You have to monitor colleagues at work and ensure pupils are up to scratch. Which raises issues of line management, says Gerald Haigh.
Primary subject co-ordinators have been around for a long time. The Bullock Report of 1975 discusses the need for each school to have a teacher in charge of language development - "In the first place the teacher would act as consultant to his colleagues on matters of reading and language."
What is different today is that we talk of "leaders" and "managers". The 1994 publication Primary Matters from the Office for Standards in Education uses the title "subject managers", with the comment that "co-ordinators is too limited a description". The job of subject manager, it goes on, is "to contribute to the overall evaluation of work in their subject against agreed criteria, to evaluate standards of achievement and to identify trends and patterns in pupils' performance".
Reinforcing this, the Teacher Training Agency's recently published draft version of National Standards for Subject Leaders defines the main ingredient of the role as "to provide professional leadership for a subject to secure high-quality teaching and effective use of resources, and ensure improved standards of achievement for all pupils".
The emphasis, it is worth noting, is on curriculum subjects. There are, of course, other kinds of co-ordinator. Many schools have an "assessment co-ordinator" whose status is in line with that of the subject leaders. There may be a "curriculum co-ordinator" with general oversight of curriculum policies. And, of course, there may be "key-stage co-ordinators.") In her speech in January on the Government's approach to appraisal, Estelle Morris, the minister for school standards, assumes key-stage co-ordinators to be line managers who will have responsibility for appraisal. She may well be right. In many primaries the key stage 1 co-ordinator is the deputy head, or a teacher with accepted seniority and experience. However, it is probably true to say that governors - responding to the drive for standards - have in recent years been moving their pay structures in a direction which favours subject leadership rather than pastoral year-group or key-stage leadership).
This trend towards subject leaders responsible for standards represents a huge shift of expectations within a very short time.
Dr Derek Bell, Director of Graduate Studies and Research at Liverpool Hope University College, one of the few academics who has looked at the role of the primary co-ordinator, recalls research that he did in 1985 into the work of primary science co-ordinators.
"I asked them then about monitoring and working with people in classrooms and they all said that it was not part of their job."
The management challenge
Dr Derek Bell is working, with Ron Ritchie of Bath Spa University College on a book, to be published by the Oxford University Press at the end of this year, called From Curriculum Co-ordination to Subject Leadership. The title neatly describes the problem. What worries some commentators is whether those laying out the new expectations fully realise what they are asking.
Professor Geoff Southworth of the University of Reading, says, "the role of the subject co-ordinator in primary is a lot less straightforward than the policy-makers think it is. There are micro-political issues in school, personal tensions, difficulties of managing time, and lack of expertise."
The core issue is that, unlike the secondary head of department, the primary subject leader is not a line manager with responsibility for general professional leadership of the people teaching that subject. In most primaries, every teacher - even those who have just qualified - will be responsible for a subject. Add to this the fact that almost every primary teacher teaches the whole curriculum anyway, and it becomes clear that any attempt to impose a line management structure results in a cats-cradle of channels of responsibility.
The primary staffroom, too, sees itself as collegiate. The perception in all except but the biggest schools is that only the head and deputy have the intrinsic right either to judge the classroom performance of other teachers, or to tell them what to do. If co-ordinators are not line managers, then what are they?
Dr Derek Bell presented interesting early findings to the British Education Research Association in September last year.He describes detailed records kept by a sample of 19 co-ordinators showing just how little time, even now, is available for subject leadership. The biggest slice of time - an average of just over two hours a week - is taken up by going on courses for their own professional development. After that, "resources" and "planning" take up just over an hour each; "supporting colleagues" accounts for 24 minutes. "evaluation" takes 13 minutes.
These averages conceal wide ranges. Seven of the 19 co-ordinators said they spent no time at all on evaluation. The detailed logs show, too, that they spend a lot of time on low-level housekeeping. "Of the tasks linked to resources, 'tidying cupboards etc' was the most frequently occurring job and accounted for 24 per cent of the time spent on resources." In short, they are doing too much housekeeping and not enough monitoring and improving standards.
This is not, it needs to be said, a matter of awareness. Geoff Southworth and Derek Bell are both sure that co-ordinators know what they are expected to do. "Gone are the days when they wanted to know about policies, says Derek Bell. They've got policies now; what they want to talk about is monitoring."
* How to do the job
One person who has worked hard to support monitoring and standards-raising among subject leaders is Fred Corbett, late of Essex, now chief inspector in Norfolk. He talks of the co-ordinator as "being engaged in knowing, supporting, monitoring, improving". Essex is preparing a subject leader's handbook which develops each of these themes. On the need for monitoring, he says, "You can't give properly focused support unless you know what's going on. Monitoring is at the heart of being effective as a supporter and an improver."
Monitoring, he says, can be done by the examination of pupils' work, classroom display, self-evaluative staff meetings and school test data. "The crunch comes," he says, "when you consider whether the co-ordinator should carry out classroom observation."
