To pursue or retreat from excellence, is that the question?

In an educational context, it is important to recognise that excellence can be both relative and absolute explains Mr Roy Kelly, Headmaster.

It is stated in Melbourne Grammar School’s published Vision, Mission and Values booklet that ‘we value the process of striving for excellence, recognising both relative and absolute standards of excellence and the desire to produce one’s best at all times’. This notion has equal applicability to students as to staff, and is based on the intrinsic belief that achieving one’s best is a worthwhile goal. This pursuit, of course, must be viewed with respect to individual, team and group achievements in all areas of life. 

As former Irish Olympian, Gary Ryan, once stated: ‘Everything you say; every thought you entertain and everything you do has a direction, which serves as an advance or a retreat in respect of your pursuit of excellence. Everything, has bottom-line consequences; therefore, everything counts – this is the golden rule of excellence.’

The distinction of excellence into absolute and relative terms can be complex. For some young people, the notion of pursuing absolute excellence may well become a bridge too far. For example, whilst all young AFL footballers may aspire to become as good as Gary Ablett (senior or junior!), the reality is that very few will ever get close to that standard.

Similarly, whilst students may aim for an ATAR of 99.95, others will know this goal is well beyond them. However, that cannot excuse them from making their best efforts to achieve their best possible results. Therefore, in an educational context, it is especially important to recognise that excellence can indeed be both relative and absolute.

The Senior School’s Academic Assembly is held in February each year. Prior to 2011 at Melbourne Grammar, students could only gain colours for co-curricular activities such as sport and cultural activities such as music, theatre and debating. Now, in the Academic Assembly, the previous year’s VCE highest achievers are welcomed back to the School to receive academic colours and distinctions. Year 11 students who have achieved the highest academic levels are also awarded colours. 

At this year’s Assembly we also acknowledged the 2017 Academic Head, Jack Solomon, and Proxime Accessit, Tony Zhang. Scholastic achievement at this level portrays absolute excellence and it is important to always recognise and celebrate such achievements at Melbourne Grammar School. 

In 2017 two new annual academic awards were introduced, known as Progress Prizes which are given to two students who have made the most significant improvements between Year 9 and Year 10 and between Year 10 and Year 11. Accordingly, we celebrate the effort and attitude needed to make significant progress, irrespective of their final position. Marks gained throughout the year are used as a basis for ranking all students and those who show the largest change in ranking in a year are considered for this prize, which is available to all students regardless of ability level.

Melbourne Grammar School thus clearly promotes the pursuit of excellence, in both an absolute and relative sense. Whether in terms of academic learning, sporting achievement, theatre sports or House singing, all students are encouraged to perform at their best and to reach their potential. 

Relative excellence is accessible to all, whilst noting that ‘performing at one’s best’ must be realistically assessed. For this to occur, all students must set achievable goals, be fully committed, be prepared to overcome obstacles and work to capacity; whether it is in class, on the sports field or in a concert performance. 

Accordingly, when viewed in this context, the pursuit of excellence, rather than any retreat from it, remains an important core value at Melbourne Grammar School. 

Roy Kelley Headmaster

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