09th March 2020
Subject leadership is now a top priority in primary schools, especially with the demands of the new inspection framework. Cornerstones’ Founder, Simon Hickton, takes a look at some of the subject leadership issues faced by schools in the current educational climate.
After years of a narrow ‘teaching to test’ approach to curriculum, it’s time to value all subjects again. Ofsted’s new inspection framework challenges schools to implement a carefully planned, broad and balanced curriculum – something that many of us in the primary sector have always believed matters for children.
The success of a broad and balanced curriculum depends on all subjects having an equal place at the table. In today’s educational climate, subject leadership requires excellent levels of subject expertise, a good understanding of how a subject should progress over time and how it connects with the school’s curriculum as a whole.
In the new inspection framework, the judgement ‘quality of education’ is no longer biased towards English and maths. Nor is it focused on exponential amounts of data relating to these subjects. Quality of education can only be judged ‘good’ or better if children are progressing through a broad and balanced curriculum that embraces all subjects and the wider curriculum. How a school plans and delivers its curriculum and the manner in which subjects progress over time, will now be the key objectives of external scrutiny.
As stated in the School inspection handbook, inspectors will gather evidence through ‘discussions with curriculum and subject leaders and teachers about the programme of study that classes are following for particular subjects or topics, the intended endpoints towards which those pupils are working, and their view of how those pupils are progressing through the curriculum’ and ‘discussions with subject specialists and leaders about the content and pedagogical content knowledge of teachers, and what is done to support them.’
Senior leaders across the sector are asking themselves some challenging questions, such as ‘How do we ensure quality subject coverage? Who will take responsibility for subject leadership? How do we help children make progress in all subjects?’ These questions reflect real challenges for most schools and are both logistically and financially difficult to answer. With the need for a reduction in teacher workload, and the financial and educational implications of releasing key members of staff from teaching, how can we ensure that our subject leaders have the time, financial backing and expertise to achieve what is necessary?
The expectation is that all primary teachers have a high level of subject pedagogical content knowledge for the age range that they are teaching and an understanding of the critical endpoints that come before and after. A subject leader’s role is to analyse and build the appropriate provision in their subject, then cultivate the staff’s pedagogical content knowledge to maximise learning across their school. This process – Analyse, Build and Cultivate – is the ABC of subject leadership.
A subject leader must analyse the intended content of their subject, know what is being delivered and when, and understand the impact of the provision. The following questions are often helpful during this part of the ABC process:
A subject leader needs a secure understanding and knowledge of all of the above.
Subject leaders must work to fill any gaps in coverage, either through the addition of planned learning opportunities to current content, or the creation of specific new curriculum opportunities, such as art or science weeks. Teaching resources, such as knowledge organisers, may need to be developed in order to fill gaps in children’s learning and offer the chance to ‘level the playing field’ of knowledge. Our article Using knowledge organisers in primary schools has more information.
Subject leaders should be given the opportunity to both observe and support teaching and learning to cultivate their subject. Such opportunities should include working with all staff to develop their pedagogical content knowledge, time to develop their own expertise through training and research and investigating how implementations are embedding. At set times during the year, as part of the whole process, a subject leader should analyse and evaluate the impact of their work.
Many schools are facing these challenges head-on. But, some still struggle to bring expectation in line with reality. Two years ago, I made it my mission to create an online system to help primary schools design, deliver and manage their curriculum. The result was the creation of Curriculum Maestro, which supports curriculum development and the demands of subject leadership at all levels.
Without strong subject leadership in all subjects, a curriculum is set to fail, to become unbalanced and biased towards the subjects where expertise is at hand. This is why it is imperative for primary schools to have a clear process and set of systems in place, in order to empower and enable subject leaders to support teaching and learning. The ABC of subject leadership brings all subjects to life and lays the foundations for future learning.
Sarah Shaw, Headteacher, Hartshead Junior and Infant School, Liversedge, November 2019
View the programmes of study, subject aspects, concepts and themes covered in your curriculum. Linked to the Cornerstones Curriculum or your own content.
Check intended progression in all subjects, based on Curriculum Maestro’s rigorous skills and knowledge framework.
Identify and assign gaps in coverage to ensure full subject coverage and progression.
Check and adapt subject lesson sequences to ensure quality activities and supporting resources are planned.
Monitor and evaluate intended and actual coverage of subjects across school.
Assess what has been taught and learned using live information. Analyse at an individual, group, class and whole school level.
Victoria Musson, Director of Education, The Mill Academy Trust, Witney
This article is taken from the Ofsted inspection framework edition of The Curriculum magazine from Cornerstones Education.
Curriculum Maestro is a simple-to-use online platform that helps primary schools design, deliver and manage their curriculum all in one place.
Cleverly-designed tools help reduce unnecessary workload, allowing you to define curriculum intent, check live coverage and view subject progression at the click of a few buttons. You’ll also have access to over 80 editable projects, hundreds of resources and much, much more.
With Curriculum Maestro, you have the power to design, deliver and manage an impactful curriculum that’s right for your school and more than meets the requirements of the new inspection framework.