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Improvement Is Better Than Delayed Perfection

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 3099 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Question-“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection” Mark Twain (1835-1910). Analyse this statement critically and rigorously with reference to appropriate literature sources.


This essay will be looking at the importance of quality and continuous improvement at a glance within an educational context. The writer’s interest in the topic is merely to explore and understand the essence to which every establishment for whatever purpose it was built upon should strive in continuous improvement to services rendered to its customers and the community at large while maintaining quality services. The focus is to highlight any flaws within the organisational practice with which quality could still be improved upon for the good of the whole community.

The structure of the essay will take an explicit interpretation and description of quality and continuous improvement while portraying an interventionist stance at the conclusive statements made at the end of the essay.

Literature review

The concept of Quality

Quality management is a systematic way of guaranteeing that organized activities happen the way they are planned. It is a management discipline concerned with preventing problems from occurring by creating the attitudes and controls that make prevention possibleâ By Philip Crosby

Writings in 2008, Winch and Gingell state that during the 1990s it became fashionable to talk about “˜quality in education’. Part of the reason for this is a renewed interest in accountability. Why should the concern for accountability be expressed in terms of quality? One major reason is that concerns about whether or not a particular form of education is worthwhile have been expressed in terms of a paradigm derived from manufacturing industry. “˜Quality’ in a commercial context strongly connotes product usefulness and reliability. “˜Quality assurance’ refers to systems that are robust enough to ensure that products that are defective or unreliable simply do not get made. The idea, as one quality guru has said, is to “˜get it right first time’. Of course, an artefact can be scrapped or reworked if it is defective, but a service cannot. If it is not “˜right first time’ then it is not right. Some effective quality assurance systems ought to be particularly relevant to service areas of economic activity.

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Whether or not it is in the private or the public sector of the economy, it is sometimes maintained that education has the characteristics of a service industry. In particular, if education is poorly provided then there is no second chance for the recipient. A diner at a restaurant who has a badly cooked meal will feel disgruntled but will suffer no permanent damage. On the other hand, the pupil who receives a poor education may not even feel disgruntled but may suffer permanent damage in terms of future life prospects. It is, then, not surprising to hear that a key feature of educational accountability is the provision of quality assurance systems.

Every aspect of leadership and management across all sectors of most organisations require a sustainable approach towards ensuring quality and sustainable measures are being utilised and developed within a global context. This includes measures which most leaders would adopt towards maintaining and sustaining the strategic aims of any organisation with due considerations of internal and external forces which influences the decisions made each day.

An example of what entails leadership that is sustainable through quality measures can be found in a school management system. Where the Head teacher aspires to have very committed students who have good grades, a good school structure and a qualitative staff that would help the school achieve its strategic objectives successfully. But during the process of strategising for an academic year other factors comes into play i.e. customer service, effective acquisition and deployment of resources, school budget for the academic year etc.

There may be a number of key factors that would help achieve such success

  • Firstly, a well-devised system of service evaluation process of Search-Feedback-Act that could be put in place involving all employees, not just management or teachers, in developing plans for improvement.
  • Secondly, all employees could be given considerable education and training to help them improve service quality and would actively and systematically encourage creativity and innovation.
  • Thirdly, the organisation that may move away from measuring quality purely by the number of complaints it gets from customers and the impressions of the head of personnel department. Instead, organisations implement a multi-factor index which includes quantitative points such as the length of time customers have to spend being tested into the school, and qualitative points such as the friendliness/politeness experienced at reception.

The concept of Continuous improvement

Continuous improvement has been successfully used by the Japanese for a number of years, and the Japanese word kaizen is used to describe it. The idea of kaizen is not to sit back once improvements have been made to a product, but to be almost like bees working away at a hive. Each does a little at a time, but by adding on an incremental basis they can eventually produce something that is much larger and better. The issue of quality can be approached in the same way, so that very minor changes over time can result in a considerable improvement in performance. For example, the levels of fuel efficiency in the average saloon car have improved dramatically over recent years. This has been made possible due to the cumulative effects of continual minor changes in car body shape, fuel delivery systems and engine design (.Porter, K., Smith, P., Fagg, F. 2006).

