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Sprucing up the team leaders

Patrick McDermott answers your leadership questions

Performance variation within schools is four times as great as variation between schools, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's 2000 report on "Programme for International Student Assessment" (Pisa) survey. This struck a chord with me as I have noticed a big difference in the ways in which subject team leaders in our school approach quality assurance. Have you any advice to offer me?

I am sure that you will have individuals and teams that demonstrate good practice in teaching and learning, but what about the ones who are not as effective with the same students? Subject team leaders can make an incredible difference to teachers' and students' performance. Other strategies can be applied to this problem, but let's focus on subject team leaders.

There are many ways of helping leaders to manage quality assurance more effectively. The first and most obvious way is to ensure that the leaders understand that:

* they have responsibilities for conducting lesson observations for quality assurance purposes;

* they must review samples of pupils' work;

* they should check lesson planning;

* they should examine and analyse achievement data;

* they should produce effective action plans;

* they should be aware of their line-management responsibilities and accountabilities.

A good place to start is to ask yourself if all of your subject leaders evaluate the quality of the teaching and learning by observing all teaching across the year groups and range of topics on an annual basis. Are they able to identify various development needs?

Some schools ensure that subject leaders check samples of pupils' work regularly, perhaps once a term, discussing their findings with colleagues at subject team meetings . Others make sure that subject leaders check teachers' lesson plans at least once a term.

Some schools insist that subject leaders track pupils' progress, set and review targets and involve other team members in the analysis and evaluation of data and examine pupil progress against targets. If you already do this then with whom do they share all this information? Subject leaders need to plan action in the light of their observations and analyses and implement these plans. Your leadership and coaching may be needed here if this is not normal practice. Some schools find it useful for subject leaders to discuss the progress of their teams with the head or representatives of the leadership team.

All these strategies serve the same end, to make the subject team leaders more efficient and comfortable with their quality assurance responsibilities. The greatest resources that you will possess, of course, are those members of your school who are already doing these things. You know this because the performance of the students in their subjects is already significantly high. Although the profession did not naturally take to the idea of quality assurance, it is paramount to ensure the personalised entitlement of each student. You never know, subject team leaders might just learn something too when operating in this way!

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. This is his third headship, and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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