Aim: To put subjects at the centre of the learning community and school improvement by placing subject leaders at the heart of school leadership.

Background: There was a need for subject leaders to ‘see the big picture’, to develop a ‘whole school outlook’ and not be restricted by developments just in their subject area. The aim was therefore to create a better balance between ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ leadership. This would also give subject leaders who aspired to senior leadership development opportunities in that area.


Year 1: Following an analysis of their perceptions of their role, subject leaders were given more responsibility, including managing their department’s budget for external courses and presenting on key whole-school issues such as the introduction of Pre-U qualifications. Subject leaders were also seconded to the Senior Leadership Group (SLG), initially on an informal, sporadic basis.

Year 2: Subject leaders took responsibility for the whole-school Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Programme of ten three-hour twilight sessions. Subject leader briefings on Key Stage 3 review, IGCSE, monitoring and reporting led to subject leaders taking lead roles in those areas and formal secondment to the SLG. Formalised and extended subject leader responsibility for monitoring and leading improvements in teaching and learning through lesson observation, learning walks and subject/cohort reviews was formalised and extended. Subject leaders reported directly to the governors’ Curriculum Committee and a bespoke training programme for new leaders to incorporate these changes was introduced.

Year 3: New subject leader job descriptions were written to reflect their growing whole-school influence, and performance management objectives included reference to the changes. CPD was subject-leader led with each department working on action research projects using the PTI template.

Evidence: Staff surveys, lesson observations, learning walks, subject and cohort reviews.

Impact: Subject leaders were surveyed again and 100% felt the objectives of the project had been met, 90% felt the changes were beneficial to all stakeholders and 95% felt their level of job satisfaction had gone up as a result of the changes.

The CPD programme showed the input of subject leaders through the strong focus on teaching and learning across the school, and this was reflected in lesson observations. Several subject leaders took on whole-school roles and sought promotion to senior leadership, and several studied for Master’s degrees. The stronger subject leadership led to a higher level subject-based enrichment programme. IGCSE was introduced, with the first examinations in 2015. The introduction of Pre-U led to outstanding results in History, English and Philosophy/Theology.

Reflections: Be flexible and do not rush things - make sure changes are embedded before moving on. Be creative in making opportunities and trust your colleagues not to waste nor abuse new influence. Challenge your colleagues who want the status quo; change can frighten people, so ‘know your staff’ and encourage/cajole as appropriate. Recommended reading: Mindset; How You Can Fulfil Your Potential by Carol Dweck.

Contact: Mark Housden, Deputy Head,