School Leadership shift: subject leaders as Teaching & Learning experts


Here are some job descriptions for secondary, senior leadership, Teaching & Learning roles:

  • To ensure that all students have access to a high quality learning experience.
  • To monitor and evaluate student progress and achievement.
  • To support teachers to improve the consistency and effectiveness of teaching and learning
  • To promote Quality First Teaching so that all students achieve the best possible outcomes
  • To ensure Continuous Professional Development is relevant, high profile and supported by research
  • To ensure high attaining students are sufficiently challenged and inspired
  • To ensure students with SEND receive high quality first teaching in the classroom
  • To ensure disadvantaged students and those needing catch up are motivated and make good progress
  • To ensure all students develop skills for independent study and life – long learning
  • To promote effective liaison with other professionals across the MAT and outside the school to ensure best practice

Whilst I’m sure most people think these are important parts of an effective school, in this blog I am proposing that the responsibility for actioning these should mostly come down to teachers & subject leaders. In fact, it’s nonsense to think that they aren’t their responsibility but these senior leadership T&L descriptors seem to take an overall responsibility for something that involves many different subjects & potentially different approaches.

Most secondary schools will have an AHT or DHT in charge of teaching & learning. This role usually involves whole school approaches to assessment, CPD, teaching etc. There are several issues with this approach.

Current model issues

One of the big issues with the current model is that one person is leading T&L across multiple subjects but will probably only really know and understand the workings of their own subject or faculty area. Some of us will have experienced senior leaders from one discipline trying to enforce whole school T&L policies to all subjects because it works in their subject when they don’t work across subjects. For example, Maths senior leaders deciding that books should be marked once a week, basing it on their 5 classes and not an RE teacher’s 21 classes.

The T&L lead may supposed to be the ‘expert’ on everything T&L when in fact there may be other people in the school that know more than them on specific aspects of T&L. This hierarchical approach means that the school may not benefit from the expertise of all teachers. Whilst I can hear people saying ‘but I don’t do this’ I know there are are senior leaders that are firmly stuck in the hierarchical approach where their voice is more important and /or authoritative, even if they’re less experienced or knowledgable than others.

Things like observations and book scrutinies are problematical with a top-down approach of SLT members that may not be trained in a particular discipline, using whole school criteria making judgments on teachers. Whilst many schools have ditched these practices it’s the top down approach and out of specialism issue that added to their ineffectiveness.

In all of this, subject leaders’ roles are often limited to curriculum design, assessment (centrally aligned to whole school), exam administration, general administration & general management of the team as determined by whole school policies . Limited because they don’t necessarily make many subject levels decisions. The use of their subject expertise may be limited by whole school policies and processes.

I know some people will read this and say ‘we don’t do it like this’ but there are schools and leaders that do. It’s a model that doesn’t seem to appreciate that subject leaders should be the experts and in this be able to make subject level decisions that are appropriate. Also saying that you believe that your subject leaders are experts is not the same as actually treating them this way.

A ‘new’ subject level model – The ‘expert’ subject leader

This model focuses more on how a subject works and what good teaching & learning means for a specific subject. It is a distributed leadership model where subject leads have the power to make decisions independently of others. Subject level leadership means that pedagogy, assessment , CPD etc is relevant and appropriate for a subject discipline. Teaching and learning could be research informed but also subject discipline informed. The subject leader would be the ‘expert’ leading the team.

Whole school development plans would change for those that use a top down approach to a subject level approach. The whole school development plan would be constructed from the subject priorities rather than vice versa. Subject level development plans wouldn’t be written addressing whole school priorities but subject level priorities. They would be regularly reviewed and changed where needed depending on subject needs. (As an aside, my current Twitter poll is showing that 25% of respondents do not know what their school development plan says. What can this tell us?)

Instead of generic targets such as ‘increased progress for pupil premium students’ on the whole school plan, it would name which subjects this was a focus for and specifically which strategies each subject was going to trial for the year. If pupil premium students are achieving as their non-PP peers then a subject area doesn’t need to be spending time on this.

This model would also see a shift in how subject meetings are run. It may also impact frequency. Sessions might be wholly subject specific CPD or development of assessments. The important part is that they would be lead collaboratively by the subject leader because that is what the subject needs not what a whole school plan says.

