Updated: May 16
The first episode of my new podcast The Subject Leaders Podcast features Emily Griffin, an assistant head, curriculum leader, teaching and learning lead and subject leader for English and MFL. She talks about curriculum inclusivity, action planning and her recent experience of an Ofsted inspection including a deep dive into MFL.
Find this podcast episode on your preferred podcast service: https://linktr.ee/subjectleaderspodcast
Below you can find the transcript for this episode of The Subject Leaders Podcast:
Aidan: Hello, Emily.
Aidan: Thanks for joining us today.
Emily: No problem.
Aidan: Could you first of all, tell us a little bit about you, who are you? Where can we get in touch with you and so on.
Emily: No problem. So. My name is Emily Griffin. I'm assistant head teacher at Haslam Park Primary School in Bolton. I've been teaching 13 years, all in all, specialism’s English, really, but I lead on many different things, which we'll discuss later. If you want to find me, to contact me, you can find me at my school, Twitter, which is @haslamparkprim1.
Aidan: Great, thank you. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience as a primary teacher and subject leader and the other leadership roles you have as well?
Emily: Yeah, sure. So I've been teaching 13 years. All of my 13 years have been spent in primary schools in Bolton, three different schools. But my current school have been this is this is my 11th year, started as an RQT here and sort of just gained much experience over the years. Most of my years have been spent teaching year six. I did have a little hiatus off the old year six treadmill for two years, went to year four, missed that treadmill a little bit and went back in. But throughout that time, I've had a couple of leadership roles. I started off as the poison chalice computing lead as an RQT, where it was, “can you please unplug and plug the computer back in again?” But then over the years, my responsibility grew. I've done a short stint as art lead, but the biggest chunk of my leadership has been English leadership. So that's the whole of reading, writing, and also key stage two phonics for children who are still needing that phonics intervention. And more recently so the last two and a half years have been MFL lead at my school. And in the last 18 months, I've also had the pleasure of being assistant headteacher with the overarching responsibility of curriculum lead and teaching and learning lead.
Aidan: So quite a lot at the moment. Wow. Yeah, loads of experience, which I know is going to be great for the listeners of this podcast. So thank you for agreeing to talk to us today.
Emily: No problem at all.
Aidan: I know you've mentioned that English is probably your subject specialism. Is that something you did at Uni? Is that something that you find as your favourite thing to teach, or are there other subjects that take that mantle?
Emily: A little bit of everything you've just said, really. So my degree was English Language and Creative Writing at Salford University, which has always given me an interest in language, semantics, grammar, how sentences are constructed, which in many ways has led me into being an MFL lead as well, because that obviously features very heavily in the teaching of modern foreign languages. But, yeah, I would say English is my favourite, particularly writing. It's my favourite lesson or subject to teach closely followed by art. I really, really enjoy teaching art and design as well.
Aidan: Brilliant. And if this curriculum were being slimmed down, not that we want it to be, which subject would you fight hard to keep?
Emily: I would fight hard to keep PSHE. I feel it might be an unpopular opinion, but I just feel with the way our children live their lives now, not so much outdoor, lots indoor, their personal safety, it should take priority. And I do wonder if lots of our iPad generation, our computer generation, when they come to be in the big outside world, will they have all that personal safety understanding? If we were to take PSHE out of the curriculum and on another level as well. Through PSHE you do teach a lot of online safety and how to be a good digital citizen. So I just think the current state of the world and what childhood looks like for a lot of children, I think I would insist that PSHE be a huge part of the curriculum.
Aidan: Great answer.
Emily: Thank you.
Aidan: What do you love about being a subject leader?
Emily: I love... and this isn't immediate, so if there are any new subject leaders out there, don't panic if you've not seen this yet... I love the impact, the tangible impact of being a leader. You don't always get it right, but when you do, and it's obvious, it's so satisfying. It's as satisfying as when you're teaching the children. Those are moments of I’ve got this now. So when you've done that for an adult who perhaps has found teaching a specific subject a little bit difficult or a little bit uncomfortable, or they don't feel like they've got the knowledge, when you've had the impact and that's seen in the adults and the children, it's hugely satisfying. And on another level, as a parent, I often think in the back of my head, what would I want my children to experience in this specific subject? So I like to come at it from two points of view, trying to help as many people as I can with subject leadership. So I think the impact is the most satisfying part.
How can subject leaders ensure that their subject's curriculum is inclusive?
Aidan: Brilliant, thank you. How can subject leaders ensure that their subject's curriculum is inclusive?
