Subject Leaders: How Do I Create a Subject Action Plan and Develop My Subject?

If you’re new to subject leadership or are thinking about how you lead your subject, you’ll likely be aware that you need a subject action plan, or at least that you’ll need to work to develop your subject further even if you don’t create a formal action plan.

However, the temptation with subject action plans can be to put everything you can think of in them. Perhaps this is because subject leaders think it makes it look like they’re ‘doing’ subject leadership really well or maybe it’s because there are so many tasks that we’re used to in school, it just feels natural to fill out a huge action plan.

For the sake of your workload, we'd suggest you don’t do it like that! Not only is the paperwork going to take longer, but come the end of the academic year, you’ll either find yourself stressed from all the extra work you’ve done or you’ll have an action plan with many incomplete items (or both 😬).

Instead, save yourself some time and read this blog where we discuss how to be effective and efficient in creating a subject development plan so you can make meaningful change. As you go through, if you're looking for further guidance and ready-made templates to support you, our Subject Leadership: Evaluating Impact and Planning Ahead Pack has been designed to support this process.

Start with knowing what to prioritise and why 

Part of subject leadership is moving away from having a sole focus on just your classroom and pupils by shifting your view to look at the whole school. When it comes to a subject improvement plan, this also means understanding more than just your subject itself. Knowing what to prioritise and why you’re prioritising is key, so consider the following before starting to formulate your subject improvement and development plan.


Read your setting’s School Improvement Plan (SIP).

Some of the items in your future action plan won’t necessarily be determined by you, but instead will be part of your setting’s School Improvement Plan (SIP). These school-wide priorities, perhaps determined by your most recent Ofsted inspection or by Trust leaders if you’re part of a MAT, are the starting point for determining what changes you might make. For example, if accurate assessment is a school-wide priority for all subjects, this needs to form part of your action plan. Similarly, if your subject (or a particular area of it, such as the teaching of reading) has been identified as needing improvement, this will need to be addressed in your subject development plan.


Investigate existing action plans.

While starting a new subject action plan from scratch may be tempting, consider continuing or adapting existing subject action plans if they're already in place. This becomes even more valid if they were drafted by a previous leader who you know had success in leading the subject. If they still work in your setting, speak to them about why the actions were chosen previously and use that as a starting point.


Add your findings to your action plan.

If you’re new to subject leadership or you’ve been given a new subject to lead but haven’t explored it yet, this is a crucial first step. We’d recommend checking out another blog in this series - Subject Leaders: Where Do I Start in Getting to Know my Subject? – to do some initial information exploration. This can help you to get to know your subject and in doing so, you may find anomalies or inconsistencies, which can then form part of your action plan.

For more support, we have a whole Subject Leader Initial Information Exploration Pack dedicated to this process which has further guidance and templates that can aid you in the process.

Map out the school year.

Identify key events like assessment periods, data submission deadlines, report writing time, subject-specific events, potential educational trips/visits, and significant calendar dates. Recording these events in a practical manner can help you anticipate when your subject responsibilities will peak, and may also help to identify wider opportunities to develop your subject, such as improving pupils’ cultural capital.


Seek advice from other leaders.

Tap into the expertise of your predecessor or colleagues who have experience leading your subject. Discussing your role with them can help identify specific priorities you might overlook otherwise. Additionally, reach out to leaders from other schools or utilise online platforms for broader perspectives.


Conduct further analysis (if necessary) and decide on your desired outcomes

If you know what your school’s priorities are, have spoken to other leaders and you’ve got a strong grasp on what to improve this year, you’re likely ready to write your plan.

But what if you’re faced with multiple competing priorities or if you’re not sure what needs to change yet? 

If you're new to subject leadership, seeking support from a colleague who can serve as your mentor, coach or buddy might be beneficial at this point. Together, you can investigate some ideas for conducting further analysis in order to create an effective subject improvement plan:


Analyse pupil attainment and progress data.

Proficiency in collecting, analysing, and evaluating data allows you to confidently discuss your subject and its performance within your educational setting. An experienced staff member should be able to guide you through the data collection process and how to identify trends and patterns that are relevant to your subject’s development. Don't forget to engage with teachers too; they possess expert knowledge of their own data and can update you on changes in pupil data and areas of concern.


Observe lessons and conduct work scrutinies.