Whether, how, and for what purpose, a subject leader should watch colleagues at work in the classroom is part of Geoff Southworth's "micropolitics". To what extent can, say, an inexperienced subject leader be expected to judge, and advise on, the quality of teaching in a classroom run by a more experienced colleague?
The answer, clearly, is that it cannot at the moment be done like that. In a primary school, the monitoring of teaching is seen as the head's job. The Teacher Training Agency's draft National Standards for Subject Leaders acknowledges this by saying "... the headteacher in smaller primary schools may retain a larger proportion of the monitoring which requires direct classroom observation of teaching and learning".
Further evidence for this is found in research into the co-ordinator's role conducted by the University of Ulster. Brian McGarvey has written a paper the theme of which is that co-ordinators regarded themselves not as experts but as "professionals amongst professionals". They were "disinclined to interfere with colleagues practice", saying such things as "It is not possible to evaluate except informally, and I wouldn't want to go into someone's classroom".
Everything depends, then -if the co-ordinator is to have any influence - upon the headteacher building a management structure that supports the co-ordinator without damaging collegiality. It all has to play within themicro-politics.
This being so, it is possible to see how a staff as a whole can identify subject-specific issues that the co-ordinator can look at in class. The science co-ordinator might lead a training session on the teaching of forces - a curriculum area replete with misunderstandings and lack of knowledge - and follow this up with a generally agreed programme of observations closely targeted on whether colleagues had fully understood. The programme would specifically not stray into areas of general classroom competence. This is what Fred Corbett means when he says that the teacher being observed can perceive this in terms of "You are my knowing colleague and my monitoring colleague."
The aim here should be to achieve clarity, so that observed teachers have been involved in the planning of the observations, and are agreed about why it is being done. Fred Corbett points out that, handled thus - if the observation is planned in a staff meeting, and does not descend from a clear blue sky - then the act of giving more managerial clout to the co-ordinator, far from adding hierarchical layers, has the opposite effect. "It requires the whole staff to get together, and is a powerful reinforcement of collegiality."
* Time to do the job
Many co-ordinators believe that there is an air of unrealism around the increasing demands made on them. "They forget," says a junior school English co-ordinator, "that we are all in the classroom full time, teaching the whole curriculum. Our co-ordinating responsibilities - leadership if that's what you want to call it - has to fit somewhere in the cracks."
As Derek Bell points out, this is a tall order. "If a full-time teacher spends five hours a week doing just the co-ordinator tasks, then he or she is effectively doing nearly an extra a day a week over what most people would regard as a full-time job anyway."
Fred Corbett sympathises with this, but he also feels - "And this message is not always popular with my audiences" - that many schools can find some more planning and monitoring time if they look for it. "We need to be better time managers; to have clear objectives; to say 'I can't do everything but what I am trying to do is clear and understood by everyone'."
He feels that it is sometimes forgotten that "The expected teaching day is shorter in primary than in secondary, so you could argue that there is some built-in non-contact time. We need to look at how we organise the quality time between three and five in the afternoon." This, though, does not address the question of how the co-ordinator finds time to visit classes in session. On this, all commentators are clear: because few schools can organise regular non-contact, classroom visiting time for all their co-ordinators, the answer is to focus observation time on limited, agreed issues subject by subject according to the development plan. In some cases supply cover is bought in for short periods as part of the development budget for a subject or for one issue within a subject, giving the co-ordinator time for planning, observation or for meetings with the head.
Some other solutions are not so satisfactory. Derek Bell tells of a co-ordinator who is given time sporadically when the head is free to take her class. "It's almost impossible to use this time properly, because she just doesn't know in advance when the head can come in - there's little you can do at short notice like that."
* Subject Knowledge
Common sense leads you to the conclusion that the co-ordinator who has good specialist knowledge of the subject will find it easier to be a leader. Fred Corbett speaks of the "knowing colleague", and Geoff Southworth lists "lack of expertise" as one of the problems facing co-ordinators. Ofsted, in Using Specialists to Promote High Standards at Key Stage 2 reports that "The quality of the teaching of subject specialists is almost always better than that of non-specialists."
Nevertheless, the inspectorate finds considerable resistance to specialist teaching in primary schools. "Schools generally prefer to appoint staff who are first and foremost 'good class teachers' ...even where there are significant gaps in the range of subject expertise available."
* CASE STUDY: St Oswald's
After a difficult Ofsted inspection two years ago, St Oswald's RC Primary in Accrington, Lancashire, is confident of emerging this summer from special measures, under the strong leadership of its headteacher, Felicity Watson. It is a small school with 112 pupils and 6.5 teachers including the head. This raises the common small-school problem of teachers having to look after more than one subject.
"I have given them one main subject and another to put on the back- burner," says Miss Watson. "This takes away some of the guilt. The recent curriculum changes have helped with that. And in a small staff like this we all tend to take on the role collectively anyway."
She is concerned to try to give co-ordinators time to do their job. "I've tried everything - I've covered staff myself, but that tends to take me off monitoring. Now we set priorities - for example the assessment co-ordinator will be released to do a specific task, for an amount of time agreed by all of us. I might buy in supply cover, perhaps paid for from the in-service training budget."
