Subject Leadership Teams - The Pros and Cons

Subject Leadership Teams - The Pros and Cons

With the increased focus on subject leadership over the last few years, an increasing number of schools I have worked with or visited have developed subject leadership teams instead of the traditional ‘one subject per subject leader’ model common in most schools. Obviously, this suits smaller schools where that model has never been possible, and people wear several subject leader hats.

It helps address the friction caused by the inspection framework and the deep-dive methodology. On the one hand, there is the well-being and work-life balance issue for teachers; on the other hand, in their subject leader role, they have to be more akin to their secondary head of faculty counterparts alongside the day job of a class teacher.

At least in secondary schools, the head of faculty is usually an expert. In the primary sector, the music subject leader might be in teaching because their band split up after the tricky second album, and they bring that music expertise and experience, or they might be the music lead simply by being the last one in the staff meeting when the Head was re-distributing the roles. (The classic metaphorical arm-twist by the headteacher saying to a colleague, “Just do it for a year or two. It’s generic leadership skills and great development and experience. After all, you played the recorder at school, didn’t you? And didn’t I hear you singing along to Spotify after school last week? You’ll be fine with music then….”)

So, on to the team approach. I’ve seen a few versions of this on my travels. It is what it says on the label. Instead of separate individual subject leaders, there might be an arts team, a humanities team, a STEM team or some similar groupings. Often, English and maths, or reading, writing and maths, remain the domain of specific individuals who have greater time (and often financial reward) for these roles, given the breadth and accountability involved.

The Benefits/ Pros

The benefits of the team approach that I have seen or heard from colleagues have included:

  • A sense of collective responsibility and shared practice.
  • Greater opportunities for gaining experience. By rotating the roles associated with subject leadership amongst the team, colleagues have found they have more time to focus on monitoring, resource auditing, meeting CPD needs, etc., rather than trying to do everything in a subject. The key is to rotate this over time so everyone gets the opportunity and support to do each element effectively.
  • Less inspection tension. The idea of ganging up on an inspector during the deep dive conversations has obvious appeal, rather than going it alone! The safety-in-numbers approach is always seen as a winner.
  • Communication and implementation of change can improve because a group of people can be the critical mass to move a development forward, rather than a lone voice piping up during ‘any other business’ in a staff meeting.
  • Sharing existing knowledge and leadership experience can be a key benefit, especially for colleagues new to the subject leadership role. There may be a subject ‘expert’ or two on the team who can share this expertise with the group.

The Downfalls/ Cons

  • The obvious one is a potential lack of accountability if things do not go to plan. Who does the buck ultimately stop with if a group of colleagues lead a subject? There needs to be clarity of expectation and a clear plan of who is doing what.
  • Some colleagues have said that whilst a team approach has benefits for their workload, they feel it could hamper their career development because they do not have overall responsibility for a subject. Ultimately, stating they were part of a subject team might not look as good on a CV as being the sole subject leader.
  • As with any group of people, there can be friction, and different personalities can be an issue. Quieter or less experienced colleagues can feel they must take a back seat, and more dominant personalities can take over. As always, it requires careful management.

I am sure there are more strengths and potential pitfalls than those I’ve mentioned here, but hopefully, this could be useful to further the conversation. Teams do seem to be the way forward in more and more schools. And not just for remote meetings.


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