Subject Specific Professional Development – the future of learning?
Curriculum quality at the heart of a successful school
Subject specific professional development must be high on the agenda as we start an uncertain but optimistic new year. Reading through a plethora of OFSTED reports from last year suggests that there is a way to go for many of us in developing within our schools the expertise that focuses on the explicit meaning of ‘the quality of education’. The criticism is mainly aimed at teaching in key stages, 1, 2 and 3. The sub-section in the OFSTED Handbook for Schools within the section named ‘The Quality of Education’ entitled ‘Curriculum narrowing‘ highlights the issues that are a concern. Some ‘deep dive’ questions linked to the findings here could include,
In primary schools
- How well do all pupils speak, listen, read, write and use mathematical knowledge in key stage 1 so that they are able to access a broad and rich curriculum at key stage 2?
- What is the evidence that the curriculum offer at key stage 2 gives all pupils access the widest possible subject specific, concept rich and skills focused experience?
- How have school leaders ensured that there is sufficient expertise within subject teams to deliver the highest quality teaching in both the core and foundation subjects?
- What is the evidence that planning the curriculum takes specific account of the ambition the school has for individual pupils to have achieved to prepare them for year 7 and beyond?
In secondary schools
- What is the evidence that there is breadth and depth within the curriculum offer at key stage 3?
- How do secondary subject leaders communicate with their primary partners to ensure continuity of curriculum?
- How do teachers in year 7 plan subject specific learning that builds on prior learning and achievement?
- How do teachers planning subject learning for pupils in key stage 3 focus on the ultimate ambition for them by the end of key stage 4 and beyond?
Creating a CPD Strategy that Builds and Enhances Subject Specific Professional Development
There is a wealth of research evidence to suggest that teachers, specifically those teaching in the primary phase do not have the relevant expertise or training to reasonably say they are experts in some of the subjects they are teaching. This can also apply to teachers in key stage 3 who are teaching subjects that are not their specialism. Whether your school follows the National Curriculum or chooses a different curriculum model the issues in terms of levels of expertise remain the same. In order to plan and teach well, subject leaders and their teams of teachers and support staff must:-
- Consider the most important knowledge or concepts pupils need to know within and across the subject spectrum
- Check pupils’ understanding and identify and correct misunderstandings and gaps in learning
- Ensure that pupils embed key concepts and transfer key knowledge into their long-term memory and apply them fluently in a range of contexts
- Plan to build sequential knowledge to ensure that new knowledge and skills build on what has been taught before
- Create medium and long-term subject plans so that pupils can work towards clearly defined end points
- Use assessment to check pupils’ understanding and prioritise feedback, retrieval practice and reflection to deepen learning
Assessing staff expertise and their CPD needs
Assessing staff expertise and their CPD needs is essential as one delves more deeply into what the statements above are asking for. Below are some of the obvious questions subject leaders need to ponder as part of their own subject specific professional development.
- What is the important knowledge pupils need to know in each year and across key stages?
- What is a key concept and how do we teach conceptual understanding in each subject and in more cross-curricular contexts?
- What pedagogical strategies create the right conditions for pupils to embed learning in their long-term memories?
- What is the sequence of learning in each specific subject?
- How can teachers work together to develop long and medium-term curriculum plans?
- How consistent is the assessment of learning across all subjects?
A Solutions Focused Strategy for Subject Specific Professional Development
The most important strategic decision to make is to maintain a plan for ensuring your staff have access to excellent professional development opportunities. All staff need to know that they are valued and that their status is not undermined by a lack of opportunity to continue to learn for themselves and to learn with their peers and others who are specialists in in-service training.
The curriculum still lies at the forefront of a definition for what constitutes a high-quality education in a school or college; so in making plans for future CPD opportunities it is to the curriculum and how it is designed, delivered and valued for its impact and effectiveness that the priorities for CPD and in subject specific professional development particularly that are most likely to reap rewards for the individual, the team and for middle and senior leaders.
The next strategic decision to make is how to put subject specific CPD into practice so that subject staff, senior and middle leaders and teachers all feel that they are developing professionally, are challenged to think deeply and grow in their role and take away learning that they can use and cascade to others. CPD must also be accessible, enjoyable and based on deep research and considerable expertise. We have a range of online and face to face CPD opportunities to ensure that your staff remain ready for the professional challenges of 2022. We are the leading experts in curriculum CPD, plan your strategy and be ready to showcase the high quality education your school provides.
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