I have been thinking for some time about how senior leaders support our subject leaders in curriculum development. For instance, I line manage Modern Foreign Languages at Huntington School and we have a Subject Leader, Cherry Bailey, with a pretty sparkling degree from Cambridge in German and Russian. I, on the other hand, have a CSE grade 1 in German, awarded over 40 years ago. I know that ‘Ich fahre mit dem Zug nach Brighton’ means ‘I travel on the train to Brighton’, but that’s the limit of my linguistic talents. When it comes to helping Cherry develop the MFL curriculum I am as helpful as a proverbial chocolate tea pot.

I have really enjoyed watching German being taught and I love learning the language now when I sit in a Year 9 class and it all comes back to me. But I cannot really support Cherry in how to design the curriculum at Key Stage 3. I do not know the questions to ask about how language acquisition is built up over the three years of Key Stage 3 so that students arrive at the end of Year 9 both intellectually enriched by learning another language and GCSE-ready. Whilst I cannot support Cherry in developing the MFL curriculum, I also cannot challenge her. I genuinely do not know whether the way the French, German and Spanish curriculum is constructed in Years 7-9 at Huntington is the most effective way to enable students to learn a language. That is, I think, a problem.

So I have been working hard with a couple of colleagues at Huntington about how we have those conversations which support our subject leaders in improving the quality of their curriculum, even if, as senior leaders, are not subject experts. We have come to the conclusion that it is a two-way process. We think there is a responsibility upon subject leaders to support senior leaders understand their subjects, and the senior leaders have a responsibility to do their own learning about the subjects they line manage.

Consequently, Mary Myatt and I are talking to secondary subject leaders and curriculum designers at primary, and asking them about the fundamentals of their subjects. We want to find out how they plan the curriculum to optimise students’ learning, and what they would like their line managers to know and understand about the elements of the curriculum which they line manage. We also want to know what questions subject leaders would like to be asked about the curriculum by their line managers.

Informed debate is the fuel of curriculum development. The trouble is, the vast majority of senior school leaders are not informed enough about individual school subjects to have developmental curriculum conversations with subject leaders. That is why I am delighted to be working with Mary on this project. It feels like important work. If we can have constructive conversations with the engine room of the school – our middle leader curriculum designers – then we have a chance of developing for our students an intellectually challenging and inclusive curriculum.

The project has two strands: the interviews which will appear on Mary’s Myatt & Co. video channel and a forthcoming book. In the latter we will summarise the subject-specific essence of the conversations and illustrate them with detailed examples from each subject/key stage. We will include a list of questions for line managers to ask subject leaders to help curriculum development. Oh, and there will be a short reading list for line managers so that they can educate themselves about the curriculum areas for which they are ultimately responsible.

The book will be entitled: The Subject Leaders’ Curriculum Handbook to support SLT Line Managers (A book that is exactly what it says it is on the cover).

If you are interested in this project, then please email me at jtomsett@hotmail.com and we can explore any potential involvement.

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This post has 7 Comments

  1. Solving this at Primary level when subject knowledge is often lacking even from the subject leaders themselves has been an issue throughout my 25 years in primary education. As a headteacher, I thought I had solved it with a subject specialism approach in years 4-6 but there have been issues with this too! Would love to contribute/help in any way!

  2. Hi
    I would be interested in this project to support and develop our curriculum and middle leaders.

  3. Yes, would love to hear more. I’m a Deputy Head and developing subject knowledge is a repeating area for development.

  4. This approach and thinking really interests me. I have recently taken on a ‘T and L lead’ role at my school. We are a small special school with 2 classes per year group. As such the subject teams are small, often just 1 person who is the subject lead and responsible for a lot of curriculum (the ability of pupils varies massively so these have to end points for pupils ranges from unit awards to Higher GCSE). Monitoring of T and L doesn’t really focus much on data or curriculum but instead on observations, book looks and walk throughs. Since taking on the role I have been trying to push for us to have a better understanding of our curriculum offer across subjects and had in mind a prolonged discussion with subject leads. I am not really sure how to go about this, but it sounds like this book and your work towards it are very much in line with what I am looking for. I would really like suggestions for a framework that could build towards these conversations with staff. I also have the task of trying to sell this work to our deputy head who is using me to do things that I feel are less important – tips welcome there too. As such I would love to be involved in any way possible. I will send this as an email too; I did not anticipate it would come out quite this long! Thanks!

  5. Hi John,
    This is a really interesting blog and aligns with a restructuring we are currently going through which moves away from heads of faculty to curriculum leads potentially without linked disciplines. Coming a bit late to the party in terms of the original blog but as a school but I would be interested in being involved in how you develop this project.
    Best wishes

  6. We would be very interested in the project as it is a key area of development in our school.

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