A subject leader would have a CPD budget of money and time. It would be up to them to decide how it was best used. Subject leads would be told what time they have annually including INSET days and they and their team would be responsible for planning this. Probably a term at a time to be flexible in upcoming needs. Gone are the days of every teacher sitting in one room for a day learning about X or Y. There may well be people that already know about X and dare I say more than the person leading the session! They don’t need to be there. CPD should be personalised, subject context specific and sustained to make it effective.

In this model, subject leaders & their teams would be strongly encouraged to work with their external subject communities in developing T&L. Whether it be via their subject association, local networks, online networks or social media. Importantly this would be seen as part of their allocated time not a bolt on if you have time or are more motivated to do so.

Subject specific CPD would be a large part of what subject leads do. It doesn’t always need to be lead by them but coordinated by them. They know the subject knowledge strengths and gaps of themselves and their team. They would know if external support is needed.

If a school wanted to use afore mentioned accountability measures then these would be at subject level. The subject team would decide what would be useful for observations to focus on or what book scrutinies would look at. They would closely link with the subject level priorities and would use subject level paper work if necessary.

Centralised systems & associated paperwork wouldn’t be imposed on subjects. Frameworks might be suggested and particular research suggested as a foundation but it would always make sense for a subject’s needs not someone trying to get everyone to do the same. These might include:

  • Marking and/or feedback – frequency, type
  • Monitoring systems – How? What? Why?
  • Assessment – how? When? What?

Time and money?

Isn’t this just giving subject leaders more to do with insufficient time and the same money? If you take the current model in many schools where subject leaders do not have these responsibilities then clearly having one or two extra non-contact periods a week won’t work. This model would need a whole new perspective on timetabling. You couldn’t use the current timetable and squeeze the new responsibilities into it. You would also need to think carefully if there are things that currently subject leaders do that they would no longer need to do. This model would involve a rethink of school structures.

The role of the senior leader and Teaching & Learning

Won’t this all be chaotic? Every subject doing their own thing?

The senior leader job as per the job descriptions would need to change. Centrally made decisions would be shifted to subject level decisions. So what could happen to the senior leadership role? The role may totally be dissolved. Or it might be remodelled to support the new structure.

However this wouldn’t be just a shift in semantics of the role description. It is a big shift in decision making and accountability. The subject leader makes the decisions with their team and the senior leader works with them to help them happen. The expertise lies at subject level with the senior leader being a facilitator and supporter.

This new role could be a line manager to all subject leaders so they have an overview of everything that is happening. The person would have to develop a good understanding of how subjects work epistemologically, pedagogically etc. They would work closely with the subject leaders to understand what they are doing and why. This role would skilfully be able to support subject leads in identifying what may/may not be needed for subject development; a conversation not a diktat.

The senior leader role would particularly support new subject leaders in their role, mentoring them through the first year or beyond. They would also support those subject leaders that may find some parts of the role challenging. They would need to be flexible.

This model doesn’t fully negate the need for some whole school direction and specific CPD e.g. safeguarding, but non-statutory training would need to be carefully thought through if all colleagues/subjects really need it.

As this person would have a whole school overview they would be able to identify where subjects might work together on something. For example, if History and English were looking at metacognition they may join their subject session to share research, reading and strategies. This would be mutual development time.

The biggest challenge for this person would be consistency. But it’s a shift of consistency from making everyone do the same, to consistency of high quality subject leadership. It requires someone that is flexible and knowledgable. They would be highly sensitive to the balance between support and instruction. I would argue it might be a more challenging job than that described above.

This model isn’t without its own issues. However I think that the distributed leadership model means that school development works at a subject, micro level which has more chance of being owned by teachers and therefore potentially have more impact than a macro, top-down system.

I know there are some schools that already follow this proposed model but I think they’re a small minority. It would be interesting to hear from you on what the advantages and disadvantages of this model are.

NB I’ve not had time to add references to support these ideas but may come back to add them

Using booklets in teaching: Research, pedagogy & practice


Following a few discussions on using booklets on Twitter recently, I thought I would pull together some resources on it. I suspect there is little research on the use of these types of booklets in school teaching as yet so the resources are mainly blogs on how people are using them.

It’s important to recognise that the content and design of booklets vary; some are guided notes and others more a ‘text book’ approach. Also, and possibly the most interesting is how these are being used pedagogically. I suspect that there is a wide variety of approaches and hopefully the blogs included give an insight into how they are being used in the classroom.

