The role of the curriculum coordinator in primary schools: a radical reexamination
Paper presented at BEMAS Annual Connference, Cambridge, March 29-31 2000.
This paper could not have been written without the work of my colleague Jacqui Dean, who conducted the interviews after identifying suitable effective and highly regarded subject leaders. We should both like to express our thanks to "Lucy" and to "Rachel", who cannot be named, for their professional cooperation during the interviews. The education of our children is in their hands and we are grateful for all their Sunday evenings.
It is clear that the Teacher Training Agency has a view that there is a problem with primary schools, or more specifically with Key stages 1 and 2, which necessitates the definition of the role of the subject leader and its application to nearly every primary school teacher. This paper looks at the justification for this point of view through documents issued by Government and critically examines them against the experiences of two good practitioners in the role who were interviewed for upwards of 20 hours. The conclusion reached is that the idea of a subject leader in a primary school has run its course and should be abandoned to be replaced by a more effective way of monitoring and improving instruction in primary schools.
The definition of the role of subject leader by the Teacher Training Agency (TTA. 1998) arises from OFSTED publications from the two previous years. First, the 1996 report of the HMCI (HMCI 1996) which says, amongst other things:
Only one school in five in KS1 and one in 6 at KS2 have no serious weaknesses (in subject expertise): p 28
Clearly, in the inspections of 1994-5, there was serious concern expressed by inspectors about subject leadership in the primary school. (Webb and Vulliamy 1995) had found the year before that:
Since the introduction of the National Curriculum, greater concern has been expressed about the ability of primary school class teachers to teach effectively all nine subjects (plus RE) where specific content is required. p.33
This appears to be a problem created by the National Curriculum, which demanded for the first time that primary teachers covered the range of academic disciplines recognized in secondary schools. Previously, it had been common for teachers to say that they did no science or technology in their year, because they were not confident with the discipline. This was no longer adequate under the National Curriculum. Only a minority of schools was staffed by teachers who, between them, had subject expertise in all the subjects on the basic curriculum. In addition, there were shortages of teachers with initial main qualifications in music, mathematics, science, technology and RE. To help to overcome these problems:
A small number of schools are [sic] employing staff to teach particular subjects to more than their own classes. Very few schools are able to employ full-time subject specialists. P 28
The report suggests that "many more schools" might usefully:
These are, no doubt suggestions which had occurred to many headteachers but which had been placed on the back burner in some schools because of other initiatives which were more pressing. There is an element of panic here. A massive problem has been uncovered just at the time when the Government, through its other agencies, is pursuing target setting as the panacea for low achievement. These recommendations are vague in the extreme and make no reference to resources. The implication is that the experts on organizing primary education (Headteachers) need guidance by OFSTED in the vaguest way to support the teaching of the National Curriculum. Later criticism of this poor organisation becomes more explicit. (OFSTED 1997) say:
Typically, however, the organisation of primary schools restricts the possibility of teachers with subject expertise using their specialist knowledge outside their own classroom for the benefit of the school as a whole. p 3
The extent of the problem is frightening, (HMCI 1996) say:
In KS1 quality of management of subjects is weak overall in over a quarter of schools: for individual subjects this figure ranges from on fifth to well over one third. In KS2 the situation is worse: it is weak overall in almost one third of schools and in individual subjects from a quarter to well over two fifths. P 34
The report is quite clear that, despite their best intents, headteachers have failed on a massive scale to arrange the recruitment and continuing professional development of their staff so that subjects are adequately coordinated. (Webb and Vulliamy 1995) support this view rather more sympathetically, making the point that roughly half of all heads appointed the best class teacher for the job rather than appoint to subject gaps; building up a subject team involved compromises in appointments over many years. In view of the high standards that HMCI would like to see of subject leaders, it is perhaps not surprising that more schools are not performing inadequately:
Where coordinators are fully effective, they:
Successful coordination involves:
On p 35 there are 5 key issues for schools to address in order to strengthen the coordination and leadership of subjects within the primary school. The first three summarize the job of subject leader; the last two are:
(Joyce, Calhoun et al. 1999) would agree, three of their seven hypotheses for an improving school are:
1 Restructuring the job assignments of educators so that time for collective inquiry is built into the workplace will increase school improvement activity. As an optimum they suggest that the whole staff meet for half a day per week
5 Staff development embedded in the workplace, increases inquiry into new practices and the implementation of school improvement initiatives.