Foskett, N., Lumby, J. 2003 states that the third way of defining quality (in regards to continuous improvement) is to match the current state with an imagined future improved state. In other words, individuals or groups not necessarily take as their comparator an existing standard or expectation but, rather, work creatively to suggest ways to which a current aspect of education could be improved. This definition is realistically based on working form what exist to what could be achieved. It is a universally applicable in theory in that ideas for improvement will take into account resources and political realities. However, the emphasis on continuous improvement is predicated on a degree of autonomy and power that may not exist in all institutions or cultures. If governments impose a structure or curriculum on schools/colleges, or if the internal management structures are hierarchical and controlling, then the freedom of staff, parents and students to suggest ways forward is clearly constrained.

This idea of continuous improvement can be linked to Deming’s(1986) idea of Plan, Do, Study and Act, where a problem is examined, information is gathered and a plan to improve it is suggested. The “˜Do’ part is when the plan is tested on a small scale, followed by the “˜Study’ stage, where evaluation of the trial takes place to see if any other issues have arisen. The “˜Act’ stage is where the plan becomes standard and is carried out continuously. This leads back into the “˜Plan’ stage for further analysis.

The question then arises of how one assures the quality of education.

There are two answers which are not necessarily incompatible with each other. The first focuses on processes, the second on outcomes.

Process-based quality assurance relies on observation of teaching and learning and the activities that support it, as the key determinant of whether the education being offered is worthwhile. Inspection is the most common form of process quality assurance. Outcome-based quality assurance relies on the assessment of the outcomes against certain pre-agreed standards. Examination and testing are the most common forms.

Leadership Approaches

Qualitative leadership skills in educational management revolve around factors described below:

  • Identifying the key issues
  • Improving Customer satisfaction and ways of measuring it
  • Customer care – training employees and setting standards
  • Employee involvement in overall goals of the organisation.
  • Improving quality “” observation and benchmarking
  • Reflection and conclusion

Quality and organisational culture- Foskett, N., Lumby, J. (2003) stated that Quality can also be relative to cultural norms. What appears to be quality provision for pre-school children in China will look very different to western eyes and vice versa. They further noted that measures of Quality by definition are dependent on numeric values in relation to, e.g., examination passed or examinations met, but such values do not necessarily capture the variety of outcomes expected of education or the dynamic changes in expectations in the experiences of even the learner, let alone the all those of an institution. Quality will therefore remain a fluid and nebulous concept, interpreted variously in practice, an orthodox to which many feel indebted to follow. No single prescription will secure improvement in quality in a context as complex and animated as a school or college. The most that an educationist can do is to remain aware of the imprecision of the concept and be sensitive to both the educational and micro-political forces which affect its achievements, choosing with care from the plethora of taxonomies, philosophies, good practice and recommended process they can offer.


Qualitative researched literature review was adopted which typically includes positivist, interpretive, constructionist, critical, and participatory paradigms. The researcher’s perspective stems from the long documented history of naturalistic observation in real-world situations. Views of positivism range from conservative to progressive-activist, but all involve the belief that reality is external to self and can be observed using tools that produce information that can be understood and interpreted by others. The essay is linked historically to social activism through the idea that social situations can be studied, critiqued, and subsequently changed. The essay may have collected data through observations or various forms of instruments and often derive explanations for their results from pre-existing theory without concern for whether the study population understands or agrees with their views. a literature review is very much a plural rather than a singular one as there are many literatures a researcher must examine to produce a coherent literature review. For example, by doing qualitative research, the researcher is joining an ongoing debate in some shape or form. The originality of an idea, an approach, or a theoretical reinterpretation adds to existing literature. The objective of this entry is to describe the plurality of literature, to underline the difference between general and specific literatures, to highlight how to use theoretical literature as a tool to increase understanding of a subject area and test a research question or hypothesis, and to examine the methodology and data literatures that form important parts of the research process.( GIVEN, M. L. 2008)

Data findings on quality and continuous improvement in educational context.

Wherever an educational operation is based, whether it is public or private, it needs customers, and consumer choice has increased dramatically over the past twenty years because of three factors: globalisation, technology and competition.