Emily: Okay, I think the most obvious point is making sure the pupils who are supported by adults get the right support. It's about monitoring and making sure that those adults are not just sitting by the children, making sure that they've got plenty of resources to use, make sure they feel comfortable to know which resource to grab to support the children, and making sure you're building in lots of oral rehearsal wherever possible. Not just for MFL, but for other subjects as well. So when the teaching main focal point is finished, getting the children to repeat things back to you, but passing that on to all your teachers and all your subject leaders and all your TAs who are supporting in class, making sure that oral rehearsal is really important. But from an MFL standpoint, I think it's about making sure you're given opportunities to see links between other subjects as well, and their own home languages. We try to do quite a lot, but making sure that first and foremost the curriculum is suitable for the children and that's what that's really obvious, but that the communication between your subject leaders, your teaching assistants and your teachers is there and it happens daily and as often as possible.
I could talk more about MFL, if that's at all useful in this conversation. But if you are an MFL lead and you're looking to get some tips from this, the most interesting thing that we've done for inclusion in our school... we have many, many languages spoken at our school. Last time we counted there were 29 different languages spoken in our skill community, which is enormous, it's a huge amount of languages... So through Primary Languages Network, who are our external provider, we have introduced a weekly certificate called Language Detectives. And it's not about being the most fluent in Spanish because that does not help the children who aren't attaining very well to feel included. And part of it, it's about exploration and identifying links. So last week I was lucky enough to be in a year five lesson and the children were just putting their hands up and saying, oh, in Oromo, that's the same, or in Urdu, that's the same. And they weren't the most high attaining pupils that were answering those questions, and they were celebrated by being given a language detective certificate. So I think as long as you're celebrating the small wins, not just the attainment and the small steps of progress children make, I think that's the most inclusive thing that you can do for the pupils.
Aidan: So if we were to extrapolate that out for other subject leaders, it sounds like the principle there is to start where the children are at themselves and to tap into what you know about them, tap into what their interests and their skills and knowledge are and make those links with your curriculum, whether that's the kind of curriculum that's down on paper or the curriculum that's enacted in the classroom by teachers.
Emily: Yeah, definitely. And what's pertinent to those specific children, like saying their interests, their needs, their current level of attainment, their home languages. So I feel that at Haslam Park, we have got inclusion, particularly in MFL, but other subjects really effectively working.
Aidan: And that's relationship, isn't it, to know the children, to understand them, and to tailor how you teach what your curriculum contains to them?
Emily: Yeah, definitely.
How can subject leaders ensure that their action planning will actually lead to their subject goals being met?
Aidan: Brilliant. Thank you. Let's move on a little bit to a slightly different subject then. So how can subject leaders ensure that their action planning will actually lead to their subject goals being met?
Emily: Okay, I would always offer the top tip of doing audits. I know they're a bit might seem a little bit boring, it might seem a little bit hard work for the staff. But if you can keep your questions on your staff audit, for example, really pertinent, and you keep in mind your vision, what do you want your subject to look like? And tailing those questions. If you can keep like, three or four questions, send it out as a Google Farms, for example, that takes three or four minutes. You very quickly come up with areas for development for your subject. So it shouldn't just be things that you want to do for your subject. Because I fell down that track quite early on in my leadership. Like, I want it to look like this, but then when I actually put it on my action plan, started working on it, I found that it was already happening, or I found that staff were already on the way to doing that, and it was a bit of a waste of my time. So I just think a staff audit is always a really useful place to start thinking about what it already looks like and what you want it to look like next.
And also linking it closer to the school development. Plan wherever you can, because then you've got everybody on board your head teachers on board, your deputies on board, all the subject leaders are on board as classroom teachers because we all have a part to play in achieving the goals on the skill development plan. So I think those two would be my top tips. Staff audit, skill development plan links wherever possible. And then also pupil voice. Pupil Vice is huge when it comes to developing your subject plan, because they're the clients. It's not the right word to use, but they are, aren't they? They're the people who are receiving your offer. And if they don't want it to, if they're not happy with it, you need to make sure that it's tailored exactly to the children who are experienced in that. So it would be my top three tips.
Aidan: So we're talking here about action planning from a foundation of knowing your school, knowing the context, knowing what's already happening, not falling into the trap of maybe seeing something online, having a particular curriculum in mind, and then saying, we're going to put this in place, but absolutely, really dig down and explore what is going on in your school before you even say, well, these are my goals and these are the actions, this is what I want it to look like.