6 Staff development, structured as an inquiry, both fuels energy and results in initiatives that have greater effects.
However these are among 48 key issues which include making IT in-service training a priority! It is quite clear at this stage that a headteacher cannot take all 48 key issues seriously at once. They have limited in-service resources available generally (which evidently must be devoted to information technology). There is enormous pressure on the five training days, two of which were mandated this year for literacy training. They are forced to train staff in-house because of shortage of funds. The comments of the subject leaders later in this report make these points clearly.
(OFSTED 1997) assumes that a teacher is only leading one subject. Other assumptions are that the coordinator has post-"A" level qualifications in the subject or a 20-day course combined with personal interest. That they have only "less" non-contact time than their colleagues do in secondary, it would be more accurate to say that generally they have none, but this is not considered. The assumptions of the report are based on case studies drawn from good practice in Key stage 2 in 70 schools in each of which only one subject was being observed. It is interesting that OFSTED cannot present evidence that even one school can make subject coordination work for all subjects. Indeed they say that:
The essential prerequisite in order for subject expertise to be used successfully is a management decision that "something must be done" to improve standards of achievement or to make a good school even better. P 6
This indicates a concentration on that subject in the school to the exclusion of others because primary schools, in common with other organisations, only have the capacity to tackle a few problems at once. The implication is that this system only works in response to a crisis and not as a regular pattern of activity.
The report (OFSTED 1997) cites seven case studies to illustrate good practice. We must assume that the seven case studies were illustrative of best practice drawn from the 70 schools that were chosen because they were known for good subject coordination. This, then, is as good as it gets. A critical examination of the seven case studies is very disturbing.
Case one: The English specialist in a nine-teacher school has an afternoon a week to do her coordination.
Case two: In a large primary school, the three classes are taught by four teachers.
Case three: This is a school of 60 children which has three teachers and additional adults who come in to provide additional expertise from the immediate area.
Case four: In this school each year group has three classes with four teachers.
Case five: The school has 16 classes and 18.8 teachers. Each teacher has a whole half day a fortnight out of the classroom.
Case six: A school which has 220 pupils, as many as 40 in a class, high pupil teacher ratio. This is a more normal school, what can OFSTED say in its praise?
Schools of this size have difficulty. Early stages,,, quality of work varies...
Case 7: This is a consortium of five 150-pupil schools which have appointed a specialist for each subject between them who receive no extra money nor travelling expenses, but the geographer does a great job.
If this is the best that OFSTED can come up with, the obvious conclusion is that in a school in which there is one teacher per class, subject leadership is not possible. No one is doing the job well despite the efforts that are being made throughout the country by nearly every primary teacher. Even in schools with enhanced staffing, OFSTED cannot find examples of multiple subjects being well led.
They say that:
The most successful solutions are carefully managed and do not rely on ad hoc arrangements between staff...The endeavours of the specialists to influence the work of other teachers rarely bring the quality of the teaching by non-specialists up to that of the specialist. p6
So even if subjects are well led, in the experience of OFSTED this is not adequate to make up for pupils being taught by non-specialists.
The report comments that most of the best examples are in very small (three teacher) or very large schools (15 classes). The implication is that very few examples of good practice could be found in 1 and 2 form entry schools, which make up the majority of primary schools. Perhaps there are organizational constraints in such schools that prevent subjects being well led by full time classroom teachers?
The report is clear that that lack of non-contact time limits the ability of specialists to influence others, and that access to additional teachers, so that two teachers can be put into one class, is valuable but rare.
The report outlines some pitfalls on page 7 that sound warning bells. Reportedly, some schools wreck the curriculum by concentrating on one subject; some depend on the expertise of a teacher who leaves them for another school with no capability built into the system; specialists themselves must be monitored (what went wrong in some schools to prompt this comment?) and classes normally taught by the subject expert really suffer when they are taught by a succession of other teachers when they change classes to enable other pupils to be taught by the expert. These reservations are alarming, especially when we remember that the schools that are the subject of this report have been good or very good schools, several are outstanding. Nevertheless, even in these schools the available subject expertise is rarely used to its full potential.
(Webb and Vulliamy 1995), in a survey of subject leaders in 50 representative schools throughout the UK, point to lack of status and time to do the job:
Most recent studies also point to the relatively limited impact that primary school subject co-ordinators can make. p. 32
Supporting this finding, (OFSTED 1997) is quite clear that:
Schools need more teachers than classes if they are to manage subject teaching effectively. p 9.
