Top Tips for Subject Leaders

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By Fe Luton
Director of Research and Content at Subject Leaders

For many primary teachers, taking on the leadership of a subject is a natural first step on the ladder of responsibility and career progression. It can be quite a shock to the system, especially for those working in smaller schools, who may end up managing multiple subjects at a time. So what can you do to make your tenure as manageable and successful as possible?

subject leaders
  1. Don’t try to do everything at once – possibly the most important weapon in your arsenal is identifying what is possible to complete and develop in the time you have and how to prioritise those aspects of your subject that need attention now. If things are not urgent, they can wait in line.
  2. Know your subject and know your curriculum – before you start implementing any change or development, make sure you know what you are dealing with. The now infamous Ofsted deep dives are all about your grasp of what, how, why and when things happen in each year group in your subject. Attend CPD, look at books by experts in primary education in your subject and follow some key people in your subject area on Twitter or Facebook. Look for ways to develop your knowledge and understanding.
  3. Join a subject association – find organisations, such as Subject Leaders, which offer advice and resources to help you in your role. They will also keep you up to date on what is happening in your subject. You will find additional support and professional conversations in subject leader Facebook groups and through (often weekly) subject ‘chats’ on Twitter.
  4. Have an action plan that reflects reality – much will not have happened this year due to the pandemic and lockdowns, so you will need to be realistic about what you have achieved this year and what will need attention next year. Transfer over those actions that remain relevant and valid. Reflect on your provision and how you will approach 2021-22 in view of the legacy of 2020-21.
  5. Audit resources, curriculum and teacher knowledge in a productive and positive way – ask teachers to share their practice with you rather than present it as a ‘checking up on’ process. Identify those teachers who may be able to mentor/support others, as well as those who require help.
  6. CPD – reflect on your own needs as well as those of others. One of the silver linings from the pandemic is that there is now a strong offering of online courses to choose from. Draw on your own expertise, that of your staff, or perhaps even that found in other local schools. Remember that your academy or local authority will likely have someone who can support you as well. And don’t forget the power of books – some staff may like to develop their knowledge and skills through reading.
  7. Inclusion, diversity and your local community – reflect carefully on your curriculum and how it meaningfully reflects your school and local community. Ensure that your curriculum is diverse from its very core, and reflect on how you can make it inclusive and accessible to all.
  8. Look for cross-curricular opportunities that work – it is important that when your subject incorporates (or is incorporated into) cross-curricular themes and lessons, it is done meaningfully and not as a tokenistic ‘add-on’. Talk to other subject leaders and staff to see what they currently do, whether it contributes to a rich learning experience and where strong connections and meaningful learning can be developed.
  9. Book looks – the keys to success are knowing what you are looking for and doing it in a non-threatening, positive manner. Make book looks a regular occurrence; they don’t have to be done by you – teachers could pair up and have regular checks with a focus question (e.g. around evidence of specific skills, differentiation, progress etc.).
  10. Pupil voice – find out how children feel about your subject and talk to them about what they have learnt. By gleaning their thoughts and opinions you are completing the picture of how your subject sits in your school.
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