Understand the most effective ways to meet your needs
Just as accepted baseball wisdom said that speed should be valued over other qualities, accepted teaching wisdom that reducing class sizes improves pupil performance means we often default to this intervention without considering others. Just as with speed in baseball, reduced class has been shown to be effective, but the research-grounded EEF toolkit shows that on average it is actually more expensive and less effective than one to one tuition.
While reducing class sizes requires a substantial and long term financial commitment to increasing teacher capacity, one to one tuition can be obtained on a needs basis, and discontinued efficiently when the need has been met.
Find organisations and interventions that can deliver in these areas
Having identified your needs and the most effective and efficient methods to address them, the next stage is to find organisations, interventions, and tools that can help with delivery.
When comparing intervention providers, consider how each tracks and proves its impact. A cute case study is all very well, but does the organisation have wider evidence of impact? Is the organisation or intervention backed by a reputable supporter? Who else do their backers and recommenders support? Are they equally credible? Can you talk to other schools who already work with the organisation in question?
Identify who will benefit most, then support and track
Having chosen an organisation or intervention that you have faith in, revisit your needs and drill down to who exactly it is that will benefit most and might not otherwise receive the support they need. If one year group or one specific group of pupils is already involved with multiple organisations and interventions, who else might benefit? Once enrolled, are you leaving it up to the external provider to maintain quality and track progress, or are you working in conjunction with them? An intervention might fail not because it was itself poor, but because it was poorly set up or not followed through properly.
You’ve got to play to win
More of the same rarely prompts dramatic improvements, to change outcomes, you need to change inputs. The education marketplace is offering an ever-wider variety of inputs to choose from, and if you choose carefully, you can make sure the pupils you work with are firmly in the game.
Senior Officer Data & Impact, Teach First Innovation Unit