Subject leaders are trying to fulfil the requirements of the Teacher Training Agency (which I outline later) in schools where the number of classes and the number of teachers is the same. This is the case in many primary schools. The Teacher Training Agency ignored this advice from two independent sources when drawing up its plans about what should be required of subject leaders.
Another difficulty of the examples of good practice is that they are nearly all of "good" schools asking how to make things better, why were there no good examples of struggling schools using this technique? Is it a form of organisation which is only applicable to "good" schools? OFSTED's finding is that "good" schools are mainly in areas of high socio-economic status. Although they state that the 70 schools inspected in (HMCI 1996) include some inner urban schools, the only one mentioned was making progress rather than providing a good example. Do such schools have too much to do already, to remedy the poor behaviour and the deprivation of their multilingual pupils, to do a good job of subject leadership on the current pattern?
In (OFSTED 1997), the most frequent model is that of a small group of teachers exchanging classes for some lessons to use each others' strengths, whilst it is seen to be valuable in itself, was rarely judged to have an impact beyond the classes involved.
They are usually within a year group or key stage and are not part of strategy...The
Coordinator involved in such exchanges are able to keep an eye on (monitoring is too strong a word) the work in their subject being undertaken in other classes. This disadvantages other teachers who do not acquire expertise in that subject to the detriment of future promotion. p 10
Why is "monitoring" too strong a word when it is freely used as an expected activity by the Teacher Training Agency? The report goes on to say on the same page that:
The model in which subject specialists...seek to influence the work of the rest of the staff is much harder to manage successfully.
We must bear in mind that these are good schools, specifically chosen for good practice. If it is hard for the outstanding few, why is it being expected of the totality of schools without any further resource or thought?
This mindless adherence to the idea that a full time class teacher can also be an effective subject leader is a symptom of distal relationships with the real schools. Despite the stated misgivings of OFSTED about how difficult the job is the Teacher Training Agency issued National Standards for Subject leaders (TTA. 1998) which were to be applied to subject leaders in both primary and secondary education. Whilst secondary subject leaders have line management status for members of same-subject teams and receive pay and time for doing the job of leading the subject, (not enough see (Flecknoe 1999)), primary subject leaders work under completely different conditions. They do not have line management status for those whom they coordinate and rarely receive time or money. In the case of one of our interviewees, she asked to be paid only for four days a week so that she could have Sundays off! The coordination job cost her a 20% salary cut to save her sanity. The subject leaders, according to the Teacher Training Agency, if effective, will have pupils who:
Show sustained improvement in their subject knowledge, understanding and skills in relation to prior attainment, understand the key ideas in the subject at a level appropriate to their age and stage of development...show improvement in their literacy numeracy and information technology skills...know the purpose and sequence of activities...are well prepared for any tests and examinations in the subject...are enthusiastic about the subject and highly motivated to continue with their studies...through their attitudes and behaviour, contribute to the maintenance of a purposeful working environment. P 5
The suggestion that a primary subject leader with no authority over colleagues, no opportunity to visit their classes and a need to preserve friendship in a small staff room should have such responsibilities for the pupils of another teacher is remote from reality. The standards were quite clearly drawn up with secondary heads of department in mind. As Rachel says in our case studies
[Government publications] keep talking about subjects and this idea of a leadership role and a manager. Quite frankly those terms really in a primary school just seem so alien because you're not in charge, or in the hierarchy... there's only ten or twelve people working here.
The Teacher Training Agency appears to have accepted that there is no difference between the roles of subject leader in primary and secondary schools. They have produced standards which primary teachers in most schools cannot reach and this is evidenced by a report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools. (HMCI 1996). Something has to be done about instruction in primary schools, and, in the absence of any additional funding, the subject leader has been given the responsibility. The next section of this paper discusses the results of 20 hours of interviews with two primary subject leaders.
This research was supported by a grant from the Teacher Training Agency that enabled the interviews of the two subject leaders over a period of two terms in 1998-9. Literacy coordinators were chosen for this study because this role tests the concept of subject leader in a context of rapid change. It is clear that rapid change is now the norm for primary schools and it is important that the system that is set up is capable of coping with it. Although this is a case study of two people, the findings are supported by other research into the role of subject leader. This study adds to the body of opinion that the concept of the role now needs to change. In each study, the subject leader was interviewed by a researcher, who was not the author of this paper, on about ten occasions for an hour at a time. The subject leaders were not aware of the conclusions of this study, anymore than the interviewer was. They were being offered an opportunity to talk about their work to a sympathetic ear and tape recorder. They were not aware of what the other subject leader had commented upon. Although it might be possible to fix such a series of interviews to produce certain conclusions, every effort was made to avoid this happening by a non-directive interview approach. The subject leader set the topics for conversation to discuss the work and reflection of the week that had passed. Each interview was then transcribed from the tape and analysed on NUD*IST for themes that were common to the two different contexts. In accordance with good research practice, the text of these interviews is available to any researcher who can make good use of them.