Emily: I think if I can go right back to the very start of when we have an external provider who delivers the teaching, but that's not all we do with MFL in our school, before we even looked at which provider we were using, we did some real research about our local office. So we looked at each high school this is with MFL in mind, and looked at the top five skills that our children attend. Which languages are they actually going to go on to study? Wasn't just me thinking, oh, I'd really like to deliver Spanish at Haslam Park, it was looking at all the local high schools and all the local high schools have Spanish on their curriculum. And that, to me, is going, right, how can I fully prepare the children for the next step? And that's by making sure it closely matches to the local offer. So if you are at the very starting point of your leadership, it's looking what's next for the children, making sure your action plan reflects what's next for them, not just what you want the subject to look like.
Because that's the ultimate goal, isn't it? To prepare them for the next stage, or that the key stage two or key stage three. So I think thinking about what's next for the children, not just for the school, is also really important.
Aidan: Great. Can I come back to what you said about Pupil Voice and asking children about what their thoughts are? How much do you balance out what they want with what you think is right and necessary? You could have children who say, no, I don't want to learn a language at all, so what do you do with that?
Emily: Luckily, I haven't actually really experienced any of that. Occasionally you get children saying, I want to learn Spanish all day on a Monday. And obviously that's the type of response which is lovely, and it tells you that they're enjoying Spanish, but it's something we can't honour. So I think we just have the conversation there and then with the children and say, I really like that you enjoy it so much, but that's not really possible. So thinking about the time restraints that we do have in that half an hour, what do you want that lesson to like? So just sort of try and bring it back to reality for them. Because it's like if you ask your children what they want in the home, they'd always say, a slide on a swimming pool. It's just the way children work. But it's about bringing them back to reality and saying, this is what we can control, this is what we can offer you, but what we can't offer you is everything that you like. And I think it's just a good life lesson in general to have that conversation with children, really. But it isn't just them talking at us, it becomes a discussion, then, which I prefer. A negotiation, if you will.
Aidan: Yeah, exactly. I think we often think of pupil voice as just being a kind of a one way thing.
Emily: oh, no, it definitely shouldn't be, it definitely shouldn't be it should be a discussion which I sometimes say to the children, I'm thinking of changing this element of our Spanish lesson, what do you think? So another tip is to sort of direct the conversation and give them an idea of what it might look like and do they think that's a good idea? And give them an opportunity to say why. And then they might say, well, I prefer it to look like that because this lesson, I don't really like that part. So it gives you a little bit of an understanding of why they want it to look a certain way if you can direct the conversation.
Aidan: Yeah. So not just those kind of statements: “I want this”, but why do you want it? What do you like about that? What is it that you find difficult about that? And then coming back to yourself and saying, well, actually they do need to find it a little bit difficult. If it's not pitched correctly then it's not going to do its job, for example exactly. Then coming back to them with that explanation, providing them with that understanding that explains why you've made the decisions you've made.
Emily: Yeah, we have subject leaders at our school as well, which is something we've just started, so pupil voice happens really regularly as well. So we have English subject leader pupils and then they'll come and help us. They'll go sort of have a little look around and see what's happening. Not like little spies or anything, but they do go and have a little look of things that we've talked about. Go and have a look at the working ones. What do you think? So I think they all have these little badges as well I've got on here little subject leader badge, so everyone knows if they're coming in, what they're in for. So that's another element of pupil voice that we've incorporated. They actually have a leadership role themselves, which they're really enjoying.
Aidan: That's great. How did you employ those student subject leaders?
Emily: They wrote little applications, so we aimed at year four. We went for year four because there's no point doing year five and six at the moment. The year six are really busy with SATS and then they're not going to be in our school for much longer. And then we thought, if we wanted a really good run at this, if we wanted to give pupils a couple of years, we aimed at year four, and we were inundated with applications that say, which subject? Why they enjoyed it, so they couldn't just go, do you know, I fancy being music subject leader. They had to give an actual, tangible, real reason why they wanted to do it. And the applications are really impressive and it was quite hard to choose. So I would recommend, if you were looking to do that, I would make it an application process so you know you're getting the right person for the job.
Aidan: That's great. I mean, I've heard of digital leaders, but this takes it a few steps further and has one or a number, I suppose, of children for each subject, what sort of role do they have?