Observing lessons and reviewing pupils' work can provide valuable insights. It allows you to see how key objectives are taught and identify any areas that may require specific attention. Lesson visits and book reviews also form part of the data triangulation process, helping you grasp the broader picture of your subject.


Engage with pupils.

Incorporating pupil feedback into your data collection processes is essential. Their experiences and perspectives on what they're learning, how the subject is taught, and their ability to retain information can provide valuable insights. Regularly conducting pupil interviews enables you to adjust plans, set priorities, and celebrate successes effectively.


Find out what staff think.

As a classroom teacher, it’s likely you know which subjects you feel most supported in and which ones you find more challenging. The same goes for all staff who teach the subject you lead. Consider conducting a short survey on your subject to uncover further information about it. If you’re looking for further support with this process, you might find our Staff Induction Pack helpful too.


Make your subject action plan

If it’s the first time you’ve written a subject action plan, you may want to discuss your intentions with senior leaders (or other relevant leaders). This will not only help to determine if your plan aligns with wider school-wide priorities but also gives you a chance to discuss whether the changes you intend on making are feasible. If you're looking for templates or further guidance, our Subject Leadership: Evaluating Impact and Planning Ahead Pack can also support you.

Once you’ve determined your priorities, write your subject action plan, bearing the following points in mind:


Start with your desired outcomes and work backwards.

Think about what you want teaching and learning in your subject to look like once all the actions in your subject development plan are complete. Then, work backwards to determine the actions you’ll take to get there, including milestones, key stakeholders and budgets.


Keep asking yourself why.

Doing this will help you get to the root of the problem or issue you’re trying to improve. Each time you think about an action you’ll take, mentally track through why you’re doing it. For example, in an Art and Design action plan, you might write that you want to audit resources and create a well-organised and well-stocked Art cupboard – but why? Because staff will be able to access the equipment they need to teach the different skills and topics in Art effectively – but why? Because by doing so, pupils will have a richer experience in Art lessons which will support them to have higher levels of attainment and enhance future life chances. Knowing why and tracing each decision back to your school’s pupils will help you keep your action plan on track.


Understand your rationale.

With asking yourself why in mind, justifying your decisions and actions is crucial, especially if your school is undergoing inspection. Subject deep dives will require you to articulate, explain, and justify any plans for improvement or subject development. While our actions as subject leaders should never be carried out just because of Ofsted, understanding your rationale for change and being able to talk about your subject is certainly helpful when faced with a subject deep dive.

If this is an area of concern for you, why not take a look at our helpful deep dive resources which are available for every National Curriculum subject. They can help to grow your understanding of your subject as well as build confidence around deep dives.


Prioritise wisely.

As discussed above, assessing what needs immediate attention and what can be addressed later is crucial. Identifying "quick wins" that can be swiftly implemented to enhance standards or modify practices with minimal disruption can be one way of doing this but be aware of the need for long-term change too. When prioritising, it can help to ask yourself the following:


  1. Which changes are likely to have the biggest impact overall?
  2. Which changes are quick wins that busy staff can make quickly?


Be realistic.

Delivering change and improvement in every aspect of your subject overnight is unrealistic. Change is a gradual process and acknowledging that success may not be immediate will help you set manageable expectations and make realistic choices. The phrase ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’ also rings true here. If aspects of your subject are working well, there’s no need to change them just for the sake of change.

Undertake your actions

There’s not much point in writing an action plan if it gets filed away somewhere and never touched again. Now you have a solid subject development and improvement plan, it’s time to start making change – but before you do, have a think about the following points:


Engage others.

Gaining the support of your colleagues can make a significant difference in successfully implementing change or altering practices. Share your vision with the wider staff team, be open to questions, and welcome feedback from your colleagues to foster collaboration and cooperation.


Maintain balance.

Remember that being a subject leader doesn't mean neglecting your teaching responsibilities. Balancing your workload is crucial to managing your responsibilities effectively. While it may feel like your list of subject priorities is endless, finding equilibrium ensures you can handle all responsibilities efficiently.


Build your understanding about the skills involved in good leadership.

There’s a lot to unpick with this suggestion, so much so we’ve written a separate blog on it! We recommend taking a look if you’re interested in developing your leadership skills as well as further investigating our Subject Leadership: Evaluating Impact and Planning Ahead pack which will support your thinking as a new subject leader as well as providing time-saving templates to get your subject action plan written. Good luck!


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