As part of a general approach to better time management, she has made staff meetings more purposeful. "We no longer have meetings where we sit and talk. We do things instead. For example we may sit and read the reading scheme manuals together, instead of just talking about the reading scheme."
"Hard" monitoring of teaching is regarded as the head's business. "I'm in and out all the time, but I observe each teacher formally to Ofsted criteria half-termly or perhaps termly. I reserve that kind of observation to myself. Co-ordinators can look at specifics, for example the English co-ordinator may have her own criteria and there will be group discussion afterwards looking at those criteria rather than at whether it was a good English lesson generally. " Co-ordinators do look at children's work, and Miss Watson believes that this has to be done systematically, according to agreed criteria.Her questions for effective monitoring of children's work are: 1. Is the work marked?
2. Does the marking provide useful assessment evidence?
3. Does the marking provide pointers for the next piece of work?
4. Does the work line up with the planning documents?
5. Is there evidence of differentiation?
6. Is there enough work, in quantity?
7. Is there evidence of challenging teaching?
8. Is there evidence of different kinds of work and teaching methods?
* CASE STUDY: Jesson's C of E
Jesson's Church of England Primary School was rated "very good" by Ofsted last May. Commenting on those teachers who have management and curriculum responsibilities, the report says, "Standards are monitored and the quality of educational provision is evaluated."
It is a large primary in Dudley, with almost 500 pupils and nearly 30 full-time teachers. This makes possible a structure whereby each subject co-ordinator works within one of four "faculties", each with a faculty head. A number of subjects are divided between more than one co-ordinator.
The headteacher, Lucy Griffiths, believes that the work of co-ordinators has to be seen in the context of the management of the school as a whole. "The head's job is to create the climate in which everyone knows where they are going."
Angie DuRose, one of two teachers responsible for science, agreed that the management of resources takes up a lot of time, but she feels that this part of the job is more than just housekeeping. "I make sure that there is all the necessary equipment for what is planned, and I know what's used and what isn't. It can sound feeble, but it's part of monitoring.
Much of a co-ordinator's work is concerned with looking at planning and looking at pupils' work. "We monitor termly planning," says Carol Spittle, who is responsible for history, "looking at files to make sure that all the necessary areas are covered."
There are some professional niceties to be observed. "You have to weigh up how staff will react to a request to let you look at their pupils' books. With some you can say, 'OK if I have a quick look?'; with others you make a more formal request."
Even more care is needed when it comes to visiting classrooms - but the co-ordinators at Jesson's do not make judgements about the general quality of teaching. There is stringent and supportive monitoring, but it is carried out by the head and the two deputies - the subject co-ordinators take part in any subsequent discussion.
Co-ordinators do set up individual meetings and in-service sessions. "I was concerned," says Carol Spittle, "that I had to make sure it was actually history that was being done and not creative writing or literacy. So we did INSET after school."
"If you thought something was weak," says Angie DuRose, "you'd handle it on a one-to-one level under the head's advice."
Neither teacher felt it necessary for a co-ordinator to hold an appropriate subject degree but, it is noticeable that Carol Spittle does have a history degree and that Angie DuRose has attended courses in teaching primary science. Both are adamant about the importance of training for their post.
Their advice for new people in such posts: 1. Know what is being taught in your subject across the school.
2. Be prepared to say, "I don't know, but I will find out."
3. Practise saying "I'll get back to you on that"!
4. Build good relationships with the local authority advisers.
5. Find out about suitable courses.
6. Set achievable targets for yourself. You can't do everything at once.
7. Be ready to go to the head and fight your corner for your subject.
TEN QUESTIONS OFSTED ASKS
These are the areas that each OFSTED team will cover with primary subject leaders * How do you allocate time between different parts of the job?
* Does work in thesubject cover national curriculum requirements?
* Is there continuity and progression?
* How is assessment recorded and does it inform planning?
* Does science cover drugs, health and sex education?
* How does the subject curriculum contribute to spiritual, moral,. social andcultural education?
* What are the school standards in your subject, and what is the evidence for thisjudgment.
* Are the learning resources adequate, and how is the budget allocated?
* The crunch question - taken directly from the documents of an experienced primary Ofsted team. "As a co-ordinator, are you able to monitor, evaluate or support the teaching of your subject by other staff?How?"
THE WAY FORWARD: TEN STEPS FOR HEADTEACHERS
* Pay attention to subject specialism when co-ordinators are appointed * Build a professional development programme for co-ordinators, based on school priorities * Ensure that co-ordinators have clear job descriptions * Regularly review each co-ordinator's role * Enable co-ordinators to run inset sessions and one-off meetings, and give visible support by attending them * Support co-ordinators in the monitoring of planning and of children's work * Encourage self-evaluative sessions in which teachers share concerns with co-ordinators * Bring co-ordinators into classroom monitoring for agreed subject based issues * Try to give co-ordinators non-contact time to address specific issues agreed by the whole staff, and build at least some of the cost of cover into the development budget.
* Ensure that as much tidying and mending of resources as possible is done by support staff