Leading learning for impact and on-going improvement is a challenging occupation. In this article we explore four simple principles to help you find your way as an English subject leader. These principles were introduced to us earlier this year as DODD and here we introduce each of them to help you with your English subject leadership.
Discussion is an important tool for Ofsted inspectors. During an inspection they will talk to senior leaders, governors, and pupils. As a subject leader you should therefore hold discussions with all of these groups as part of your strategic leadership role. Discussion will enable you to discover what’s happening in teaching and learning in your subject. Significantly, it will also inform you about what’s not happening; which is where pupil interviews spring to mind. If there’s one thing that can be guaranteed when talking to pupils – it’s that they’ll tell it as it is!
Discussion is an important leadership tool but remember: leadership activities like discussion are never an end point. You may find out what’s happening but a good discussion should also leave you with new questions to explore and new problems to solve.
When an inspector calls most teachers think of lesson observations as the main tool used to judge the quality of a school. Certainly lesson observations are important and rightly so: the most significant activity taking place in an institution of learning is teaching and learning. We should expect it to be observed. As a subject leader you should know the quality of teaching in each class across the school and the best way to ascertain this information is by watching teaching and learning taking place. Ofsted inspectors don’t only observe lessons, they also observe children on the playground and as they move around the school. You can do this too. If you’re leading on English what are the children’s learning behaviours like when they’re using the library or choosing a book from the reading scheme? If they demonstrate how to choose a book based on reading the cover, the blurb and trying an except from within the text then you have firm evidence that children have been taught how to choose a book.
Don’t forget that informal observations can also tell you a great deal about practice in your subject. I am by no means advocating you start snooping on your colleagues but when you pop into their classrooms do take in the quality of displays, the accessibility of high frequency words and the availability of dictionaries and thesauruses. These little observations give a really good insight into how English is valued and how your colleagues strive to support the children in their care.
Having your documentation in order is important for a subject leader. Top of the list should be your policy document. A real policy. One that reflects daily practice in your school and not one quickly amended from the internet. Long, medium and short term plans for your subject should also be included in your documentation. Whilst there is no expectation from Ofsted that lesson plans follow a particular structure there is an expectation that lessons are planned. As subject leader you do need to scrutinise lesson plans to evaluate the quality of what is planned for children. By looking at medium and long term plans you gain insight into progression in your subject and can see that there is balance across the aspects of your subject. So, as an English subject leader you should be able to see a balance of fiction, non-fiction and poetry in what is planned. There should be a suitable distribution of lessons dedicated to reading and writing and sufficient focus on the key skills of spelling, handwriting and grammar.
For as long as Ofsted want to scrutinise your school data then you should as well. You need to have a handle on RAISE online and the Ofsted dashboard for your school, as these are what the inspectors will use when they pay you a visit. Leading a subject though is not just about outcomes at the end of Key Stages. You need to use your school data systems so that you can talk about progress year on year and within each year group over the academic year. Data never tells the full picture. What it does is to provide us with questions to investigate. This is what is meant by the phrase ‘being forensic with data’. It’s about interrogating that data, raising questions from it and then exploring those questions to find the answer. This is where you need to combine the other aspects of DODD in order to arrive at an answer (or a new question). As an example, your school data suggests that boys don’t achieve as well as girls in writing at the end of KS2. You may now need to look at the provision for writing in KS2. This could involve scrutinising planning; observing lessons; looking at the writing of boys and girls and talking to pupils about their perceptions of writing. The outcome may well be that the boys are not motivated by the written tasks they are set, it could be that the texts chosen to springboard their writing are not engaging; it could even be that teacher expectation is too low. It may be none of these things but the results of the investigation will set you on a new path to improve writing in KS2 so that boys achieve more highly.
In short the DODD provides us with a set of principles by which we can improve English subject leadership. Since being introduced to the DODD acronym I have been urging English Subject Leaders to organise their subject leadership files and ultimately their leadership activities by these principles. Their simplicity makes them a powerful tool by which to organise your English subject leadership.
This is the second in our series of articles about leading English with an eye on what the inspectors do and say. Like our earlier post Leading English in Primary Schools we are grateful to our colleague Paul Weston for his inspiration in bringing this article to life.
Rachel Clarke – Primary English Consultant