Please let me know of any blogs and/or research to add.

Pedagogy & Practice

Ruth Walker – Booklets:10 principles of production

Ruth Walker 

Ben Newmark

Adam Robbins This has a great set of  possible objections and responses to using booklets

Jo Facer– English

Adam Boxer– Science

Dan Rodriguez-Clark Maths

Mrs Educate – RE

Dawn Cox – RE – Guided notes

#CogSciSci – Science –

Greg Thornton – History -Twitter thread

Booklets – a labour of love

Yousuf Hamid 8 lessons from using booklets

Kat Howard – Beyond the aesthetic II : the practical implementation of workbook design, delivery, discourse

David Preece – Baby steps with booklets

Daniel Braith – A note about notes

Alistair Hamill – Why I love using booklets in my lessons 

Karen Steele Why I love booklets in RE 

Some possible linked research

The research for scaffolding notes for students is interesting. It’s overall positive for learning. The benefits of guided notes include increased accuracy, frequency of notes and improvement in tests. Research also suggests that students prefer using guided notes. Another interesting finding is that guided notes can benefit students with SEN (Lazarus 1993).

Konrad et al (2009) say ” Results indicated that guided notes are an effective and socially valid method for increasing note-taking accuracy and improving academic performance, particularly for school-age students” .

This Cult of Pedagogy podcast and blog has a great summary of the research on note taking.

Research summaries for using booklets (not necessarily in school education)
Yaghobian M, Yaghobi T, Salmeh F, Golmohammadi F, Safari H, Savasari R, et al . Comparing the Effect of Teaching Using Educational Booklets and Lecture along with Educational Booklets on Nurses’ Knowledge about Professional Laws and Regulations. Iranian Journal of Medical Education. 2010; 9 (4) :372-380

This study looked at nurses and learning their professional laws and regulations.  There were 3 groups. Group 1 had the booklet and lecture, Group 2 only the booklet and Group 3 was the control group. After pre-test and post-test the 1st group’s mean score increased most.

Agustiawan, A., Sofian, S. and Husin, S., IMPROVING STUDENTS’VOCABULARY BY USING BOOKLETS. Jurnal Pendidikan dan Pembelajaran7(7).

This action research, small scale study looked at using booklets for students learning English vocabulary. The researchers conclude that using the booklets increased their vocabulary, it was ‘easier’ than before and students were  ‘enthusiastic’.

+ the usual research on retrieval etc!

Curricular Enquiry Questions in RE – Blog 1


I have spent a long time reading and watching history teachers discuss the use of enquiry questions (EQs) and have considered how they might support forming a curriculum in RE.

As I’ve been discussing and thinking about how these might work in RE I think it is best to divide my thoughts into more than one blog. This blog will look at what I mean by curricular enquiry questions drawing on mostly historical examples & sources.

Throughout, I have questions which I don’t have answers to. I’ve written them in italics. If you do have any answers, please let me know!

What is an enquiry question?

Firstly it is really important to differentiate curricular enquiry questions with pedagogical enquiry. Christine Counsell explained this to me:


The latter, pedagogical enquiry is often known as ‘Discovery learning’ or using an ‘enquiry cycle’ where students are tasked to follow a set process for investigating a topic. My understanding is that this pedagogy primarily focuses on the skills that students are developing during the enquiry process with the substantive knowledge being part of the the output. The questions that are used in an enquiry cycle can be generated by students. This pedagogical model has been presented in some RE agreed syllabuses as the way that RE could or should (?) be taught. This blog isn’t about pedagogical enquiry learning but the research from Kirschner et al (2006) outlines some of the issues associated with this type of pedagogy.

To be clear, this isn’t a false dichotomy of ‘curricular enquiry questions’ vs ‘enquiry learning’.  They are different things that both use substantive knowledge and skills.

However, are the questions used in pedagogical enquiry useful for curricular enquiry?

What are curricular enquiry questions (EQs?)

So, to be clear, in this blog I’m talking about curricular EQs. What exactly are these? Here are definitions from the History community:

According to Michael Riley (2000) they:

• capture the interest and imagination of your pupils?

• place an aspect of historical thinking, concept or process at the forefront of the pupils’ minds?

• result in a tangible, lively, substantial, enjoyable ‘outcome activity’ (i.e. at the end of the lesson sequence) through which pupils can genuinely answer the enquiry question?

