I have been thinking for some time about how senior leaders support our subject leaders in curriculum development. For instance, I line manage Modern Foreign Languages at Huntington School and we have a Subject Leader, Cherry Bailey, with a pretty sparkling degree from Cambridge in German and Russian. I, on the other hand, have a CSE grade 1 in German, awarded over 40 years ago. I know that ‘Ich fahre mit dem Zug nach Brighton’ means ‘I travel on the train to Brighton’, but that’s the limit of my linguistic talents. When it comes to helping Cherry develop the MFL curriculum I am as helpful as a proverbial chocolate tea pot.
I have really enjoyed watching German being taught and I love learning the language now when I sit in a Year 9 class and it all comes back to me. But I cannot really support Cherry in how to design the curriculum at Key Stage 3. I do not know the questions to ask about how language acquisition is built up over the three years of Key Stage 3 so that students arrive at the end of Year 9 both intellectually enriched by learning another language and GCSE-ready. Whilst I cannot support Cherry in developing the MFL curriculum, I also cannot challenge her. I genuinely do not know whether the way the French, German and Spanish curriculum is constructed in Years 7-9 at Huntington is the most effective way to enable students to learn a language. That is, I think, a problem.
So I have been working hard with a couple of colleagues at Huntington about how we have those conversations which support our subject leaders in improving the quality of their curriculum, even if, as senior leaders, are not subject experts. We have come to the conclusion that it is a two-way process. We think there is a responsibility upon subject leaders to support senior leaders understand their subjects, and the senior leaders have a responsibility to do their own learning about the subjects they line manage.
Consequently, Mary Myatt and I are talking to secondary subject leaders and curriculum designers at primary, and asking them about the fundamentals of their subjects. We want to find out how they plan the curriculum to optimise students’ learning, and what they would like their line managers to know and understand about the elements of the curriculum which they line manage. We also want to know what questions subject leaders would like to be asked about the curriculum by their line managers.
Informed debate is the fuel of curriculum development. The trouble is, the vast majority of senior school leaders are not informed enough about individual school subjects to have developmental curriculum conversations with subject leaders. That is why I am delighted to be working with Mary on this project. It feels like important work. If we can have constructive conversations with the engine room of the school – our middle leader curriculum designers – then we have a chance of developing for our students an intellectually challenging and inclusive curriculum.
The project has two strands: the interviews which will appear on Mary’s Myatt & Co. video channel and a forthcoming book. In the latter we will summarise the subject-specific essence of the conversations and illustrate them with detailed examples from each subject/key stage. We will include a list of questions for line managers to ask subject leaders to help curriculum development. Oh, and there will be a short reading list for line managers so that they can educate themselves about the curriculum areas for which they are ultimately responsible.
The book will be entitled: The Subject Leaders’ Curriculum Handbook to support SLT Line Managers (A book that is exactly what it says it is on the cover).
If you are interested in this project, then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can explore any potential involvement.