2020 Spring Term 2

The know zone

  • Primary inspections
    The new Ofsted Inspection Framework has been in place since September and, so far, the emerging picture shows a somewhat mixed bag of inspection experiences in primary schools. Here, Tiffnie Harris shares her insights. More
  • Resource management
    Hayley Dunn provides a summary of a report on the Schools Resource Management Adviser (SRMA) pilot and says that while it provides useful pointers for schools, the report fails to recognise wider funding concerns. More
  • What's on offer?
    University offers have reached new levels of complexity. But is this complexity necessary or is it masking some rather opaque practices? Kevin Gilmartin explores what is really going on with university offer-making. More
  • Digital Detox
    ASCL's Online Editor Sally Jack shares some suggestions on how to manage your digital selves on social media and keep your mental health healthy. More
  • Should GCSEs be scrapped?
    Have GCSEs had their day? Should we have a lighter touch form of assessment at 16? Or do GCSEs represent an inviolable 'gold standard'? And is another upheaval of exams just too much trouble? Here ASCL members share their views. More
  • Non nobis solum
    Headteacher Catharine Darnton joined ASCL Council last September and is a member of the Funding Committee. More
  • Better left unsaid
    The relentless road to self-improvement is paved with potential unhappiness and frustration. Wouldn't it be even better if we simply settled for everyday excellence, asks Carl Smith. More
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The relentless road to self-improvement is paved with potential unhappiness and frustration. Wouldn’t it be even better if we simply settled for everyday excellence, asks Carl Smith.

Better left unsaid

So, Mr Einstein, you may have proposed the theory of relativity – a pillar of modern physics – but wouldn’t it have been even better if (EBI) you had actually proved it?

And as for you Mr Shakespeare, you may be the greatest writer and dramatist in human history but wouldn’t it have been even better if you had written more plays and fewer sonnets, because nobody reads the latter anymore? Well, quite.

In education, we seem to live in a world of never-goodenough and I think that that’s not good enough. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it would be even better if we didn’t write these three unhappy words ever again.

For inspiration on this topic I turn to maths teachers . . . if you can find any, that is. When they give 100% in a test, there is no EBI; you’ve got it all right, and that’s that. Take a harder test if you want, but as far as this one was concerned, your best was definitely good enough, so just sit back and admire the view.

Impossible perfection Not so for the arts and humanities, where it’s impossible to achieve perfection so everyone comes up short. Unfortunately for teachers, schools are full of children and since they’re a bit messier than equations we’re stuck with the possibility that we could always have done better.

It might have been Tolstoy who said if you look for perfection, you’ll never be content, and he lived to be 82 at a time in Russian history when what worked well meant living to 40, affording him sufficient time to write War and Peace. Even then, he hadn’t written the perfect book, but he’d had a damn good go at it, and perhaps that was enough.

Of course it’s human nature to want to improve. It’s what makes us different from the rest of the animal kingdom. As far as I know, dolphins just want to be dolphins and aren’t too fussed whether or not they’re good dolphins.

For your average turtle, living 200 years seems to work okay but living those years well is neither here nor there. However, we’re a bit different and have this annoying habit of wanting to improve ourselves and everyone else around us. To be fair, without this habit, we wouldn’t have schools at all, because it wouldn’t matter if we all stayed completely ignorant.

We learn stuff so we can improve on previous generations; otherwise we might as well stick to eating, drinking and procreating. 

Which is all very well but if we’re not careful we just end up being miserable all the time, and teachers these days – never mind their pupils – seem to be miserable rather more than they should be.

The difference is excellence

There’s such a thing as wanting to improve, and there’s such a thing as feeling like a failure. The difference is excellence. Excellence is enough. Einstein was an excellent scientist, Shakespeare was an excellent writer and an awful lot of us are excellent teachers. Many of our pupils are excellent too, for that matter.

The irony of relentless self-improvement is that it leads us to relentless self-destruction, so sometimes being a little less relentless might do the trick. 

Let’s end the curse of EBI and replace it with EIE: Excellence is Enough. Then, maybe, we can all get some sleep.

Or, you could always mark this piece of work with WWW and EBI, but I hope you don’t.

Carl Smith is Principal of Casterton College Rutland (CCR).

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Permjit Mann at leader@ascl.org.ukASCL offers a modest honorarium