Who would be a leader of a core subject – English, maths or science - right now? There is the prospect of English and maths being double weighted in Progress 8, so more accountability for a start. As for curriculum changes, maths has a third more content than the previous GCSE and the discontinuation of combined English means that all pupils will study English language and English literature. Not to mention managing the introduction of combined science for all with more demanding content and a greater mathematical understanding required.
Never have there been more demands placed on leaders of these core curriculum areas, putting you firmly in the engine room of the school and steering your ship in untried and untested waters.
So what are the key areas in which you need to prioritise to enable you to lead and manage your team, and importantly, secure good outcomes for all your pupils?
Perhaps one of the biggest areas to consider is the continuity of learning through all key stages and I would emphasise constantly re-evaluating your KS3 curriculum to ensure there is strong academic transition from KS2 and that you are continually developing the skills required for KS4 and beyond. For example, next year’s Year 7s will have studied the new primary curriculum – are you ensuring your curriculum content and delivery will enable pupils to capitalise on gains made in primary?
We know from Sir Michael Wilshaw’s recent report, Key stage 3: The Wasted Years, that he was critical about the rate of progress, interventions, impact of homework, support for more able and disadvantaged pupils, transition work around content progression in those valuable years and urged schools to focus on all aspects of KS3.
Are you reflecting on feedback from your team about the delivery of new specifications at KS4 in English and maths, and adapting KS3 in light of this? For example, how much extended writing practice, targeted reading and development of stamina, resilience and confidence is formally built in to support English at KS4? What adjustments will you need to make in science to ensure your pupils gain an understanding of the knowledge and skills that make up this subject’s key ideas across the phases?
From this September, all Year 7s will join you with a scaled score instead of a level and departments will really need to know what progression looks like in their subject, taking five years as a long continuum. Your curriculum should drive your assessment strategy, so have you agreed within your departments what your ‘key progress indicators’ are, and mapped these alongside core skills for key elements of your curriculum? Are you confident these key performance indicators reflect the important knowledge, skills and understanding you want your pupils to have?
The other obvious consideration is how are you planning to ensure the consistency and accuracy of assessments across your departments (as far as you possibly can, given the brave new world we are in)? Have you robust moderation and standardisation in place? Have you got a good balance between rich, formative assessment and summative assessment?
Leading your department through curriculum change will be challenging and you will need to keep the focus on pupil impact throughout. Your team will need to be flexible and adaptable and be willing to evaluate the success of what you are doing, so that you are constantly asking yourselves whether your pupils are learning, enjoying and making progress. Creating the capacity to concentrate on curriculum change and development is a challenging aspect of leadership and, with time being a teacher’s most precious commodity, it is worth reflecting on some of your departmental practices:
Will this improve the quality of teaching?
What impact will it have on pupils?
Can we do this in a more efficient or more effective way?
Having said all of this, steering your team members through the current chaos and pace of change can be rewarding, but it is not simple; the opportunity to collaborate and work with other middle leaders in similar positions should be an opportunity to seize if you get the chance.