Subject Leadership and monitoring – what’s the plan?

Having worked with so many subject leaders recently, it’s become apparent that not only are there considerable differences in the time they are allocated to fulfil the role, but also considerable differences in the direction and management of how they fulfil the role, especially when it comes to monitoring and evaluation.

I’ll avoid the time allocation issue so that it is not too contentious or causes problems for headteachers whose subject leaders may read this…

Instead, I would suggest it is worthwhile for senior leaders to consider monitoring, the direction they provide for subject leaders and the clarity of expectations for the coming academic year.

To do this, here are two hypothetical examples based on amalgams of schools I’ve worked with over the last year or so. In both cases, subject leaders have had training in deep dives.

Subject Leadership – School A

Regardless of experience, non-core subject leaders have free rein to decide what they want or feel they need to do in their subject. They have a general remit to keep abreast of their subject and check what is going on. For example, if they wish to carry out a learning walk, they can ask SLT for half a day of supply cover and arrange a time that suits them. When they have done this monitoring activity, they update their subject leadership folder and can ask for staff meeting time if they want to share feedback on anything with colleagues.

At the end of the year, each subject leader meets with the Deputy Head to discuss the ‘state of play’ in their subject and recommend whether anything needs to be added to the whole school development plan. At this meeting, their subject leader action plan is also discussed. This is the first time SLT has seen it since the previous annual meeting.

Some subject leaders might meet with a governor during the year, but this is at the governor's discretion. It depends on whether a governor linked to a specific subject has time to visit the school and takes it upon themselves to arrange this.

English and maths have a planned monitoring timetable for the year, and the subject leaders will work with the deputy headteacher on much of this.

Subject Leadership – School B

All subject leaders are involved in planning forthcoming monitoring using a year planner and referencing other key events in the school year, including governor meetings and assessment points. Governors are then made aware of the monitoring plan for the coming year so that subject governors can work with the school to offer timely challenge and support.

Senior leaders guide the planning process to ensure there are no ‘bottlenecks’ in book scrutinies, for example, and to prompt colleagues to time the monitoring activities so they are most beneficial and fit within the whole school's development.

Less experienced subject leaders plan and carry out their monitoring alongside more experienced colleagues to benefit from their support and as part of their ongoing CPD. There are also several opportunities for colleagues to monitor together, for example, the English and history leaders focusing on opportunities for reading and writing in other subjects, or all subject leaders looking at progression in a strand of a subject together from EYFS to Y6. This helps achieve consistency of expectations across the school.

Subject leaders are given clear guidance and support in how to report the outcomes of their monitoring to colleagues and SLT. This information is then incorporated into their respective action plans, which are discussed each term with SLT.

Most schools I have worked with or discussed anecdotally with subject leaders lean far more towards School B than School A, but there is still a wide variation.

At the start of this school year, it might be helpful to consider how much guidance and structure there is for the subject leadership to ensure they are fully supported, have clear direction for their work and are fully accountable within whole school development processes.

Subject Leadership Publication

Focus Education’s Subject Leadership Range is among the most popular selling publications. Often purchased as a bundle, the publications cover 13 subjects, focusing on the intent, implementation, and impact of a broad and balanced curriculum. Headteachers have described these as extremely useful for each staff member and valuable in carrying out their roles thoroughly.

They can be purchased as individual subjects or as a bundle (all 13 subjects, saving your school £20).

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