The importance of subject communities

As a Head of Science taking over the worst performing subject department in the local authority (LA) many years ago one of the things I greatly valued immediately was the collaboration and support from other department leads across the authority. At a time before academisation all schools within the LA had to send their subject leads to termly training days, where you would have the opportunity to receive subject specific professional development from experts and connect with other subject leads to share good practice and gain support.

As the power of the LA crumbled, as more and more secondary maintained schools became academies and with the introduction of new types of schools, this greatly valued professional development no longer became viable or possible as the system and LA became more and more fragmented.

Fast forward to 2018 and as part of a community of twenty secondary providers in the city of Plymouth, with the support of a Teaching school we attempted to create secondary specific subject hubs, once again to improve quality of teaching and the outcomes of our young people. As expected there were great examples of where it worked well for the reasons I benefited myself as a Head of Science many years ago and also areas where we needed to improve the quality of these hubs. It was excellent to see the commitment, determination and trust from all providers to work together and to put the children in our city first. However, perhaps inevitably due to the fragmentation of our education system, all schools individually face challenges and must prioritise this above everything else, so therefore a year later following some open and honest discussions we have ended the hubs as we knew it.

Despite the challenge we face, as an education community we all know that a teacher’s subject knowledge is incredibly important in the effectiveness of teaching and to improve the learning of young people. It is incredibly important that teachers and subject leaders have the opportunity to develop their subject specific pedagogy and to do this effectively it must be with other subject professionals and those experts in their subject field. So as a school with six other schools in our city with the valuable support from a local teaching school we have come together to form Secondary InpirED Subject Communities (SISC) for all our subject areas. Each subject community will plan their own professional development conferences (3 a year), focusing purely on improving the quality of teaching and learning and their pedagogy in the classroom not on what tends to happen these days such as exam board training. Each subject community will be quality assured by a senior leader from one of the schools and the senior leaders will come together as a group to regularly review, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of each subject community. They will share good practice across the subject communities and drive forwards the improvement agenda whilst setting the strategic priorities.

In addition, these subject communities will be encouraged to connect to their specialist national and international subject associations and to connect and collaborate with other more grassroots organisations that are incredibly successful. One great example of this is the Twitter subject communities like #TeamEnglish and #Litdrive I think what the teachers are doing here is fantastic to see.

We kick start these subject communities in October with our first ever Plymouth InspirED Conference #PlymouthInspirED, where the subject communities will have subject specific time wrapped around two internationally renowned keynote speakers Graham Brown-Martin @grahamBM and Ross Morrison Mcgill @Teachertoolkit. I am positive that it will be a wonderful event and a fitting way to begin the commitment to our subject communities.

If we as subject teachers, subject leaders and senior leaders are to improve the outcomes of young people then we must work together to improve our collective pedagogical growth through a self-improving school system. I know this from my own experience where with the support of the Science subject community consisting of strong subject leads and a couple of fantastic Science advisors from the LA, combined with the hard work and commitment of my colleagues, the worst performing subject department became the best performing department in the entire local authority within 3 years.

This is exactly what we hope for our new Secondary InspirEd Subject Communities, we have a collective responsibility to improve the practice of all practitioners thus improving the life chances of all our young people in Plymouth. It is a brilliant opportunity for teachers to focus on their own subject based practice, deepening their own knowledge to enhance their curriculum offer to have a richer knowledge base and provide appropriate challenge for all our young people.

Are you part of a subject community? How do you find it? What are your thoughts on this approach?

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