Why subject leadership is crucial to the success of your primary curriculum

Simon Hickton

Simon Hickton

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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 well-constructed, sequenced curriculum that embraces 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.’

Challenges for primary schools

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 subject leadership role

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.

The ABC of subject leadership

The ABC of subject leadership


A subject leader must analyse the intended content of their subject, know what is being delivered, when and why, and understand the impact of the provision. The following questions are often helpful during this part of the ABC process:

  • Are all of the programmes of study in the subject covered?
  • Are all elements of each programme of study covered?
  • Is there a clear progression framework? Does it help children learn and retain required subject knowledge and skills in the correct sequence?
  • Are the activities and resources planned to deliver the knowledge and skills ambitious and of the highest quality?
  • How do the planned activities support the progression of the wider co-curriculum?
  • Is the subject taught sequentially, allowing for repetition of learning, for skills to be applied and knowledge to stick?
  • Is pedagogical content knowledge of all teachers at the required level and continually developing?
  • Is the intended subject content actually being taught?
  • What is the current attainment and progress through the curriculum in this subject area?

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 subjects. 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.

Making subject leadership manageable

Many schools are facing these challenges head-on. But some still struggle to bring expectations in line with reality. Three 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.

In summary

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.

‘We have just had our Ofsted inspection, and I wanted to let you know that Curriculum Maestro was a vital part in the subject deep dives and is massively useful for subject leaders.’

Sarah Shaw, Headteacher, Hartshead Junior and Infant School, Liversedge, November 2019

How Curriculum Maestro supports the ABC of subject leadership

Intended curriculum coverage

View the programmes of study, subject aspects, concepts and themes covered in your curriculum. Linked to the Cornerstones Curriculum or your own content.

Intended curriculum coverage

Intended curriculum progression

Check intended progression in all subjects, based on Curriculum Maestro’s rigorous skills and knowledge framework.

Intended curriculum progression

Detailed coverage analysis

Identify and assign gaps in coverage to ensure full subject coverage and progression.

Detailed coverage analysis

Subject lesson sequence

Check and adapt subject lesson sequences to ensure quality activities and supporting resources are planned.

Subject lesson sequence

Actual coverage

Monitor and evaluate intended and actual coverage of subjects across school.

Actual coverage

View attainment

Assess what has been taught and learned using live information. Analyse at an individual, group, class and whole school level.

Teacher assessment

View attainment Teacher assessment

Analyse teacher assessment

Analyse teacher assessment

A brand-new area on Maestro  

In September 2021, all schools adopting our new interconnected, fully-sequenced Curriculum 22 will be able to access a brand-new area of Curriculum Maestro:  CurriculumPRO.

CurriculumPRO will enable you to view and demonstrate the sequencing and connectivity of this new curriculum at the click of a button. Over the coming months, CurriculumPRO will become an invaluable tool for all school and curriculum leaders wanting to demonstrate their curriculum provision, both internally and externally. 

‘Some senior leaders and small primary schools are concerned that they’re asking their teachers to take on more than one subject. We don’t have subject leaders at either of our schools because it’s all on Curriculum Maestro.’

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. 

What is Curriculum Maestro?

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 100 editable Cornerstones Curriculum 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.

Curriculum Maestro find out more