the Dragonfly journal

Subject Leaders – Under the Microscope

By Alan Jervis

    Sir Michael Wiltshaw, her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said ‘If England is to compete with the very best, then strong leadership is absolutely critical’. This is equally true for Head teachers as it is for subject leaders.

What sort of questions are inspectors likely to ask?

The inspectorate says that there are no set questions for subject leaders or any other member of staff because each school is different. The questions depend on the circumstances of the school and the focus of the inspection.

Evaluations of inspection reports reveal that some questions prove to be very popular. I was asked ‘How well do the pupils achieve in science? How do you know?’ So I talked about prior knowledge, student expectations and actual progress, targets and levels of improvements. The follow up question was ‘What assessment methods are used and how accurate are they?’ I explained the distinction between the quick end-of-lesson techniques to gauge the success of the students against learning outcomes and the more probing, individualistic assessments that give a clear indication of the student’s progress.

Leadership Conference

‘What steps are you taking to address pupil underachievement?’ can be an expected question when you are under the inspector’s microscope. You may explain your departmental coaching policy and the school’s mentoring system. Your answer could include the use of focused interventions and departmental links with parents.

The strategic subject leader will also want to explain how he/she matches resources to departmental priorities, their programme of departmental CPD on targeted areas for improvement and how departmental plans link into the school development plan priorities.

Some inspectors will want to increase the magnification of the microscope. The Hertfordshire Grid for learning (thegrid.org.uk) has a list of such probing questions

How would you describe the stage of development of your department?
How does your department contribute to the achievement of the whole school aims?
What is your role in mentoring and evaluation?
What makes an outstanding subject leader?

School inspection reports frequently identify these features for an outstanding subject leader

Clear communication and ambitious vision
Accurate evaluation of subject strengths and areas of weakness
Modelling best practise and challenging colleagues to explore and innovate
High quality monitoring, self evaluation and action planning to improve the quality of learning.

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