Top tips for being a successful subject leader
The prospect of leading a subject for the first time can feel daunting and overwhelming at first, especially whilst juggling your existing workload as a teacher. Here are my top tips for achieving successful subject leadership
1. Become an expert in your subject.
You may find yourself leading a subject that you are passionate about, which is fantastic! Equally, you may land a subject to lead that you maybe feel less knowledgeable and confident in leading. It’s important to invest time to do wider research and reading around your subject. This isn’t going to develop overnight and it’s important to remember that is ok! Seek out CPD opportunities to widen your knowledge and present them to the leaders at your school. They will be impressed with your commitment and initiative. You might develop a million ideas for how you want to develop your subject during this stage, but prioritisation is key! You can’t do everything at once and it’s better to focus on one or two things than a long list of tasks. Establishing a really securely developed subject is a marathon, not a sprint!
2. Be open to staff members approaching you about your subject.
A good subject leader is approachable and supports staff to deliver their subject effectively. Make staff members aware that you are happy for them to approach you with questions or to clarify expectations. Don’t worry if you need some time to go away and do some research yourself first. Your colleagues will appreciate you taking the time to look into their query and providing the appropriate support. You will get to know the staff members that will always approach you but there will always be the ones that you will never hear from. Conduct staff voice to target the views of those staff members. You will learn a lot about how your subject is perceived from listening to staff voice.
3. Know how and why the curriculum for your subject has been designed.
As a subject leader, it’s important to be confident in how and why the curriculum for your subject has been designed. How is your subject sequenced? Why are certain units taught in particular year groups? How does this meet National Curriculum requirements? How do you show progression through the key stages? It helps if you’ve been part of the design of the curriculum map as you will have more ownership over this. If you’ve not, take time to unpick the design of the curriculum and understand why it is designed in that way. Once you’ve got your head around this, share it with others with confidence and secure buy in.
4. Go and see your subject in action.
This could be through lesson visits; book-looks or pupil voice. I like to do a combination of all three! Approach staff members and tell them that you’d love to come and see a snippet of your subject in action. Spend 5-10 minutes in the classroom with the teacher and pupils and then invite a few pupils to meet with you, along with their books to conduct some pupil voice. All three monitoring activities should only take around 20 minutes and will give you a really clear understanding of how developed your subject is with teachers and pupils. The key next step after monitoring is evaluation. Work out where things are going well and where efforts are needed to further improve, then plan how these improvements will be actioned.
5. Develop cultural capital for your subject.
Cultural capital is all about providing children with experiences and opportunities to help them progress and achieve success. Essentially, it's about giving them everything they need for what comes next in their learning and development. Having opportunities for cultural capital is what will really bring your subject to life. Create a list of experiences linking to your subject such as venues for educational visits, school visitors and experiences. Encourage staff members to utilise this as these experiences are invaluable for pupils. I’m sure it won’t take much persuading - staff will appreciate you giving them an idea for their next school trip!
6. Know how your subject looks in the Early Years Foundation Stage.
This is important. Your subject might not be explicitly taught in the Early Years (completely depending on what it is), but how are pupils provided with the opportunity to explore aspects of it through their topics, the provision, the environment and stories? In which area of the EYFS curriculum is your subject covered? Visit the Early Years and look for examples of your subject as part of your monitoring and meet with Early Years staff to grasp an understanding of how the requirements of your subjects are met in this phase.
7. Audit provision to ensure your subject is well-resourced.
Do teachers have the appropriate resources to teach your subject well? When was the last time the school spent some of the annual budget replacing some of the resources that are looking a little tired? Have you seen a resource that would really support teachers and benefit pupils? Find out the answers to these questions and bring any findings to your Senior Leadership Team. We all know budgets are tight, but resources need replenishing and if you come across a quality resource that your subject is crying out for, don’t be afraid to present it to your Finance Officer, Dragons Den style!
Hopefully my top tips prove helpful to any new (or experienced!) subject leaders out there. I have been responsible for leading three different subjects throughout my career so far and I stand by these things to become a successful and effective subject leader. I wanted to write most of this article without mentioning the ‘O’ word but I have been part of multiple Ofsted inspections where my areas have been subject to a Deep Dive. Having a handle on all of the things listed above has resulted in me being able to articulate the vision for my subjects clearly, my leadership being praised, and the impact of my subjects demonstrated well.
With many thanks to Laura Brogan for writing this article.
Laura is an Assistant Headteacher and a member of EuHu’s teacher board.