How Sporting Events Impact School

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Is the timing of national sporting events unhelpful for teaching and learning?

On Monday 12 July 2021, some schools across England decided to allow students a late start to school following the European cup final game.

I share this article online during the Euros 2020 competition when the England football team reached the cup final. It received little or no interest despite some schools keeping their gates closed on the morning after the final game.

Business as usual, or a late start?

The fabulous TeacherTapp team surveyed their users, providing an interesting analysis of which schools chose (or not) to allow students a late start to school following the European cup final.

It is clear to see that some primary schools opted to do this, although it is very hard to tell from the data because the numbers represent teachers, not necessarily schools, and there could be one or two teachers voting on the same topic within one school.

3b Late Monday Euros
TeacherTapp (2021)

Using research to improve (or not)

If the teaching profession is interested in educational research, how do we determine which research we use or ignore?

World Cup OutcomesOnly last week, the Education Endowment Foundation published an excellent piece of research on cognitive science in the classroom. It was widely received, referencing a range of teaching strategies which have a direct impact on educational outcomes –  defined as attainment and achievement.

However, in this report, Students’ effort and educational achievement: Using the timing of the World Cup to vary the value of leisure (Metcalfe et al, 2019), academics report that “the world’s most watched international football tournaments overlap with the high-stakes testing period in England.”

The research analysed the overall “impact of the tournament on pass rates and compare within-student variation in achievement over the exam period between tournament and non-tournament years.”

Within the paper, there is a fascinating analysis of World Cup and European Championship events, the timestamp, potential viewers and a comparison to exam periods and any tournament overlap.


The proportion of exams taken during football tournaments ranged between a 46% and 61%, with an analysis of how many exams are closely bunched out for students and where others were spread out over the exam period.

As ever, it should be up for schools to decide what they should do with their students. However, with learning lost, balancing mental health and rewards against the disadvantage gap and good outcomes is a difficult one to balance.

Whilst I accept that many schools around the world would have stopped learning for a moment to watch Neil Armstrong step one foot on the moon in 1969, or perhaps pause to watch and learn more about Joe Biden’s inauguration earlier this year, no school can argue that they don’t have enough curriculum time if they forfeit some of the time for ‘public events’ without it having an explicit reference back in the classroom or public assembly.

On the latter point, I suspect all schools who did decide to have a late start on Monday morning, even though England F.C. lost the game,  would have made many references to teamwork, resilience, failure and many more characteristics. That is something very different for researchers to measure, and what impact this also has on educational outcomes. For example, attendance, behaviour, culture, morale…

A broad debate is needed on the nature of educational achievement function, and a policy question specific to England about the timing of summer exams.

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