The case studies
Our two primary subject leaders are both literacy coordinators but they have different responsibilities. One, Lucy, has asked to become part time so that she can fulfil the demands of the job without working on Sundays. In effect, she is forgoing 20% of her salary in order to gain a full day each week of non-teaching time so that she can do the coordination which is now required of her. The other, Rachel, is deputy head of the school, Key stage 1 coordinator, and also coordinates art and music.
Sometimes, those in the Teacher Training Agency who drafted the idea of the primary subject leader would not have foreseen the things that cause stress. Lucy describes the difficulty of using the city library to borrow boxes of books, to allocate them to members of staff, subsequently to separate school owned books from library books and to return the boxes to the library accounting for those which turn out to be missing.
I have been in several times in the holidays having discovered a book is missing when [I have been told] it is a full box and it has been checked against the list and I have had to go through the school to find a book because it is embarrassing if we don't return them all.
Lucy spends time adapting the materials that she acquired on the course so that she can share them with other members of staff, this includes copying tapes and photocopying booklets which takes forever on a single sheet copier. These multiples could be available free from HMSO if the job of coordination was to be done by a full time class teacher. She reports spending time dealing with mountains of mail " everyday in the register I've got four or five brochures" (without even a desk at school to work on), being "swamped with reps on the phone" (no phone apart from the one in the head's office and no secretary), unsolicited books arriving and displays for the literacy hour to mount. She takes seriously the business of keeping other staff in stock with the materials that they need for literacy. The anxiety of staff shows "I have had two staff phone me in the holidays anxious about literacy".
The Teacher Training Agency are keen that the teacher's subject expertise should be used but there is not always a match, Lucy the literacy coordinator says "I mean, my degree was in French". She has to balance introducing the strategy with care and education for the children in her class. She has two pupils with Down's syndrome one of whom is incontinent. "It is a very heavy workload" she says.
Rachel, the deputy head, has to substitute for the head when absent and sort out visitors to the school, she teaches nearly full time. She feels that she neglects other areas, for instance art. She made a visit to the museum services to borrow materials
That took me three phone calls, and a whole hour to go and collect it and bring it back plus two hours to display it. Now to me that's enough coordination time for three or four weeks because I don't have any non-contact time
She has to see parents who have literacy hour worries as literacy coordinator, when she sees parents who have other worries, about bullying, about art, about her class, she does not count this as coordination time. She does not know where the time goes:
I've had choir, Wednesday night we've had full staff meeting for Literacy Hour, Thursday we do our joint Literacy Hour planning and then before you know it another weeks over.
In Rachel's school, the literacy coordinator is responsible for the library
I also work part of the lunchtime with some children in the library
She integrates this with playground duty and rarely gets time to sit down at lunchtime. Her one non-teaching day per year per subject in not adequate even to order the materials she needs for her three specialisms. But, thanks to certain assemblies where she is not required:
I know next week that I will have a 3 mornings where I might be able to snatch half an hour each morning to do it because I will have contact the rep and try and get a better deal
It is remarkable that she can perform any of these tasks when she is a full time class teacher as well.
All teachers, especially any with so many coordinating functions, have to take part in marketing the school, otherwise there would be no pupils to justify her salary. So she makes time to prepare for parents' evenings.
I had, for instance, press printing going on one table, charcoal drawings going on, ITR on another table and, because nobody represents music really, I had a music corner and books and art and art materials, I also had a little table with typical literacy hour materials on it, I thought it was part of my role.
She makes displays and feeds staff ideas about how to teach art although she is not trained to do so.
I co-ordinate music, I mean I do a choir, but personally I did English at College and I did an M.Ed. where I looked at early writing but [my knowledge of] art is purely by being in a school where nobody's interested in getting lumbered and getting quite skilful at getting on with it, but certainly I am not an expert
She has been recommended by the local art advisor to take a 10 day course to help her with art coordination but the head says there is not the money and he cannot afford for her to have the time off class teaching. She complains that the subject leader standards require her to update her subject knowledge, apart from paying for a course and attending on a Saturday, what can she do? She describes graphically the inadequate training that most coordinators have for their work:
If you're going to be a Primary teacher, you've done your degree in say geography, and then in your PGCE you may be unlucky enough to get only 10 hours of say music or art or whatever, if you're lucky you get 20 hours. I mean you don't get more, and then you come to the school and they ask you to be their co-ordinator in a subject with the same training as all the others.
