Why do we have to be ‘outstanding’?

How many truly ‘outstanding’ days have you had in your life? The day you got your ‘A’ level results? The day you first flew in a plane? The day you got married or your child was born? I know that I can think of a few which really stand out.

How many truly ‘outstanding’ lessons did you have at school? Again, I can think of a handful. There was a project with Mrs Crowson when I was in Year 5 where we planned and built a pond in school. There was a lesson when I was in Year 11 where we had to plot a coup (Mrs Naish) and a lesson in Year 12 where I was asked ‘Is a tree poetry?’ And I think that’s about it.

How many days a year are you ‘outstanding’? In my case, it would be two or three. Most days I just do my work and look after my family and on some days, sadly, I’m just a downright waste of space!

And yet our schools are being asked to deliver ‘outstanding’ experiences day-on-day and week-on-week.

If we look at some dictionary definitions of ‘outstanding’, it means ‘standing out among others of its kind; prominent, noticeable.
superior to others of its kind;’ (www.thefreedictionary.com)  This, in turn, means that not every lesson can be ‘outstanding’ as then one lesson would not stand out from another.

I have been interested to see the increased number of calls for OFSTED to do away with the ‘outstanding’ grade. (See here – March 2014) In the schools that I was working in, many schools had ‘becoming outstanding’ as a stated aim, but my question would be, “Can we just be ‘good’ or ‘good enough’?”

Becoming a parent was a big shock to me a few years ago (and still is, if I’m honest!), and it was a revelation to me when someone told me that I didn’t have to be a perfect mother, I just had to be ‘good enough’. If we are honest, a lot of life is about being ‘good enough’, it is about doing the best we can, about making the most of the experiences we have. Sometimes, it is about learning how to deal with difficulties and do things we do not want to do.

If schools seek to be ‘outstanding’, then is this presenting a realistic view of the world that they will enter. Where do we learn to ‘be good enough’ if we are told that you have to be ‘outstanding’ all the time?

I am not for one moment suggesting that schools shouldn’t try to do better and that children shouldn’t work hard – but I worry about a culture which sets unattainable targets. I have seen too many great teachers go by the wayside in the last few years – colleagues and friends who worked hard, who were good human-beings, who were decent people and who really dedicated themselves to their work and the children, but who ultimately could not be ‘outstanding’ for 5 lessons a day.

So, should be expect our schools to be ‘outstanding’? Well, occasionally, yes! But not every day of the year and not every person every day. Let’s learn to be ‘good enough’, let’s learn to find pleasure in mundanity and look forward to those occasional ‘outstanding’ moments.




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