Doing the impossible

4th September 1998 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh introduces a new series for primary subject leaders and, right, hears what two co-ordinators say about the maths and science handbooks

If you are a primary school subject leader (or co-ordinator - the terms are for practical purposes interchangeable, though the former is often preferred today), you probably know already that the job is impossible. Consider what you have to do: write, and keep up to date, school policies and schemes of work; liaise with and advise the headteacher; supervise the written plans which your colleagues produce, ensuring clarity, consistency, continuity and progression; guide and monitor colleagues in their teaching; and devise and carry through strategies for raising standards. You also have to keep your own subject knowledge up to date. Quite a challenge - but an exciting one for ambitious teachers.

Except for one thing. You have to do all of this in addition to being the full-time teacher of your own class. And, if you are in a small school, you may well have to run more than one subject. Then, when the Office for Standards in Education team comes, they will sit you down and question you closely about how you do your job, with particular emphasis on how you, personally, go about raising standards in your subject. To a great extent the tone of the published inspection report will be influenced by the way that you and your fellow subject leaders are seen to be performing.

If you are lucky, the head will come and take your class for an hour or so occasionally, so that you can have some non-contact time. Every other part of your subject leader's job will be done in your own time - before and after school in your classroom and in staff meetings, and on Sunday afternoons at home. For this you will be paid, perhaps, an extra Pounds 100 a month - four tanks of petrol for your Nissan Micra. That people continue to apply to do the job, and then carry it out conscientiously is a minor miracle of optimism and dedication.

Clearly, primary subject leaders need all the help, appreciation and encouragement they can get. The evidence is that they like good courses on managing their subjects, and it follows that good books on how to do the job will also be welcome. They had better be good, though, because the readership has no time to take in self-indulgent sophistry. And any reference to academic research, though generally acceptable to thinking teachers, needs to show its direct relevance to the day-to-day task.

The new subject leaders' handbooks from Falmer Press, therefore, are intended for a potentially impatient readership. Each covers a wide but logical sequence of topics, starting with the role of the co-ordinator, moving on to what the co-ordinator needs to know, then to whole-school policies, monitoring of quality and management of resources. These are undoubtedly the key areas. How well are they covered?

To answer the question, I sought the help of two Warwickshire primary co-ordinators - Sarah Evans, mathematics subject leader at St Giles junior school on the outskirts of Coventry in the multicultural north of the county, and Catherine Watson, science co-ordinator at Radford Semele Primary near Leamington Spa.

The good news is that there was enthusiasm and approval from both of these busy and experienced teachers. Each found her respective handbook easy to read while, at the same time, encouraging reflection and deeper analysis of the subject. Try as they might - and pressed quite hard - neither was able to offer significant criticisms. These two titles set a high standard for what is planned to be a series for primary co-ordinators in all subjects.

Handbooks for art, ICT, management skills for SEN co-ordinators, and English at key stage 1 will be published in October

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