Wednesday, 6 March 2013

We don't want outstanding schools.

Just as I dislike British Rail's use of "standard class" rather than SNCF's more honest "seconde classe",I have always been reluctant to buy into the DfE's misuse of the word outstanding. Teachers and schools now commonly mistakenly employ the word when talking about "outstanding" lessons, "outstanding" teachers and "outstanding" schools.

Just in case anyone has forgotten, here are some definitions of the word outstanding:

  • Standing out among others of its kind; prominent (American Heritage Dictionary). 
  • Superior to others of its kind; distinguished (American Heritage Dictionary) 
  • Superior; excellent; distinguished (Collins) 
  • Prominent, remarkable, or striking (Collins) 
  • Exceptionally good (Oxford) 

You will note that the word not only denotes excellence, but almost always superiority and difference. Logically, only a minority of schools can be "outstanding" and I am sure this is not want the DfE or anyone wants.

You might argue that I am nit-picking here, but my fundamental misgiving is the fact that the DfE have created a language of their own about schooling which teachers and commentators have uncritically accepted and taken on board. Why should we go along with this?

Let's take this a little further: teachers will know that when you get into the documentation about lessons and schools, there is reference to being above "average". To be "good" (in DfE speak) you have to be "above average". So, if every school were good, they would not be good since they would not be above average. You see my point - a point which many teachers have spotted.

Then there's the word "satisfactory" which has come to mean inadequate, or at the school level, "requires improvement". Managers and teachers will commonly talk about a satisfactory lesson, knowing very well that this means the lesson was really unsatisfactory.

It's all about striving to raise standards, of course. The only way to improve is to set the bar high and aim for the very best. But it's a bit of a con, isn't it? What's more it aims to put a convenient labels on every aspect of school. It's as if teachers were being constantly graded and judged like students. It's fundamentally humiliating.

We do not want outstanding schools and teachers. In fact, we cannot have them since this would mean that the majority were inferior. We just want them all to be excellent.

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