Lesson 77 The Difference between Good and Excellent

Lesson 77 on Being human

I went on the first round of Ofsted training.  It was residential.  Think grand hotels in grim Victorian sea-side resorts out of season.  The courses were run by proper HMIs.  The ones who had written the Guidelines for Inspection.

Now the first edition of the Guidelines for Inspection was impressive. Her Majesty’s Inspectors were well educated and well read. They had an elegant turn of phrase.  They had made a good crack at distilling their accumulated experience, and their reflections on that experience, into written form. 

Their trainees were mostly well educated too, so in the very brief time that was allowed for questioning, a couple of tricky points were raised.  One thoughtful gentleman brought up the wording of the categorisation of very good and excellent. He concisely and critically analysed a key point (I expect he was a classicist. There were still a few around in those days). He asked for a more precise clarification of excellence.

The lead HMI thought for a few moments, before he answered honestly from the heart.

“You just know,” he said.

And we all did. 

That’s the trouble with being human.  You can do things that computers can’t.  You can walk into a room or an institution, or simply listen to a person, and you just know.

It’s the trying to define this in words and tick boxes that’s hard.

There are lots of sensible clues and questions that help, but they’re pretty blunt instruments and the more detailed and numerous you make them, the more you get tangled up in lengthy definitions. In the end you are all wading through drifts of documentation, taking up oodles of precious time.

It’s a toughie, deciding whether this process actually makes things better. There are no control groups to help you judge.  There are many variables and few comparable records. 

But consider how parents, who in the main love their children, go about choosing a school.  They may look at the pretty prospectus or website with its pictures of happy, busy children.  Some even read the summary of the most recent Ofsted report.  But they listen to their friends and neighbours.  They visit the school and sniff around. They take a good hard look at the head.

Then they go for what they reckon suits them best, and keep their fingers crossed.

Because they’re human.

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