Technology provides opportunities and threats. The development of computer technology in the form of online and blended learning, podcasts, webcasts and blogs can and increasingly will provide consumers with the option of new self-study methods and the choice to learn with an organisation in a foreign country while living at home or working in the office. At some point translation software may even negate the need for some people to learn a foreign language. These technologies, however, also provide organisations with opportunities to provide new methods of learning and new means of communication with customers. The rise of online learning and blended learning programmes, plus the expansion in state education of new technology [such as interactive whiteboards] means that students are increasingly more techno-literate. It also means that as technology develops and becomes more part of our everyday lives, students generally expect language classes, which in some cases take up a large part of their disposable income, to be technologically well-equipped. The exponential growth of technology cannot be ignored as the speed of technological advancement is unlikely to slow down.


Competition may come from new organisations entering the market, as mentioned above, but it may also appear in other forms. As other countries gain economic power, their languages become more important and people begin to study them to enable them to enter that economy. This phenomenon has already been observed (Graddol, 1997) with Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin expected to gain importance over the next decades, eventually becoming a serious threat to English as a foreign language. As economies develop, education is becoming increasingly important as skill becomes essential to finding work.

An increasing number of courses are becoming available, especially in the field of computers and information technology, which compete with ELT for customers, particularly within the training budget of major companies.

Gaining an Edge over Competitors

If an organisation has an element of its service which is different or more attractive than its competitors it is said to have achieved competitive advantage. Gaining competitive advantage requires a cross functional approach between an aspect of marketing which gathers data about customer needs and expectations and the day-to-day operational functions that translate those market needs into operational capabilities. The roles of marketing and managing the day to day operation are often taken by one person in small organisations, which can make it easier to translate customer needs into operational reality.

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In a small private language school of ten teachers, for example, the director may be the focal point for information about the local market, the local economy, the type of customers the school serves and how they feel about the service. In a school of this size the director may also be the person who decides what courses are offered and whether the market is best served by, for example, offering expensive one-to-one ESP tuition for business professionals or cheap general English courses for classes of 20 students. A not-for-profit organisation may also consider pursuing a particular strategy based on the kind of customers it serves. For example, a charitable or state ELT organisation may decide to provide cheap walk-in English classes for disadvantaged mothers to attend as and when they have time. In this case, flexibility is the key to satisfying the customer and gaining competitive advantage.

The three factors of globalisation, technology and competition mean that educational organisations have to pay increased attention to the needs and expectations of existing and potential customers to retain them and to attract new ones. By gathering information on customers’ needs and through market analysis organisations can develop a service which is different or more attractive than that of competitors. (Walter. 2001)


If stakeholders allow ourselves to get caught by the short-term disease of modern management, non-thinking, market-driven practices then the idea of sustainable organization is out of the question. Also the chance of ever reaching the levels desired will be eliminated in all but the shortest of measures.

It is necessary for every leader of the future to know enough about the moral side of business and how it could be approached with sacrificial aims through which sharing and upholding several values together among competitors would improve upon global problems. Or how the socio-economic profit of the organization could be able to express or aid the concerns required to reflect a longer-term view of the community at large.

I would recommend that every leader in every spectrum or field of study to bring about ways through which the underlining influences bordering the choices we make in life (in regards to quality and continuous improvement) should reflect upon the healing societal issues rather than competing. Just as we know in the history of human relations over time that competition brings about a chaotic state while the harmony of shared values and sacrifices brings about societal cohesion and benefits all.


Crosby, P. (1980) Quality is Free. McGraw-Hill.

Deming, W. (1986) Out of the Crisis. MIT.

Foskett, N., Lumby, J.(2003) Leading and managing education-International dimensions.London. Paul Chapman Publishing

Given, M. L. (2008)The SAGE Encyclopaedia of Qualitative research methods. California. Sage Publication series

Graddol, D.(1997) The future of English. London. The British council

Porter, K., Smith, P., Fagg, F. (2006) Leadership and Management for HR Professionals Oxford.Butterworth-Heinemann

Walker, J. (2001). Clients’ Views of TESOL “” Expectations and Perceptions The International Journal of Educational Management 15/4. MCB University Press http://www.emeraldinsight.com/Insight/viewPDF.jsp?Filename=html/Output/Published/EmeraldFullTextArticle/Pdf/0600150404.pdf

Walker, J. (2007)Service Climate in New Zealand Language Centres Journal of EducationalAdministration 2007 Volume: 45 Issue: 3


Winch, C., Gingell, J.(2008) Philosophy of education. Oxon. Routledge publishers


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