I’ve used the football transfer analogy before in a university context, critiquing the previous REF’s system of rewarding universities for work their staff have done in the past, even if done for another institution. While that was a bit contrived, the analogy is certainly right for contextual admissions – basing university entrance on more than A-level results – where potential is a key factor in deciding who gets a particular opportunity.
First, a disclaimer. Despite growing up in one of those places visited by sociologists when they want to examine urban despair, and being the only person in my family to not leave school at the earliest opportunity, I did go to an elite university, and before that an ex-grammar fee-paying school, both times on a government-funded scholarship. I do wonder if some form of contextual admissions happened then, via the interview and other means.
Anyhow, I digress. Last week the head of Stowe school called foul of contextual admissions, complaining that taking background into account, and so perhaps having lower entry-grade requirements for those going to less good schools, was social engineering and discriminating against his richer clientele. Notwithstanding the fact that public schools are the most obvious form of social engineering the UK has, the teacher seems to have forgotten that organisations are (mostly) free to work out their own criteria for maximising their impact. I assume, like most employers, that he doesn’t recruit his staff solely on the basis of their exam results.
The football recruitment market is a fine example for thinking about this, because it’s in the public eye with a degree of transparency. There aren’t many industries where we know who has been taken on, what their wages will be, where they worked before and what their past achievements look like. And accredited past achievements are part of, but by all means not the whole of, what a scout or manager would think about… because it’s the short to medium-term future of the club that are important.
Most obviously, a club isn’t going to recruit on only how many world cup winner’s medals a player has. They might be about to retire, and the most famous players cost more anyway. It’s also teams that win trophies, not individuals. An amazing player in a less good team will win less than a good player in an amazing team: sounds like what we could say about kids with good A-levels after going to an average comprehensive.
Alongside this, we should always note that how good a player looks now relates to the team and opposition: getting the best crosses does wonders for goals from inside the area. But a player’s skill now is a result of their training. A player not picked up for the premiership at a young age – often because they were small – will be training with lower league coaches, will spend less time training and so on. But if, at 18, they look streets ahead of the other players in the league, then a scout could see potential for great talent, once the right training is in place.
Finally, we have the question of fit. Does the player’s style or potential style (after more training) fit with the team’s style of play? What of their personality, and will it clash with other players or staff? And, most obviously, is there a space at that position, now or in the near future?
If A-levels (or formal qualifications generally) were the only way to make a judgement for recruitment, shouldn’t this be the case more widely. I’m willing to bet that I got better A-level results than the Stowe headmaster, and I look forward to him stepping aside for me to take the position.