School Improvement

The ship of Theseus

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Detail from ‘Theseus & the Minotaur’, by the Master of the Campana Cassoni c. 1510

I tend not to drive new motors so bits keep dropping off my cars.  One I had, a big rusty Renault, had so much done to it that it was barely the same car anymore. 

There’s a famous ancient Greek thought experiment called “The ship of Theseus”.  If the ship of Theseus were kept in a harbour and every part on the ship were replaced one at a time, would it then be a new ship?  Discuss this one after you’ve had a few shandies and it can get quite lively.

Schools are like these ships. In London, staff turnover in schools runs at around 18% per year.  So, those careful training exercises you did last year?  A fifth of the staff have no clue and it compounds year on year.  In a three year cycle more than half the staff can be new.  

At this time of year, senior staff spend time planning and thinking ahead: how to get our school to kick on?  It’s natural to assume that we can take things further every year, building a little on what has gone before.  But it’s also a trap if you don’t consider those staff who haven’t got a scooby about your culture or practices.  

Attention needs to be given to revisiting basic expectations and cultural values.  Leaders of teams need to be aware of the stage of understanding of each team member.  You need an established set of standards that are checked every year, a bit like a car service.  Neglect these and your team may crash.

Just off to get the train.

Have a good one.


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