During a recent session with delegates on the new NPQ for Senior Leadership, it was interesting to see them identify the five ‘C-words’ of successful leadership: communication, confidence, competence, culture and writ large, consistency. As a group, we agreed that achieving high standards in all classrooms over time is perhaps the greatest challenge for a school leader as so many factors can mitigate against it. However, we all agreed that the pursuit of consistent excellence was crucial and the best teams we had worked in were all hallmarked by its achievement.
As a group, we were keen to explore what might be the key factors in securing consistent high standards in a school? And our subsequent discussion led to the identification of the following:
- Remembering who benefits
As a Principal I often used the phrase ‘run by adults for the benefit of children’ to describe our school. This means that staff should maintain high expectations in behaviour, dress code, punctuality and academic standards with constant challenge and support that encourages students to rise to these levels. Therefore, staff INSET should prioritise ensuring staff understand how maintaining whole-school consistency makes their jobs easier. For example, the common approach outlined in the marking policy helps students to access and process teacher feedback in a familiar format so they are better equipped to use it to support their own progress.
- Identifying it as a ‘change’ issue
In most schools, the stimulus of September INSET days and ‘standards’ assemblies in the first week are sufficient to get good general compliance in the first few weeks. However, briefings and staff meetings are a forum to remind staff that persisting with our collective effort will mean that the ‘honeymoon’ period can extend over half term, the Christmas holidays and beyond!
It’s useful to see achieving consistency as a process of change management where innovation moves from being something new to becoming embedded as the usual way of doing things; we know we are making progress when a ‘critical mass’ become active advocates of the policy and procedure.
- Distinguishing between the means and the ends
When compiling a school assessment policy, it became obvious that the nature of feedback in Maths would need to be different than Drama or PE. At first it seemed that the system would be riddled with inconsistency, but it became apparent that subjects could assess to common set of principles even if the process was tailored differently to meet the demands of delivery.
When driving for consistency in some aspects of school practice, being ‘tight’ about the ‘ends’ but ‘loose’ with the ‘means’ is a wise strategy. However, applying this to other contexts such as safeguarding procedures would be entirely inappropriate.
- Building from the bottom up
One year, my deputy head decided to adopt a ‘bottom up’ approach to implementing change for her set of responsibilities. Whether it was to achieve consistency in staff dress code, breaktime duties or literacy norms, she initially gathered staff together to outline the issue and collectively formulate a solution. While a ‘top down’ approach to achieving consistency in policy or procedures may seem quicker and neater, it shortcuts the essential step of ensuring staff buy-in to achieve that most precious of commodities – staff goodwill.
- Personalising the support
Providing support for staff in achieving and sustaining high standards needs to be individualised. For some, timely one-to-one support in mastering the demands of an approach will ensure that they are able to deliver but for others, an honest discussion about professional standards will be necessary. Identifying the right approach is key for a school leader to engage their colleagues in a way that will achieve consistency.
It will perhaps come as no surprise that the NPQ facilitation module that generated discussion about consistency was School Ethos and Culture and while the group were able to identify five factors that were key to achieving consistency, it was clear that school leaders wishing to achieve high standards would also do well to consider how to secure buy-in; capitalise on goodwill; and when support or challenge will support their objective.
Senior School Improvement Adviser (Secondary)