How to develop your subject knowledge

Melanie Moore

Melanie Moore

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As a primary teacher, it can feel overwhelming to cover so many different subjects. In one day, you might explain the water cycle, discuss current affairs, teach long division and show children how to warm up safely for PE. Feeling that you’re a ‘Jack of all trades but master of none’ is completely normal. Unlike our secondary colleagues, we don’t have to be an expert in one subject to do our job well, but it’s important to keep our subject knowledge up to date. Ofsted recommends that schools ‘develop teachers’ subject knowledge, taking account of the demands of different subjects’. With the current emphasis on developing children’s subject knowledge, it’s never been a better time to brush up! To help you get started, here are six tips for building subject knowledge to inform your teaching.


Talk to people. Start with colleagues in your school – are there any subject experts? Your curriculum and subject leaders can also point you in the right direction for resources and training. Your school may be part of an academy trust or cluster, so use the expertise within these partner schools. Secondary colleagues will also share expertise and the low-down on subject expectations. Widen your network further by using social media to follow fellow teachers, trusted experts and positive role models. It’s useful to keep up to date with education news, so follow organisations such as Ofsted, the DfE and, of course, us! Post questions and get involved in discussions to widen your knowledge.


If you’re short on time (and who isn’t?) then downloading and listening to podcasts is a great way to stay informed. There are many inspiring podcasts out there, featuring conversations between practitioners and experts. Our podcast, ‘The Curriculum’, has attracted thousands of listeners, so do check it out on our website. We always aim to cover important topics, such as curriculum design, subject knowledge and teaching tips. As one teacher very kindly said, ‘Your podcasts are perfect to listen to while ironing!’ Or, if you’re like me, you may enjoy listening to podcasts on your commute.


Good old-fashioned reading and research are often the best ways to learn about particular subjects and topics. Go to trusted websites and publications, such as the BBC, museums and galleries, heritage sites, charities, geographical societies and national organisations. Blogs are a fantastic, current way of reading an expert’s advice or their summary of relevant research – make a start with the Cornerstones blog featured on our website. Don’t just rely on sites and texts aimed at adults. Child-friendly resources provide clear explanations and can go into real depth (the pictures are often better, too).

Another easy way to swot up on a topic is by reading our knowledge organisers. This relatively new resource provides essential information in an easy-to-digest format.


The internet has so many videos on different topics that it can be hard to know where to start and who to trust. If you have the Cornerstones Curriculum, you’ll have access to hundreds of videos online, but there are other reliable and engaging videos out there for schools. Again, visit the trusted sources already mentioned, ask other professionals and don’t limit it to the UK. Incredible documentaries are also available on all subjects. I enjoy watching anything presented by Sir David Attenborough, Brian Cox, Chris Packham or Lucy Worsley, but I’m sure you’ll have your own favourites!

Take Part

If you learn best from engaging with others, why not attend an educational talk, event or conference? If you keep in touch with other professionals and teaching organisations on social media, you’ll soon find out about upcoming courses and conferences. These can range from general advice to subject-specific training. Tickets are often reasonably-priced, free or reduced in price if you attend as a group. Other alternatives are distance learning and online training courses. Your local teacher training provider is a good source of information and may offer post-training courses and events. I’d also recommend contacting the Chartered College of Teaching, which offers training, professional development and free resources. They aim to provide a ‘safe community where teachers and professionals can share practice, ideas and support.’


An enjoyable way to brush up on your subject knowledge is to visit places of interest. These include museums, galleries, heritage cent res, castles and outdoor learning centres. If you have friends or family who are keen to join you, then all the better! Pick up the guidebooks and book a tour guide if necessary, taking plenty of photographs for future reference. I know many teachers who have developed partnerships with local heritage, environmental and charitable organisations, providing a valuable resource for knowledge and expertise.

Finally, whatever methods you use to brush up on your subject knowledge, don’t forget to share the best sites, books, videos and other resources with your colleagues at school and beyond. Involving and asking for support from your senior leadership team is also key here. Sharing expertise helps to improve everyone’s knowledge.