For some in education this has become a dirty word. I think this may be down to the fact that it got lumped in to the ‘Ofsted are looking for…’ which sparked a lot of leaders to focus on consistency for consistency’s sake, rather than focusing on the bigger picture of why consistency is actually important within a school.
This is a contentious issue, there is no doubt about it, and there are things that I believe that people will fundamentally disagree with I’m sure, but this is one of the rare things I will die on a hill for and am incredible passionate about. I am fully wedded to the idea of consistency and do not shy away from that, and make sure it’s something that is discussed during the recruitment process, and staff know the expectations around this. We know that a behaviour policy is something that should be followed consistently across the school, but a lot, if not most, of the time, that is where consistency seems to end. In the schools I lead, that is only the beginning of the conversation.
In what is probably many people’s teaching nightmare, in the schools I lead we have consistency of displays, resources and expectations in books, teaching delivery, behaviour policy, routines, and much more.
There is a reason for this, and it’s not just because I’m an absolute control freak (I’m not by the way. I’ve been described as particular, but not controlling. Essentially meaning I will not be controlling but I will 100% tell you if I don’t like something and it’s not how we discussed/I envisioned. I’m not sur if that’s much better, make your own mind up!)
The reason why I value a consistent approach can be summed up in, if not a word, then a very short sentence at least.
All children should be entitled to the same offer.
There, I could just finish the post now. However, I will explain what I mean! First, I will start with a disclaimer – I have never taught, nor led, in a one-form entry school. This does impact my views on consistency, and in one-form schools, the below scenario does not play out the same. Although this may be true, I do feel though that there is still an argument for a consistent approach in a one-form school, for all the same reasons as those in a multi-form one! Take the following scenario:
I’m a child in a school that has 3 classes in each year group. I’m in class 4A. In 4A we have a range of supportive resources on the table, the displays are a good mix in providing support, and also modelling high expectations of work. The teacher employs a range of research-based teaching strategies, moving through a systematic curriculum. My friend is in 4B. Their classroom looks totally different to mine because their teacher is a fine art graduate so the room looks inviting, but there are no supportive displays. There are completely different supportive resources on the table, and the teacher in this class teaches in a completely different manner to the one in 4A, often providing additional information to the class that goes beyond the curriculum being taught. This sometimes slows the lessons down and they sometimes miss out on lessons to ‘catch up’ and cover what they need to. Another friend in 4C experiences something totally different, as the teacher absolutely loves discovery learning. You can see where this is going…
While there are clearly benefits to being in each of the teachers classrooms, how is this fair and equitable for all children across the year group?
The luck of the draw of which teacher you end up being taught hugely impacts on your school experience. Even assuming that all teachers perform well, the disparity between the classroom still provides a inequitable experience for the pupils in the year group. I completely understand that teachers are individuals, and everyone has a ‘style’ when teaching, but this system is fundamentally unfair. I realise you cannot have total consistency, we aren’t robots, and I wouldn’t expect anyone to act like one, however we can gain a certain amount of consistency in many areas that can mitigate against some of the inequity we can get in school.
If you hadn’t guessed, I’m a big proponent of having a teaching and learning policy that is steeped in research based strategies. All my schools have one (yes they are the same), and there is a skeleton framework that lessons are expected to follow, based on educational research. Before the cries of putting a straight jacket on people, taking away autonomy, not innovating etc. are said –
1) I’ve heard them for a few years now and not changed my mind
2) I realise what I’m saying is not for everyone, and
3) Why are we letting teachers deliver lessons in ways that are not steeped in research anyway?
The last point is the important one. I never understand why people are fearful of being told to teach in a specific way, if it is effective and essentially just best practice. Shouldn’t we, as professionals, be doing this all the time anyway?
As I’ve already said, I feel the same way about displays as well. What is in one classroom should be in others in the same year group. This, I will admit, is where people do not appreciate what I’m saying a lot of the time. I’ve been told it’s because teachers see their classroom as their domain and an expression of themselves as a teacher a lot of the time. I get it. I don’t necessarily agree, but I do understand. I don’t want to labour the message I’m saying but it does come down to fairness for the children across the year group/school, rather than just those the teacher immediately impacts. How can we justify if one class has access to a range of vocabulary on the walls, and the next class doesn’t?
I realise I’ve only touched on a few points here, but what I’ve outlined is only there to exemplify the message. Consistency is not the enemy if there is sound reasoning behind it, and it is nothing to fear. Autonomy to do your own thing day in day out is brilliant, but do I think it should be placed above providing a consistent, equitable environment for all? Never.