Emily: Their role is they meet with the first of all, met with me, so we then have a chat about what their role will look like. Then the next step is to meet with the subject leaders, where the subject leaders will say over the next year, this is what I'm trying to develop, this is what I expect to see in the classrooms. If you were to go in a Year two classroom, you might see this on the working wall and they'll just give them little jobs to sort of look out for. They might include, when you're on the playground, why have a talk to the Year two s and see what they're thinking of their music lessons? Or why don't you ever chat with the ear fours and find out if they're enjoying netball MTA? And it's just making that dialogue. And on another level as well, I hate to bring up the word, it also prepares pupils quite well for that dreaded offstead pupil voice, because the more the pupils are prepared to have a conversation off the hoof about their subject, the more prepared they'll be if they are chosen to have that conversation with a stranger. So that's just another nice by-product of that as well.
Aidan: So you have just had enough said. Were those the children who spoke to inspectors?
Emily: Yeah, we did put some of the subject leaders forward for those conversations and also we were able to select some of the children who have been involved in the other pupil vice conversations and that was really useful because they were just used to it. They weren't panicked, they weren't stressed, they weren't overwhelmed. They were sort of used to the conversations. We never framed the conversations with the children around what Austin might ask them. It's more about what they think about the subject because as we discussed earlier, if you get it right for the children, it's going to be right for anybody else that's coming to look, because you can talk confidently and say, this is the right offer for our children. So, yeah, I think it's just all in the preparation when it comes to those conversations.
What does your MFL curriculum look like (and how did Ofsted help you)?
Aidan: So, in terms of the offer for your children, then let's talk about what your MFL curriculum looks like. And if you do want to drop in any gems of wisdom with regards to Osted, I'm sure that'd be so useful for other subject leaders as well.
Emily: Okie doke. So, as I say, I've been MFL subject lead for a couple of years now and we'll start off at the infancy of having an external provider. So just give a little shout out to Primary Languages Network. They are incredible. And I can't speak highly enough for the two teachers that we've had over the last couple of years, senorita Thompson and Senorita Arms. The children do call them Senorita as well. We don't go down the miss or Mrs Roux. It's it's full Spanish immersion in our school. The curriculum is planned out and delivered by Primary Languages Network. However, we didn't just want a once a week standalone extra, it's the complete opposite to what we do in this school. We offer an immersion sort of experience. So all the doors and windows and equipment is labelled with Spanish words all around school, all the way from reception to key stage two, we've had things like assemblies where the parents have done stay and play, where the children have played Spanish games. Only this week we made links with the local high school. They came in enrichment and they were absolutely blown away by the retention and knowledge of our pupils.
And that's all down to the fact that, yes, we have an external provider who are experts, but we enrich it at the same time. So the reason we chose Primary Languages Network is because it really reflects the way we teach our children anyway. So it's spiral, it's space learning and like, say, go back to progression, which you've asked me to discuss as well.
When we looked at the curriculum before we moved to Primary Languages Network, the progression and the sequencing was just so clear. So, for example, in year three, they start with General Greetings ola and then as each year grows on, that is extended, so it becomes, hello, my name is my ages and I live, and then conjunctions are added in. So we've got lots of grammar that is then added into the curriculum. There pronunciation is revisited. I'm really confident in what primary languages network deliver and as we've mentioned earlier in the recent inspection, they were really impressed with the people's retention. That's because of the way the curriculum is designed, so it's not just visited once and then they're expected to remember it. It's revisited through songs and games and dances.
And then another element to it that we think is really special is that through prime Languages network, we've also set up a pen pals scheme with another school in Merseyside. So we apply those, those writing skills to an actual tangible life experience. And if we go back to inclusion again, we made sure the children that were matched with a similar attainment level to make sure they weren't receiving a letter that they couldn't read or they weren't writing a very short passage to somebody who might be expecting much more from a year five pupils. So there's lots of elements of our offer that I'm really, really proud of, but I just think seeing that the children are actually applying their Spanish skills day in, day out, when they're answering the register, if I pass them on the corridor, I'll try and ask them a couple of questions in Spanish. And generally the retention is quite incredible. So, yeah, in terms of top tips when it comes to being prepared for anything, I think we know we're talking about offset there. I would say having that curriculum in your file, whether that be an online file in the cloud or whether that be an actual paper file, is practice talking through the sequence.
Don't think you'll just have it in front of you and all come, it'll all come out with ease because it might not and that's not what you want to do to yourself. No one wants to do that to yourself. So my suggestion would be have that curriculum printed out and just every now and again to one of your colleagues or, I don't know, to yourself, even pick one strand. You could pick speaking, you could pick listening and one of the DfE for MFL skills and just have a practice about how that is progressive in your skill. One thing I did a couple of months ago that I found really useful was I took the curriculum overview and I picked one strand, so it was sentences and greetings and I photocopied work from year three, year four, year five, and year six, and stapled it together. That's how it's progressive. And you're hitting a couple of things there. You're hitting your intent, you're hitting your implementation and you're hitting the impact because you can see what that actually looks like across your school. So yeah, I've covered a lot of ground there, but I do feel that we've got the offer right at our school and I'm really proud of what it looks like, particularly because I do feel the children are ready for the next stage wherever it is really.