I am sure that the Teacher Training Agency view of subject coordinators in primary schools do not admit the possibility that someone with only 10 hours training in the subject should be in charge, but that is the reality. She is only coordinating art because there is no one else. Her work on art is suffering because of the demands of literacy in terms of school time and staff training.
When we did the handwriting [project] I got some people to come and do Chinese scripts, it wasn't just handwriting there was a focus on letters and there was printing with letters, sewing with letters, it was fantastic the amount of art work that came out of it...we do extend it with visitors if we can. Then we have a book day and the children in fancy dress as their book character, it really does come to life but of course it all takes time but we are all so stressed out with the literacy hour that we chose not to do it again.
What can we learn about the monitoring which primary subject leaders do?
Lucy feels limited in her monitoring of Key Stage 1 because she has no experience there and feels out of her depth, certainly unable to comment on what her colleagues there do. She does make an effort with supply teachers, asking for work to moderate, but does not experience much success with other staff and, despite her non-working day in the week, cannot find time to visit their lessons. In preparation for the OFSTED visit she prepared a thirty-side account of her activities as subject leader based on what she considered inadequate knowledge of what was happening.
In all her interviews, this is the only example that I can find of monitoring activity. Clearly it was motivated by a desire to do well in the eyes of OFSTED and it is a matter of speculation whether any monitoring would have taken place if there had not been an inspection. On the other hand, the supply teacher's standards were monitored, apparently because she was a supply teacher. Clearly, there is a difference between long-term colleagues and teachers who are visiting for a short while. (Fullan 1999) refers to tacit knowledge of "How we do things round here" which Lucy has to accept because of lack of opportunity to do anything else. (Webb and Vulliamy 1995) say that the job of monitoring did not, for many subject leaders, involve inspecting lessons:
Monitoring policies in practice was done predominantly through scrutinizing teachers' plans, examining displays and discussing pupils' work and teacher assessments. Visiting classrooms for monitoring purposes seldom occurred, due to lack of both non-contact time and skill in monitoring. p. 35
Rachel, on the other hand, makes explicit the mechanisms by which she acquires tacit knowledge. She is over-stretched and she knows it. Making plans to follow the progress of three children, she fails to have any contact with their work from September to halfway through November. In January she is making more plans:
I'm going to track a top, a middle and a bottom child attainment-wise, right throughout school so I'll look at three children, possibly meet them, look at any reading records that have been kept on them and just monitor three from each class, because obviously you can't monitor everybody. I'm doing the same in writing and I'll ask for regular samples from those three children that will make it a lot more manageable.
However, in art, for which Rachel is also the coordinator, she is aware of active steps that she has taken to find out what other classes are doing. Some of her knowledge is fortuitous because of proximity to other teachers.
I have noticed in reception they have done symmetry on butterflies, I've noticed in class 1 they've been painting Elmo and colouring it and making different patches for Elmo in year 2. I knew that their topic was colour so they have done something, I've just done a lot on colour, the class next to me has just done a lot of weaving
And at the end of the year she has a system for checking what has been done without anyone feeling threatened. She collects the best art work in for display, taking work from each teacher. She extends this to English, asking for photocopies of the work that gets commended at the Friday assembly. She also asks for other examples of work where she has a concern about what is being done, but she does it covertly and feels underhand as though she is spying on her colleagues. On one day a year, she is able to go round classrooms to observe, this year she chose to look at handwriting and used the time to construct a book which contained moderated examples of different levels for different ages of child.
If you are unsure about handwriting then you just go get the file out and match it up.
She is conscious of knowing a lot about what is going on in the school, but also conscious that she feels she cannot influence it very much.
I might walk past a display and think 'God, that's awful' or 'that's terribly mounted' or 'what skills have gone on in there?' or I might walk past and be really pleased and surprised, but what I can actually do about it....
Rachel obviously feels some degree of powerlessness with her colleagues, which makes monitoring rather pointless. It is perhaps this feeling which made it possible for Lucy to do none.
What can we learn about the coaching which a subject leader does?
