Subject Leaders: Where Do I Start in Getting to Know My Subject?

So, you’ve become a subject leader. Congratulations!

Well, now what happens!?

The first step to take is to get to know the subject you’re leading from a whole-school perspective, rather than through the lens of just your own classroom teaching. In this blog, we walk you through how to do that.

One quick top tip before you start though - you'll be looking through lots of document and chatting to staff and pupils. We'd recommend getting a nice notebook or saving a document on your computer to make notes that you can refer back to later. Better yet, if you're looking for support for the whole process, our Initial Information Exploration Subject Monitoring Pack contains all the templates you need to carry out the process.

Get to know your subject and the National Curriculum requirements

You might feel comfortable with the National Curriculum in the year group you teach, but what does the subject look like in other year groups? The first step is getting to know the National Curriculum.


Familiarise yourself with the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum outlines the expectations for your subject across different phases or year groups, providing valuable insights into what should be happening within the school. Crucially, at the start of each subject there is a “Purpose of study” and “Aims” section, as well as the subject content which determines what we teach. Reading the whole curriculum section, including the rationale behind why your subject is taught is equally important.

Begin by revisiting the introductory sections related to your subject in the National Curriculum, which will clarify the purpose and importance of your subject within the educational framework. This is particularly crucial as you step into the role of subject lead.


Understand your school's curriculum

In addition to the National Curriculum, your school may have its own unique curriculum structure which could include other subject areas or topics. Take the time to explore your subject’s curriculum documents thoroughly, including any subject-specific curriculum policies and curriculum statements, so you understand what teaching and learning in your subject area should look like.


Begin to identify strengths and areas for improvement within the programme of study.

As you look at your school’s curriculum alongside the national curriculum, you may start to notice inconsistencies or gaps. Make note of these for now then begin to gather feedback from teachers regarding the success of various units of work as well as seeking their insights into areas that may require further development.

Additionally, you can engage with pupils and encourage them to share their experiences and perspectives on different aspects of the subject, such as what they enjoyed learning and what they can remember. This process can often be very informative, especially if you ask them to bring any exercise books or work with them. This collaborative approach with staff and pupils can provide valuable insights for enhancing the curriculum.

Learn how teachers deliver the subject across the school

So you now understand what the curriculum looks like on paper, but how do teachers take the subject content and your school’s curriculum plans and deliver it to pupils? (Understanding how effectively they do this is a key part of subject leadership but for now, focus on what staff do.) When exploring this, here are some questions you could begin to ask about how your new subject is taught:

  • Is the subject matter effectively communicated to the pupils?
  • Are there clear connections between ideas and content?
  • How is work recorded in the subject?
  • How and when is previous learning revisited?
  • How is subject-specific vocabulary incorporated and taught?
  • Is the subject being taught according to the curriculum plan?
  • What assessment measures are in place?

To uncover answers to these questions, consider the following strategies:


Understand your school and/or Trust’s vision

Ensure that you comprehend your school or trust's vision for the curriculum and where your subject fits into that vision. This understanding enables you to align your support with the overall aims and objectives of your school or trust.


Ensure that what is outlined in the programme of study is being implemented in classrooms.

This can be achieved by comparing samples of work from various classes to assess if the planned curriculum is being executed as intended. If some areas have been overlooked, it's helpful to note what these are so plans can be made to fill any gaps in pupil knowledge. Understanding the reasons behind missed units of work is also useful as further support can be provided to colleagues to ensure comprehensive coverage.

If at this point, you're thinking this is a lot to get to grips with and you want more guidance, why not take a look at our Monitoring Start Point: Initial Information Exploration Pack? It contains all the processes outlined in this blog (and more) with useful templates to record your findings.

Discuss the curriculum for pupils with SEND.

Speak with both pupils and staff to understand how teachers are facilitating access to the programme of study for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Evaluate if the existing SEND provision is suitable or if additional support and training would be beneficial. Collaborating with your SENDCo can aid in reflecting on this aspect and ensuring consistency in SEND practices across your area of responsibility.


Investigate previous staff training.

Find out what CPD staff have received in the subject thus far. Conversations with colleagues can help identify any future training and development needs.


Explore how your subject progresses

For a newly appointed subject leader or someone with experience limited to a specific age group, grasping the concept of progression throughout the entire school can be a challenge. Begin by acquainting yourself with the current programme of study and see if there’s the option to work with a colleague who’s experienced in the age groups/phases where you have less experience. Then, look at the following criteria:

  • How does each year of your pupils’ education build upon prior knowledge and skills?
  • Do the school use a pre-made scheme of work or one developed in-house?

    • If it's pre-made, how has it been tailored to suit your school's context?
    • If it's in-house, what factors influenced the selection and sequencing of its components?
  • Does the level of challenge and aspiration reflected in the content seem appropriate at each stage?
  • How is the progression of vocabulary and subject-specific terminology planned?

 To explore this further, try the following:


Understand what teaching looks like across all age stages.

Get insight into how teachers across various key stages, including EYFS for primary subject leads, deliver the subject. Engage in discussions with your colleagues to understand if the subject curriculum effectively builds upon prior stages with sufficient depth and challenge. Visit lessons as part of a fact-finding mission to see what teaching and learning looks and feels like in different year groups.


Explore curriculum sequencing.

Clarify the rationale behind the current organisation of your subject across the school. Determine if each unit in the sequence logically progresses from the previous one. Explore whether these units are revisited annually to aid in memorisation or if they are strategically timed to align with other areas of study for enhanced comprehension.

Understand assessment in your subject

So you know what the National Curriculum states and have built an understanding of what teachers do to deliver it, including how pupils’ skills and knowledge builds. But how can you ensure that any learning gaps are identified and addressed within your area of responsibility?

While your school might already have an established assessment system for your area, other subjects may lack one or require further development. A practical approach to establishing this is to evaluate the current classroom practices in the following areas:

  • What types of assessments do teachers conduct during a unit of work, and how do they utilise them? Is there consistency in approach among teachers?
  • Does your trust or local authority provide guidelines for formal assessment in your subject, and are these fully implemented?
  • How do teachers provide opportunities for pupils to recall prior knowledge, e.g. quizzing or spaced practice?
  • How do teachers employ assessment to gauge children's learning within your area of responsibility? How do they determine the effectiveness of their teaching methods?

By addressing these questions, you'll gain a better understanding of how progression is structured within your subject across different age groups, facilitating effective leadership and curriculum development.


Begin to take action

As you work through the suggestions for learning about how your subject’s curriculum is structured and what teaching and learning looks like across the school, you may have noticed that there are areas which could benefit from improvement.

However, making changes in subject leadership isn’t as straightforward as it is when you notice an area to improve in your pupils’ learning or in your own classroom teaching. School-wide changes need careful consideration and planning which you’ll conduct over time.

But not to worry, we’ve got a blog and helpful resources that outline exactly what you need to know in your next steps as a new subject leader. Use them to support your development so you can shape the future success of your subject and the pupils you serve.



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