The Importance of Strong Subject Leadership

Subject Leader roles

Subject Leaders are crucial to a school’s success through their role in securing and sustaining improvement in each area of the curriculum. They offer the leadership, expertise and enthusiasm critical to providing effective learning opportunities for pupils.

Subject Leaders have three core roles:

  • Judging standards of pupils’ work;
  • Evaluating teaching and learning and identifying strengths and areas for improvement;
  • Leading sustainable improvement by: developing a high quality curriculum delivered through effective teaching; organising quality professional development for staff; supporting and mentoring staff.

Judging standards

Subject leaders need to be confident in making judgements of the standards of pupils’ work and their rate of progress in their subject. This should be done on the basis of evidence:

  • Analysing and interpreting data on pupils’ attainment in the subject;
  • Reviewing with teachers their assessments of pupils’ progress in their classes, including identified groups and individuals;
  • Sampling pupils’ work;
  • Discussing work, progress and attitudes with groups of pupils.

Evaluating teaching and learning

Subject leaders must understand what makes teaching effective in their subject and be secure in their own subject, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge from reception to year 6. They are responsible for the quality of teaching in their subject and may require coaching and mentoring by more experienced leaders to give them the confidence to be able to fulfil this responsibility – observing a colleagues lesson and providing feedback isn’t easy.

Again, their judgement should be based on evidence from:

  • Evaluating the curriculum in their subject to ensure that pupils progress in their learning through remembering content and integrating new knowledge into larger concepts;
  • Observing teaching and providing feedback to colleagues which improves learning opportunities for pupils.

Leading sustainable improvement

Subject leaders need to be confident in their role as leaders of teachers so that they can create the capacity for change. They can achieve this by:

  • Being involved in agreeing targets for accelerating pupils’ progress and raising attainment in the context of whole-school targets;
  • Developing a strategy for the improvement of the subject across all year groups;
  • Leading the improvement of teaching quality;
  • Leading the review, construction and resourcing of the curriculum;
  • Keeping up-to-date on current issues in their subject, including Ofsted requirements.

Subject Leaders’ role in schools’ COVID-19 response

In the current climate, Subject Leaders are more important than ever. They are perfectly placed to support school leaders in making the, “… difficult decisions about what to prioritise in the coming months, recognising the tremendous strain the pandemic has already placed on teachers and children.” (EEF, 2020)

A recent report by the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) advocates a tiered approach to school planning for 2020-2021. Many of the support strategies identified in the report are ones that can be supported by your Subject Leaders. Effective delegation will not only strengthen the distributed leadership in your school, it will also support your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your staff. Support strategies that your Subject Leaders can lead on or collaborate with other Middle and Senior Leaders include:Teaching:

  • High-quality teaching for all: Is there a logical and well-sequenced plan to support and sustain high quality teaching? Is this plan being followed in all classes and does it meet the needs of all learners?
  • Effective diagnostic assessment: Are school staff sufficiently skilled in approaches such as assessment? What opportunities have been identified to reinforce pupils’ reading strategies?

Targeted academic support:

  • High-quality one-to-one and small group tuition: Is relevant and rigorous data to being used effectively to ensure targeted interventions are appropriate?
  • Teaching Assistants and targeted support: Are school staff sufficiently skilled in delivering targeted academic interventions? If not, what additional support is required?
  • Planning for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND): How well do staff know the needs of their pupils, including those pupils with SEND?

Wider strategies:

  • Supporting pupils’ social, emotional and behavioural development: What approaches to social and emotional learning will best support pupils to reconnect with their peers and to re-establish positive learning behaviours? What opportunities are there to meaningfully combine Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and the academic curriculum? How will SEL support be sequenced throughout the academic year?

Professional development

The EEF’s support strategies for 2020-2021 also place an emphasis on professional development to develop the skills of school staff in both teaching and learning and assessment. Juniper has a long history of offering termly Subject Leaders updates. These are opportunities to catch-up with current developments approaches, guidance and thinking in subjects and to liaise with other subject leaders to discuss and share good practice. The following remotely delivered Subject Leader Updates are taking place this term:

  • Primary English: Subject Leader Update
  • Primary Mathematics: Subject Leader Update
  • Primary Science: Subject Leader Update
  • School Assessment Leaders: Update Meeting

For more information about how to sign up for these updates, to find out more about Juniper’s professional development support or to request specific professional development for your school staff, please email [email protected].

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