Why strong and effective subject leadership is vitally important to all teachers
Subject leadership is the foundation stone of leaders being able to demonstrate effectiveness across the school. It is with subject leaders that Ofsted inspectors now spend most time when inspecting a school. Therefore, it is those subject leaders that have a key impact on the outcome of the inspection process. The implication of this is that all subject leaders must be able to demonstrate their knowledge of their subject as it is being delivered across the whole school and do so with confidence and conviction.
What are the essential ingredients of being an effective subject leader? Within our “Teaching Over Time Evaluation Matrix” (TOTEM) resource we have included a whole dimension relating to effective subject leadership, each strand cross referenced to the Teacher Standards. By using this as an aide memoire, subject leaders will be able to self-assess their effectiveness against detailed criteria. In addition, Head Teachers will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of individual subject leaders and report on subject leadership across the school, as consistency in the quality of subject leadership is an essential feature if a successful inspection outcome is to be gained.
Subject leadership is about knowing how well the subject is being delivered across the school. This deep awareness is gained by undertaking regular scrutinies of pupils’ work to ensure coverage is in line with medium and long-term plans for the subject. This also enables the subject leader to demonstrate that progression within a subject across year groups is being provided. Progression grids that show the subject across the whole school are the key to being able to audit the subject’s provision. Another crucial outcome from work scrutiny is the provision of feedback to class teachers by the subject leader. This ensures that the consistency of subject specific pedagogical teaching is clearly evidenced. It also demonstrates the impact and effectiveness of the subject leader in bringing about sustainable and positive change for the benefit of pupils. Within TOTEM, there are specific criteria regarding pupils’ work and how the scrutiny of it contributes to the evaluation of teaching effectiveness.
In addition to looking at pupils’ work, subject leaders should, wherever possible, be sampling and monitoring lessons in the subject across the school. Under current Covid 19 conditions this is not possible in the traditional manner, but school leaders are being very inventive with ways of enabling this to be partially completed. The intent behind monitoring lessons is to gather first-hand evidence of the quality of teaching, in the subject, across the school, and to ensure that progression across year groups is clearly evident. Again, the provision of developmental feedback to class teachers is essential if improvements are to be made across the school. The aspects of effective classroom provision are clearly detailed within Dimension One of the TOTEM resource tool.
One further process an effective subject leader employs, to help them gain triangulated evidence about their subject, is to talk to pupils about their learning. This is not just to test that pupils understand the concepts being taught but that they can retrieve key information from their long-term memory. By constructing year group specific, content related questions, the effectiveness of teaching is being monitored and evaluated by the subject leader. Once again, TOTEM has a dimension dedicated to pupil voice, so the effective subject leader already has a prompt and set of criteria for this aspect of evidence gathering.
So, once the bank of evidence is gathered by the subject leader, what do they do with it?
By analysing it and evaluating it they report to senior leaders and governors about the provision across the school. By using the TOTEM criteria an accurate picture of the subject leader’s effectiveness can be gained, which in turn enables him or her to set goals for their further effectiveness.
By using TOTEM as a measure, subject leaders gain confidence in being able to answer questions about their subject when interviewed by others. This then shows the subject leaders to be the strong advocates for the school as they are able to show the impact of their actions and how their effectiveness has contributed to the success of the school.