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The habit of excellence

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit’ Aristotle

With massive changes not only in student numbers (and staff recruitment in the majority of colleges), but also across the educational landscape (the British Advanced Standard, E&M to 18), it’s difficult to believe we’re nearing the end of the first term.

With November GCSE resits complete, we can often be guilty of searching for a ‘silver bullet’ for the remainder of the year – searching for that singular strategy which solves all problems.

With a vast array of research telling us this doesn’t exist, it’s easy to forget the obvious answer: consistency. By adopting the ‘habit’ of excellence, by doing the right things, consistently, we can achieve excellence. Easy to say, but what does this look like in FE E&M?

Positive Accountability

When we hear ‘accountability’, too often we can think of challenging conversations in small rooms with managers. This is because, too often, this is the case. To fully embed consistent excellence, we must reframe and think of positive accountability. The difference is that accountability is generally discussed after the event; after something hasn’t gone well. Positive accountability means discussing accountability before actions take place and asking the right questions to facilitate accountability: ‘how can I support you to be accountable?’, ‘What resources do you need?’, ‘What is standing in your way?’ If we ask these questions (of teachers, leaders and students), we allow everyone to be responsible. We can’t be accountable if we’re not allowed to be responsible.


When discussing accountability with colleagues recently, many mentioned ‘ownership’ (of situations and processes) and ‘owning’. If accountability is not just the end discussion, but must be present at all times, then responsibility is the action we take alongside this. Are we being responsible? Are we making informed decisions? Have we considered the impact on students, teachers, leaders? It’s easy to read around responsibility and accountability and imagine discussions between leaders and teachers, but this is just as much about teacher-student and student-student peer relationships as it is about managerial hierarchy. Again, we can’t be accountable if we’re not responsible.

Will and Skill

To embed excellence, we must evaluate the will and skill of everyone (from students to leaders). It’s unlikely that everyone will have the skillset to embed excellence: from new teachers to experienced teachers and those new to an organisation, no one has a complete skillset and we can all improve (every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better, to quote Dylan William and Darren Hankey). In evaluating skillsets, we’re then able to implement high quality CPD (like that included with The BASE Project) and design systems which automate or fill gaps (whether through tracking, assessment or SoL). Where we find challenges with the will of teachers, we’re also then able to have professional conversations to build effective culture.

Awareness and Collaborative Improvement

Over the years, I’ve spoken to many teachers and leaders who find activity such as lesson observations, work scrutiny and learning walks/drop-ins to be daunting, anxiety inducing or a point of confrontation (whether by teachers or leaders). My reflection on this has generally been that they aren’t being carried out effectively if this is the case. These types of activities should always be completed ‘with’ teachers/ leaders and never ‘to’ teachers and leaders. Unannounced learning walks will always induce anxiety – leaders, just tell your teachers when you’ll be in sessions, tell them what you’re specifically looking for/ at and remember that this should be used to see how students are progressing, not to ‘check on’ staff. Teachers, this activity is designed to support your improvement; try and see it as such. Teachers AND leaders, we need proper dialogue around this activity, so make sure we put time in to discuss both of your thoughts.

Clearly, there is more to be done to embed consistency and the habit of excellence; however, it’s likely impossible to distil this into 500-800 words! The above does, however, provide a starting point for all organisations (following high quality evaluation) around how we can start this process. However we embed excellence, it’s important to have the right resources and the right support – at The BASE Project, led and facilitated by leaders with decades of successful achievement in FE E&M, we know this better than most.

For more resources, strategies and approaches which will not only cut workload, but also have significant impact on student progress, check out the amazing free resources available here as part of The Development Wheel and get in touch for on-going support as part of the project here.

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