Practically they are:

  • the foundation for a short sequence of lessons (perhaps 3-6?)
  • Covering a central (historical) idea
  • Academically rigorous
  • Rely on substantive (& in History disciplinary knowledge) knowledge to answer coherently whilst developing skills ( the ‘opposite’ to enquiry learning’?)
  • Are always curated by the expert (the teacher)
  • Sometimes address a ‘topic’ within a single question, sometimes as a pair or even trio of questions – if one question doesn’t cover a whole ‘topic’ then a second may be needed
  • Since Riley, many have argued they should reflect the types of questions historians are asking

What makes EQs academically rigorous in RE?

What might RE use as it’s disciplinary knowledge at school level?

What questions are Theologians, Philosophers etc asking about religion that might be useful for EQs in RE?

The Historical Association gives a clear definition of how EQs work here (my emphasis):

The enquiry question in history teaching is therefore a planning device for teachers, enabling them to structure coherent sequences of lessons, building knowledge systematically within well-organised frameworks. It thus helps pupils to see the links between one lesson and the next, and through sustained attention to a single question, ‘to make connections, draw contrasts, analyse trends’ as the National Curriculum requires. Pupils’ ability to answer the enquiry question at the end of the sequence – most often by means of a written narrative or analytic essay – also serves as a fundamental means of assessing both their historical knowledge and their ability to produce an analysis in response to a type of historical question before moving on to the next lesson sequence.

The first point of this is an interesting one. Not only can EQs support a short-term series of lessons but can be used as part of curriculum planning. The Historical Association suggest that EQs can support curriculum coherence, so rather than a curriculum being a series of disconnected EQs, each EQ should be informed by the prior EQ and influence the subsequent one. Logically if one requires certain substantive knowledge to understand and answer it that won’t be covered in the EQ lesson sequence, then the EQ that deals with that substantive knowledge needs to precede it.

Can we use the concept of historical EQs and transfer how they are used in RE?

How might we organise the role of enquiry questions in RE?

Hugh Richards in this brilliant document organises the role that historical enquiry questions can play in several ways which could help inform how enquiry questions could be used in RE:

Hugh’s role of EQ in history

Possible role of EQ in RE ?

RE example EQ?

By historical period By religion? (or worldview if you want to use that term) Will Islam soon be the biggest religion in the word?
By first order concepts The core concepts in RE ‘belief, ‘commitment’, ‘diversity’ ‘morality’ etc How might belief in God impact the day-to-day life of a Jew?
By second order concepts We don’t have these in RE. Could these come from the disciplines? EQs in the main disciplines of RE; Theology, Philosophy & Social Sciences (see The Norfolk agreed syllabus for clear examples of this) What can be considered as the strongest arguments against life after death?
To cover a theme in breadth Known as Thematical teaching in RE, cross-religion themes e.g. Prayer in Islam, Christianity & Hinduism Is prayer the same in Islam, Christianity & Hinduism?
To delve into a narrower topic in depth by concept within a religion e.g. Sewa in Sikhism Do you have to perform Sewa to be a Sikh?
To unlock a rich and meaningful sense of period to unlock a rich and meaningful sense of….belief? practices? Religion? Why is Christianity declining in the UK?
Using scholarship to bring students in the work of Historians Bringing in the work of Theologians, Philosophers etc How far does Aquinas help Christians understand the origins of the universe?
Explore local history To explore local religious demographics Why is there a purpose built Gurdwara in Ipswich?

Are these correct equivalents? Do the equivalents work in RE? Are there more/different roles of EQs in RE?

Are my RE examples ‘good’ EQs? (I’m a novice at writing them and it’s difficult!)

Would providing an answer/response to these questions after a short (3-6 lesson) sequence of lessons be a useful way to assess students understanding in RE?

What is the disciplinary knowledge from the disciplines at school level RE?

What’s the difference between an interesting question and an enquiry question? What makes a ‘good’ RE enquiry question?

This is what I’ve been trying to work out. The problem is that when I see one, I think I know it would be a good EQ but writing them is really tough. In my head it requires a large amount of substantive knowledge, given by the teacher and will allow students to select which they feel is most useful in answering the EQ.  It leads to an overall judgement that the student has to conclude based on the evidence studied rather than just a presentation of knowledge. It requires analysis and synthesis skills to present a good argument that answers the question. It gives the students so much substantive knowledge that they don’t just write ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to EQs that might seem like closed questions. And the question is so interesting that they are motivated not to just write ‘no’ or ‘yes’.