And the long term vision is that we start this in key stage one, but I think we're a little bit off that now, so yeah, that's pretty much what it looks like at Haslam Park
Aidan: When you got to that Ofsted meeting, you've explained to us that you did a little bit of prep over the last few months. Was it the fact that you had prepared for Ofsted that meant you were prepared for Ofsted?
Emily: No, it's probably the smallest part. I think the reason that I felt prepared for Ofsted was that because I really, truly had the children at the heart of everything that I was planning and doing as a subject leader. I real believe that if you get it right for the children, you can explain that to absolutely anybody. It doesn't matter who they are. If you can justify whatever reason you have for your curriculum being plotted out or sequenced in a specific way, or if you can explain why you do all these enrichments and why you take the time to do the assemblies for the parents, if you can justify all of those reasons, you'll be prepared for any conversation. And obviously the outcomes for the children are better because it's the children at the heart of every decision that you're making and I think that is the overarching message you want to get across. If you are making the decisions for the children, everything else will fall into place.
Aidan: Yeah, I agree. That's something that I would want to a message I'd want to put out there as well. But it's really good to hear that you can still say that having had the Ofsted experience as well. I think you mentioned to me earlier that you asked for a deep dive in MFL. Was that because you wanted it to be a developmental process? What did you get out of that?
Emily: I had a conversation with our external provider and it was very casual at first. I just said are we doing it right, do you think? Compared to other skills, what do you think? And she just said I really feel like the offer you're giving your children is exceptional and I wanted a bit of clarity if that was the case, I wanted somebody it wasn't close to us who could come and look at the bare facts to say yeah, you've got this right. So it was developmental in the sense that I wanted a bit of clarity, but I also wanted to know what was next because I felt I'd sort of not exhausted everything I wanted to do but I wanted to know if there was anything I'd missed. Was there a big glaring part of our offer that I hadn't considered? And I found it really supportive, I genuinely did. And I don't want anyone to feel frightened by it. I actually found it very, very supportive. It was fair and because I had prepared myself slightly, but because I had had the children in mind from the very beginning, that also came across when they spoke to the children.
The children know that as a leader, I love MFL. The children know that it's very important to us at school. It's not just wheeled out once a week, that half an hour slot that they get. It's part of our offer at school because our children are bilingual and the majority of them are anyway, are bilingual and they love languages. We want to foster that with them. I feel like asking for it was the right thing for a right decision for a number of reasons, really.
Aidan: That's great. That's so encouraging to hear. And really, you've gamed Ofsted there in that you've made sure that you have got something out of it that is useful for you. You've been able to clarify that what you are offering is really good and it sounds like you've kind of gained some next steps as well.
Emily: Definitely. I've redrafted the action plan since nothing major, I hadn't missed anything enormous. But it was just those finite details, the granular details where they said, if you considered this, I would have liked to have seen that. Okay, I've got that. But because everything started with the children, anything else that I've been asked to do is just a by-product of getting it right for the children. So I'm fine with those little details being added to the action plan.
Aidan: Thank you so much, Emily, for those answers. Really useful. Not just for MFL leaders, but I think for any subject leaders and even other school leaders as well. Just especially around your experience of Ofsted. It's nice to have those positive stories because perhaps they're not always like that. Although I do hear a lot of good stories these days about Ofsted. Thank you for joining us today.
Emily: No problem. Really enjoyed it.
Aidan: I've loved hearing about what you do at your school. It sounds so inspirational. Is there anything you'd like to add before you go?
Emily: The overarching message I think I've tried to get across is please do. Just take your time with decisions when it comes to leadership. Thinking carefully about not just these things that pop up on Facebook or pop up in the teacher group. Look really carefully at your school, at your community. Will it work? What's it going to add to it before you add to the teacher's workload and just really speak to some of your more experienced staff as well. If you are very early on in your leadership journey, and most of all, enjoy it, time passes quickly. I can say with conviction that 13 years have gone past, gone by very quickly, and I've enjoyed every minute. Some of it's been stressful. But just enjoy your leadership journey and enjoy the children is what I would.
Aidan: Thank you so much.
Emily: No problem.