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S1 E3: Promoting your Subject and Monitoring and Evaluating Maths with Kieran Mackle

Updated: May 16, 2023

The third episode of The Subject Leaders Podcast features podcaster and author Kieran Mackle. He's well-known for his Thinking Deeply About Primary Education (#TDaPE) podcast and his book Thinking Deeply About Primary Mathematics.

In this episode Kieran looks back on his time as maths subject leader across three school and shares his knowledge about promoting and encouraging enthusiasm for the subject you lead before sharing his thoughts about assessment in primary maths.

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Below you can find the transcript for this episode of The Subject Leaders Podcast:


Aidan: Our guest is Kieran Mackle. Hello, Kieran, thanks for being with us today. How are you?

Kieran: It's my pleasure, yeah, all good here. Thanks for having me.

Aidan: Good, let's crack on. Let's start by getting to know you a little bit more.

Kieran: So my name is Kieran Mackle. I am a teacher originally from Northern Ireland, but in the southeast of England. You can get me on Twitter at @kieran_m_ed and on Saturday mornings, I host the Thinking Deeply About Primary Education podcast.

Aidan: Brilliant. Thank you. Really one of my favourite podcasts and it's been a pleasure to have been a guest on yours as well, so thank you. So, can you tell us a little bit more about your experience as a primary teacher and a subject leader?

Kieran: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I moved England in 2008. We were talking like, 15 or so years ago, taught across all groups from nursery to year six. I mean, when I first started, I thought I was going to be a key stage two teacher, but ended up probably spending more time in early years in key stage one than initially thought. First subject leadership role was RE, and that was after a year. So in the old days, you used to do your NQT year, then you got a subject because we were one form entry school. And then I took on maths the year after that and never really looked back. I mean, in terms of interesting roles, I was the in-house math specialist for a project run by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and essentially three schools with a need to improve outcomes and aspirations for their communities. And so I had five years to be the person who could try and drive that forward. So, yeah, it's pretty cool.

Aidan: Sounds brilliant. And, yeah, maths pretty much all the way for you. So what would you consider to be your subject specialism? Is it maths and what are your favourite subjects to teach?

Kieran: Here's the thing, because in Northern Ireland, there's a bit of a game to play with university and places for teaching, so you had to choose broad and balanced subjects. So I did English Literature, History and Politics at A level and then did a B Ed. So no specialism unless I wanted to become a math teacher at secondary. I wanted to be a primary teacher so I had to choose broad and essentially in terms of my interests, I want to possess the sum total of human knowledge and I know that's not maybe not possible. That's my aim. So things like history, physics, evolutionary biology, music, dig into those and obviously they all tie in really well with mathematics and especially when you're thinking about things like etymology and stuff and if you go back to the times like the golden age of Islam and the mathematical discoveries, I think it all marries in quite well. So I've got this professional interest, I did a postgraduate course over two years right back at the start of my career and that funnelled my professional development into mathematics but at university I had to play the game and go broad because I love literature too. I want to know everything and I want to know it now.

Aidan: So you're a polymath?

Kieran: Well, attempted or aspirational!

Aidan: Great. Thank you. So if the curriculum were being slimmed down, which subject would you fight hard to keep?

Kieran: Anyone who's listened to Thinking Deeply About Primary Education will know that I'm in favour of completely slimming the curriculum. I would have three subjects English, maths and reading. I'd have a shorter day, so your day would be along the lines of Singapore, where you go in at 7:30, finish at 1:30, and in the afternoon the pupils did something along lines of enrichment with specialists or intervention with their teachers, if necessary. But I know that there exists a bit of a paradox because in many instances our most disadvantaged pupils need access to the best that's been thought across a breadth of subjects, and it's not necessarily something I can reconcile here. But I acknowledge that although I think the most important thing is that our pupils leave primary at eleven years old being able to read, being able to write clearly and functionally numerate, I'm not going to make that a policy on my first day as Education Minister.

Aidan: Is that a career goal?

Kieran: I'm not sure they'd have me, to be honest!

Aidan: Controversial, but interesting thank you. So before we get to your three questions that we've got for you today what do you love about being a subject leader?

Kieran: Yeah, this was an interesting one to think about. I think ultimately you get to decide the journey in a lot of instances anyway, so you can follow your interests. So, for instance, if I think about between 2014 and 2017, I was reading a lot about cognitive load theory and about cognitive science, and I had supportive headteachers who allowed me to follow those. And obviously things are paying dividends x number of years down the line. So following your interests and being that person who drives that vision and establishing that vision, I quite enjoy that. And I think helping others almost gives you a sense of professional satisfaction along the lines of helping pupils. I don't find a distinction between pupils and adults. And also being able to see a project through to completion is quite rewarding because often in education, we never see the end. We see the first couple of years and then maybe we go or things change in school. But I quite like the idea this is what we hope to achieve over the next seven years, and then seeing that through, that's quite rewarding.

Aidan: Great. There's three, I think, distinct things there that definitely people will be able to relate to or even perhaps aspire to as a subject leader. So let's get to your questions now.

How can subject leaders promote their subject to staff and children?

How can subject leaders encourage enthusiasm about their subject?

Which aspects of maths do subject leaders need to monitor and evaluate and what might that look like?

Closing words





Subject Leadership

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