What is subject leadership in primary schools?

Subject Leaders are crucial to a school’s success through 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. This blog explores their three core roles and the importance of strong subject leadership in the current educational climate.

At Juniper Education, we regularly provide professional development support for those interested in subject leadership in primary schools.

This post explains precisely what a subject leader is, their expected roles, and more.

What is a subject leader?

A teacher with the title of subject leader is given the task of improving the teaching and learning provisioning of a specific subject taught within the school. They are also responsible for guiding other teachers and making all key decisions to ensure the particular subject is taught as well as possible and remains in line with OFSTED requirements.

Subject leadership in primary schools

What is the role of a subject leader?

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, and supporting and mentoring staff.

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

1) Judging standards

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

  • 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 and
  • Discussing work, progress and attitudes with groups of pupils.

2) Evaluating teaching and learning

Subject leaders must also understand what makes teaching effective in their subject and be secure in their own subject, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge from reception to year six.

Subject leaders in primary schools 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 fulfil this responsibility; after all, observing a colleague’s 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 and
  • Observing teaching and providing feedback to colleagues which improves learning opportunities for pupils.

3) Leading sustainable improvement

Subject leaders must also be confident in their role as leaders of teachers to create the capacity for change. They can achieve this by:

  • Being involved in agreeing on 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 quality of teaching,
  • Leading the review, construction and resourcing of the curriculum and
  • Staying updated on current issues in their subject, including Ofsted requirements.
Teaching and learning in primary schools

Why is subject leadership important?

Subject leaders are crucial to a primary 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.

How subject leaders in primary schools can help in response to COVID-19

In the current climate, subject leaders in primary schools are more important than ever. They are ideally 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 (EEF) advocates a tiered approach to school planning. Many of the support strategies identified in the report are ones that subject leaders can provide.

Support strategies that subject leaders can lead on or collaborate with other middle and senior leaders include teaching, targeted academic support and broader strategies, of which the following should be considered:

1) 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?

2) Targeted academic support

  • High-quality one-to-one and small group tuition: Is relevant and rigorous data 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?

3) Wider strategies

  • Supporting pupils’ social, emotional and behavioural development: What approaches to social and emotional learning will best help pupils reconnect with their peers and re-establish positive learning behaviours?
  • SEL: 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?

In addition, the EEF’s support strategies regarding COVID-19 also emphasise continual professional development to enhance the skills of school staff in both teaching and learning, and assessment.