Updated: Jul 15, 2022
This blog post is part of an ongoing series on subject leadership in the primary school. You can read the rest of the blog posts here: Subject Leadership In Primary Schools Blog Archive
Let's get this one out of the way quickly: one reason to make sure subject leaders are well trained is because Ofsted will want to meet with them when they come a'knockin'. And it most likely won't be a meeting involving the headteacher - subject leaders will need to know their stuff.
But, as we all know, it's not all about Ofsted. There are other (and better) reasons to really focus on CPD for subject leaders. Let's explore 5 of those reasons:
1. To avoid curriculum narrowing
Curriculum subjects are locked in a battle - a battle for time and priority. Time is short in the primary school day, and there can be so many intrusions. Subject leaders must champion their subject, ensuring that it is being taught, and that it is being taught well (poorly taught has pretty much the same effect as not taught, so either way the curriculum is effectively narrowed.
And we are talking about leadership here - leadership requires actual specific leadership skills. Gone are the days when we just coordinated subjects by simply tidying the PE cupboard, locating the menorah and putting up a display. It's unfair and unproductive to expect subject leaders to just inately know how to get teachers to do what they need them to do. Subject leaders need training on how to be leaders.
2. To ensure buy-in
That's buy-in from the subject leaders that we're talking about. Many primary subject leaders are in charge of a subject that is not their degree subject, or is not one that they particularly have an interest in outside of their job. The same subject leaders may not have even been involved in the development of the subject they lead - it may have been written by members of SLT, or may be an off-the-shelf curriculum.
Subject leaders need to know the why of their subject in their school - the aims, purposes and values that underpin the subject that they now have to attempt to get other teachers to deliver effectively in each and every classroom. Without knowing the why their efforts could be very misplaced, with action for action's sake rather than for the sake of ensuring that curriculum implementation is being driven by the aims, purposes and values of the school, and of that particular subject. Indeed their efforts might be minimal if they are not really sure of why these things need to be done at all - subject leader training that generates buy-in is essential.
3. To give them the skills and knowledge they need
Need I say more? I will... Subject leaders will require a range of skills and knowledge in order to be able to lead on their subject effectively. We've specifically mentioned people leadership skills already - those will be essential. But there's also subject knowledge, the skill of delivering CPD, the ability to action plan, carry out monitoring and evaluation exercises effectively, and so on. To be a good subject leader, one who gets things done (things being great progress and attainment for all children), you need to be well-trained in a whole host of skills and knowledge.
4. So that children get what they deserve
Subject Leadership is actually a really important job. Bell & Ritchie, in their book 'Towards Effective Subject Leadership in the Primary School' say that ‘The overall purpose of the subject leader is to contribute to school improvement and increase standards through the provision of high quality teaching and the best possible learning opportunities for the children.’ - that's pretty crucial!
You see, subject leadership is not really about the subject, nor is it really about the teachers who are delivering it, and it is certainly not primarily about being able to construct a coherently planned and sequenced curriculum that is ambitious, as Ofsted want them to do. It's about the children. And children deserve a broad and balanced curriculum - one that exposes them to a wide range of skills and knowledge allowing them to find their passion and pursue it. Of course, for that to happen teachers need to deliver a coherently planned and sequenced curriculum, and subject leaders must have oversight of that, but that must happen without losing sight of the children they serve.
If we want children to really experience a brilliantly delivered curriculum then subject leaders must be in receipt of high quality, ongoing (continuous) training (professional development).
5. For their own professional development
It's not just the here and now that subject leaders are being trained for, it's the future too. For their own career, for the children they serve in the future. For when they are phase leaders, assistant heads, deputy heads, headteachers, SLEs, lead practitioners, consultants, authors, podcasters, CEOs. Organisations have a duty to ensure that they are also giving their staff members the opportunities, and the skills and knowledge, to make such progress in their own careers. If training is neglected at what is often the first rung of the 'ladder' - subject leadership in a primary school - then a poor precedent is being set. Subject leaders can, and should, be encouraged to continue their life-long journey as a learner by having their CPD needs taken very seriously.
Yes, the children are the future, but subject leaders are our more immediate future. They are the ones who will be, in a few short years, be making all the difference in schools up and down the country. If we want this future to be bright, then investing in subject leadership training is clearly the way forward.
If you would like Aidan to work with the subject leaders in your organisation, providing CPD and ensuring that they can really do their jobs well, please visit www.aidansevers.com/services or use the contact details on this page to get in touch to discuss a bespoke package to suit your needs.