Subject leadership: how to develop and embed a vision

Find out what to take into account when writing your subject vision and get tips on how to embed it. See examples of vision statements and a case study from a secondary teaching school.

Last reviewed on 22 October 2021
School types: All · School phases: All
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Contents
  1. Why have a subject vision?
  2. How to write your subject vision
  3. How to implement and embed your vision
  4. Link your subject vision to your subject action plan
  5. Secondary case study: how George Abbot School developed a new vision for English
  6. School examples

Why have a subject vision?

Individual subject visions are important because they feed into the broader whole-school curriculum intent. Your curriculum intent is something Ofsted will pay close attention to as part of the quality of education measure. Read more about how Ofsted inspects your curriculum in our article

A good subject vision should:

  • Support your school’s vision and feed into it
  • Demonstrate ambition and high expectations
  • Be clear so that it’s understood and remembered by staff
  • Be tailored to your school and context
  • Link to other curriculum subjects
  • Feed into CPD

How to write your subject vision

Use the curriculum ‘purpose of study’ and exam syllabus, if appropriate

If you’re following the National Curriculum, use the ‘purpose of study’ for your subject as a starting point - for example, you'll find the purpose of study for English at the top of this page. If you don’t follow the National Curriculum, use any material you have that describes the purpose of your subject.

You can also review the exam syllabus.

In the final section below, you'll see examples of subject visions based on the purpose of study for maths and English. Our associate education expert Nina Siddall-Ward helped create these visions.

Capture your passion, too

If you’re a subject specialist, let your passion for the subject drive you and inspire your vision. When writing your vision, ask yourself:

  • Does this capture my passion?
  • Will this excite pupils?

Even if it's not your subject of choice, you’ll still need to motivate your staff - so share interesting ideas and resources, and become an expert. By motivating yourself, you’ll inspire others.

Use these questions to reflect as a group

Even though as the subject leader you’re responsible for writing the vision, involve others in the process. Collaborating with others will help to get everyone on the same page and make sure you agree on what you’re aiming for.

As a group, use these prompts to help you adapt a vision to your school and context:

  • What do we believe the subject to be? What’s important about it?
  • What is it about the subject that we believe is special?
  • What encouraged us to become teachers in this subject?
  • What do we want the subject to do for children in our school?
  • How will our practices need to change?
  • How does the subject relate to other areas of the curriculum?
  • Does our school specialise or offer school-to-school support in this subject?
  • How can we see our vision in action? How can we monitor how well it’s embedded in individual year groups or across the school?

Get input from other leaders

Share your vision with other subject leaders and senior leaders in your school. Ask them for feedback and for comments about how your vision might link to other curriculum subjects.

Your subject vision should feed into the school’s vision and the wider school improvement plan. So getting feedback from other leaders will make sure you’re all sharing good practice and being consistent.

How to implement and embed your vision

Once you’ve agreed on the vision, you want to make sure it’s implemented and embedded well.

To achieve this you need to:

  • Walk it - model your vision to other members of staff. Do this when you teach and give feedback
  • Talk it - refer to it in staff meetings, when giving feedback to teachers, during learning walks and lesson observations
  • Support it - make sure the tools are in place to help you and your staff achieve the vision. For example:
    • Organise workshops and CPD for staff
    • Have clear marking and assessment policies in place to support consistency
  • Resource it - try to make sure all year groups have appropriate resources, and check that any equipment is used and stored effectively
  • Monitor it - make sure it links to specific actions and objectives which you can then monitor. See below about linking it to your subject action plan
  • Communicate it continually - put it on your website and in newsletters, talk about it with parents, describe it during curriculum evenings, etc.
  • Make time for it - especially if the changes needed to achieve your vision are significant. This won’t be possible for everyone but if as subject leader you believe there’s a lot of work to do, make the case to your line manager/headteacher that you and your staff need dedicated time

Give your staff ownership and help build their confidence

This is particularly important if your staff lack confidence in the subject or their teaching abilities, or aren’t bought into your vision. To do this:

  • Support and develop their subject knowledge
  • Open the floor up for discussion and get their input, too. What do they enjoy about teaching the subject? What areas are they less confident in?
  • Model how you teach the subject - make it look accessible and exciting. This will help build their confidence
  • Don’t be prescriptive. This will help give them ownership to teach how they would like to

Link your subject vision to your subject action plan

Your subject vision should demonstrate ambition and high expectations.

The subject action plan should drive the improvement agenda and will help you link your vision to the impact it has on your pupils and staff.

Think about what aspects in your vision you need to focus on first and what will become a longer-term goal. Start with a few key priorities so that it's manageable.

Reflect this in your subject action plan, including tangible targets and actions you’re going to take to reach them. Read more about subject action plans in our article.

Your vision may evolve over time as national and school priorities change. So review it periodically to make sure it remains relevant.

Secondary case study: how George Abbot School developed a new vision for English

We spoke to John Hardy, the head of English at George Abbot School, a teaching school in Surrey, about how he developed and implemented a new vision for the English department.

His aim was to create a “cohesive direction” for the department and make sure all pupils experienced the same high level of teaching that existed in some areas of the department. We've translated what he and his department did into some key actions, to help you make it work for you too. 

Identify priorities as a team so that ideas aren’t imposed on staff

Look at your SIP along with relevant staff - John met with Key Stage managers - and decide what you want to improve in this subject specifically.

Then, organise a department meeting with all staff and get them to discuss in groups of 2 or 3 what they want to improve and how. 

Ask each group to present their ideas to everyone and make a note of the best ones to take forward. 

Update key policies to reflect your vision but focus on a few key changes at one time

Update your policies so they reflect where staff want the department to go in the long term. This helps to translate the goals you have into actual practice.

John said that this led to more dialogue between staff and a greater consistency in feedback. 

To help make it more manageable for your staff: 

  • Keep it to a limited number of policies or changes 
  • Give your staff enough time to implement and adapt to the new ways of working - reduce some of their other responsibilities if you can, while they do this

Meet regularly to monitor the changes

At George Abbot School, Key Stage managers met once a week to oversee the department's change of direction.

School examples

Primary examples for maths and English (provided by Nina) 

Maths: To provide (x school) children with a high-quality mathematics education where all children are given the opportunity to succeed, enjoy and understand the power of maths. We want our children to apply maths, deepen their fluency and understanding. We value “real world” maths by developing enquiring minds and courageous resilience.

English: At (x school) English underpins everything. We listen, we speak, we read, we write. We nurture curiosity by using everything around us to inspire our creativity and correct use of spoken and written language. Children learn to use their inner voice as eloquent speakers, enthusiastic readers and confident writers. They learn to appreciate their unique relationship with the world and develop the skills to be world ready.

Primary school example

St Joachim's Catholic Primary School in London has subject vision statements on its website

Secondary school example 

Healing School, part of Harbour Learning Trust, has a vision for each of its subjects on its website - the school refers to them as the curriculum intent of the subject.

Sources

Nina Siddall-Ward is an education consultant. She is the former head of standards and learning effectiveness for a large local authority, and has been a headteacher in 3 schools.

David Driscoll is an independent consultant and a senior partner with an education consultancy. He has considerable experience of supporting schools to analyse their data to improve achievement, teaching and leadership.

 

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