Riley (2000) references an activity designed by Christine Counsell called ‘The Dodgy questions Game’.  ‘Dodgy’ questions in history could be those that are historically invalid, encourage ‘morally superficial or anachronistic judgements’, are not academically rigorous or have sloppy wording. They may focus too much on trying to capture students’ interest (by being controversial?) rather than focusing on what we want students to learn from answering it.

What might the ‘dodgy question game’ look like in RE?

Which of these would meet the enquiry question criteria? Which are ‘dodgy in RE?’ What might be the issue with these?

  1. Why is Jesus important?
  2. Why is Jesus important to Christians?
  3. How has belief in Jesus affected life in the UK today?
  4. How do we know about the life of Jesus?
  5. Did Jesus exist?
  6. Who was Jesus?
  7. Why should we listen to what Jesus said?

One criticism of some historical questions is that they elicit morally superficial answers, but in RE could these be used as part of moral arguments? 

Are ‘dodgy’ RE questions different from ‘dodgy’ historical questions? If so, Why?

Is there a place in RE for controversial EQs?

Finally, I asked RE colleagues their views on what make good EQs in RE and had some really interesting responses:

Nicki McGee responded “I like a question that challenges the students to do more than just agree or disagree because they can probably do that ( albeit badly) without our input. It gives some students an excuse for a lazy answer…..rather than “ is there life after death?” I would ask “ does believing in an afterlife improve the current life?”

Another RE colleague Sarah Stewart said “I particularly like quite loaded questions – ones with a deliberate bias that ignite discussion. For example, “Should Christians be greener than everyone else”?”

Joanne Burt added “I don’t think there necessarily is a difference but an enquiry question is always capable of being opened up for deep exploration – in fact it always leads to this.”

And from adviser Pat Hannam  “In both cases (RE and History ) it needs to have something that engages us and makes is want to go ou a journey with the enquiry…. and lead to making discernment in some way … at the end”

Hopefully that’s provided a foundation for further thinking. In my next blog/s I will look at suggestions of EQs in RE, what might be the specific challenges of using them in RE, what they look like within curriculum planning and what might be the overarching big questions for RE.

Thanks to everyone that has contributed to the discussion and to my thinking on this so far.  Especially @hughrichards who has been incredibly generous with his time and advice and to @Buisst_Teaching for checking this blog draft through. I hope I’ve not misrepresented views.

Please let me know your views on here or on Twitter @missdcox


Links & Reading (pay wall)

Paul A. Kirschner , John Sweller & Richard E. Clark (2006) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery,
Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching, Educational Psychologist, 41:2, 75-86,

Click to access into_the_history_garden.pdf


Click to access into_the_history_garden.pdf



Click to access nnn-2.pdf



Losing some of the best – retiring teachers as a wasted resource


There’s been a bit about this in the news recently, however I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Nicky Morgan has muted people coming back into teaching once retired.The typical Twitter response I’ve seen is ‘Don’t be ridiculous. When I retire I don’t want anything to do with teaching’. However, having sat through a leaving ‘do’ at the end of the academic year a couple of weeks ago I think we’re missing something.

There are some really excellent, experienced, inspiring teachers leaving teaching. The day they leave all their knowledge, years of classroom experience goes; an overnight resource loss. Some of them however are not of the opinion above. They don’t really WANT to stop teaching. They love the kids. They love their subject. They love their job. They are years of ‘research’ without any written papers. I know for some people that’s hard to believe but they will really miss school. These are the people we need in education. 

So why are they going? Even in an amazing school like mine it’s not just about being in the classroom with the kids. Teaching is so much more. It’s tiring. It’s draining. And for some, learning more new systems, pedagogies, administrative tasks is just too much. 

So what can we do? We need to think how we can use this huge wealth of experience and knowledge to out students’ advantage. A teacher who the kids love, remember for ever, inspires and has helped students achieve excellent results should not just be left to walk out of the door.

Let’s start thinking of practical, manageable and effective ways of utilising these invaluable resources. These amazing teachers who have inspired for years should be able to continue to inspire without continuing to be full time teachers.

Any ideas?