Are you looking to develop effective subject leadership in your school? Here are six simple steps to help you achieve it, from Jonathan Coy.

1. Create a clear vision

Having a clear vision for subject leadership is fundamental and underpins everything that you need for effective teaching and learning. Subject leaders need to have a clear direction, a consistent approach and realistic expectations. One area of school leadership that is discussed time and time again is how to develop highly motivated subject leaders to enhance a curriculum that will inspire, engage, and motivate children and teachers alike.

Key questions to consider:

  • What do you need to focus on and why?
  • How are you going to achieve this?
  • What will this look like across your school?
  • When does this need to be completed by?

2. Community and collaboration

Starting from what you know about your school and how it fits into the wider community is a powerful way to connect with the community your school serves. Find out what your community tells you about your school and what you can provide for the families in your care. With time and careful consideration, your school will be stronger as a result.

When planning your subject, discuss action points with other staff based on your shared vision. This avoids running the risk of producing documents independently of other staff, which lack a sense of purpose and meaning to your school. This will also enhance your curriculum leadership and ensure that you have a rich learning environment and a consistent learning approach for your pupils.

3. Plan your actions

Keep things simple. The simpler the action plan, the more effective and purposeful it becomes. Once you have decided on your initial plan, it is important to continually communicate this with everyone, including parents, as often as you can. Be consistent in your approach, so that everyone understands what is expected and how to implement your shared vision.

Key messages:

  • What are the key messages you need to get across?
  • How are the subject leaders going to support those key messages?
  • What information will you need?
  • What are the timeframes you are expecting?

4. Provide Continued Professional Development (CPD)

With many years of experience, it has become apparent that the strongest and most effective leaders allow their teams the freedom to learn, to explore their subjects and to develop their wider knowledge. Create an ethos of trust, where leaders can experiment and explore. Celebrate all successes and share good practice as a team, and this, in turn, will lead to highly motivated and empowered colleagues.


It’s not just about the nuts and bolts of the curriculum. Often, when we think about developing subject leader roles, the focus is heavily directed towards developing knowledge and skills.

However, a common mistake for school leadership teams is to spend little or no time on teaching people how to be a leader.

For newly appointed subject leaders, this is a very daunting experience and they will need the skills to manage the expectations of your staff. This is where high quality professional development, with a focus on leadership skills, will empower staff members to lead their subject areas effectively and with confidence.

Trust and time

Trust is so often overlooked by some leaders, who feel like they have lost control if they allow subject leaders to have the freedom and autonomy to explore and create a curriculum for themselves. However, with the right support and structures in place, when leaders step back, what is often discovered is that the results are richer and the engagement in the staff and community is all the better for it. Subject leaders need to feel that they are responsible for their subjects. They need to have time to explore, to fail and to learn from their mistakes.

5. Implement it with confidence

Putting it into action

One mistake that people make is to spend a long time creating the perfect curriculum, worrying about every detail. Instead, act swiftly. Our pupils are only in our schools for a limited amount of time. Try not to spend weeks developing your vision and not focusing on getting the planning sorted. Children need to be taught and teachers need to teach.

Meet with your subject leaders, decide what your plan of action is and decide how best to implement this. Once you have a plan, the most effective way of implementing it is to introduce one thing at a time. It sounds simple, but this is an effective way of introducing new concepts in our increasingly busy school environments. It allows teachers the ability to concentrate on what is being asked of them and to implement it to a high standard. Leaders can then monitor to make sure that everything is in place. Once that has been successful, introduce the next stage at a staff meeting or with individual teachers.

Curriculum resources

You will need to monitor the impact of any investments you make to support your vision. Why, when and how you need resources should be considered and carefully planned for, as part of your School Improvement and Development Plan.

6. Support and challenge

Be consistent in what you ask your leaders to do. Create a shared approach to leadership that is produced by your team, so that everyone understands and believes in it. You can only support and challenge leaders if what you are asking them to do is realistic and achievable. Offer support and time for them to develop their role.


Monitoring systems should demonstrate that the curriculum is broad and balanced and show a progression of knowledge and skills across year groups and subjects. Subject leaders will need to have the skills to carry out this monitoring and to interpret their findings in a constructive and positive way.


  • Jonathan Coy

    Jonathan is an experienced headteacher, trustee, deputy CEO of an academy trust, governor and school leader. He now works as a consultant for companies, helping them to get the best out of their products in what is a difficult education environment for companies to reach out to.
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