In all the interview with Rachel I can only find one instance of her reporting staff asking for guidance or of her offering guidance to others. The guidance that she offers is of little substance and it is clearly not one of the things that Rachel feels is part of her role. This is, perhaps, because she has so many roles to fulfil.
However, Lucy, in a stark reversal of the situation about monitoring, makes many references to occasions when she counsels teachers and non-teaching staff in the school. She has bought herself more time and only coordinates the one subject.
She both makes suggestions herself and arranges to respond to requests from others when she can. The other teachers clearly feel that it is worth approaching her. She spends a great deal of time, running group sessions, and responding to individual need, at the request and at the convenience of other staff. Sometimes this conflicts with her own class teaching:
This lunchtime, I went into the staff room and two teachers simultaneously said "Linda we need to see you". And I just said "Look with the best will in the world I really want to help, and I will, but at the moment I just need to get my class off the ground."
Teachers, including the head, feel that it is worth consulting Lucy even when she is teaching
Often the only time the head or maybe a member of staff whose children are afternoon break, can talk to me is when I'm teaching. Even though I'm here every night. Because everybody seems to want to speak to me about the things with the Literacy Hour.
She records spending time analysing the types of adverbs on her way to the toilet at the midday break with two other teachers. If staff will not come to her she makes time to go to see them when they are free. And the newly qualified teacher gets special care:
Each evening I see the NQT about the next day's literacy lesson with it being such a new initiative and they're having so much to take on with everything else in the school she suggests following me a day behind and in way it is helping her.
She feels that staff need more help than they are getting because there is not time for meeting. (Joyce, Calhoun et al. 1999) state, as one of their hypotheses for school improvement to take place, that the staff should have one half day per week for discussion about instructional improvement. As Rachel herself says:
Even though I make myself available, they are reluctant to ask me as much as I know they would like to for help, because they just see how busy I am with it. I wish I could do a clinic because I know they would then say "will you just go over auxiliary verbs with me?"
(Webb and Vulliamy 1995) say:
A common finding is the need for broad skills of people management which go far beyond advisory teachers' subject expertise or even their role as exemplary class teachers p. 32
It is clear that neither Lucy nor Rachel have any specific training that prepares them for overseeing the work of other teachers and then discussing it with them. The same difficulties apply to the task of training them, often in a "cascade" model.
How do subject leaders fulfil their responsibility to provide training for other teachers?
It is possible that many subject coordinators have not had to conduct training days for their colleagues before, it is different from teaching children and may cause anxiety. Conducting training days is something which external advisory teachers were recruited to do and this is one of the role models which the Teacher Training Agency used in its construction of what a primary subject leader should be doing. However, there has been not training for the cascade model of continuing professional development associated with the literacy hour. Not only that, but the materials provided needed preparation and copying. Lucy spent many hours preparing her training session for her peers.
I think I tend to go over the top. I want everything [to be] just so I did spend a long time on it and even things I had read before twice I was reading again the night before for that training day. Of course, this all affects your class teaching.
She is not alone in this, Rachel, who has a different style, nevertheless says:
Well, we get the booklet, and what I tend to do is read the booklet during half term, but I spent the evening before looking at the video and going through the training part at home. I find the training pack so complicated I always do it the night before so it's fresh in my mind.
What has been created here is a situation where unconfident literacy coordinators are trying to train unconfident teachers. Lucy tries to satisfy her colleagues' needs and this involves running many training sessions for different groups at times convenient to her colleagues. This is during a time when union action is discouraging teachers from attending meetings which are not seen to be necessary. Meetings, therefore, are only held when there is a need and at times which staff feel do not constitute meetings. In view of Lucy's determination not to work on Sundays, to the extent of choosing to be paid for a four day week, it is surprising to find that she still is doing so:
On Sunday, preparation for the training day, 4 hours 15 minutes, and after that I did 1 hour's marking.
Rachel inevitably has different approach, for a start, she teaches five days a week instead of Lucy's four. She thinks the training days allocated are not adequate and has taken all five training days for the literacy hour at the expense of other pressing competition. She feels that art misses out because of this:
We were going to move onto printing and clay next term but that had to be scratched because we didn't have enough training days. Every staff member from now until after Christmas is occupied with literacy hour, so you haven't the time to train people and you're not going to really improve your standards but you have to prioritize and at the moment Art is on the back burners.
It is clear from Rachel's account that some training for literacy hour is taking place every week and that she has to prepare this. She thinks that most primary teachers are not trained in art sufficiently to deliver good lessons without INSET, but they cannot get the INSET now because the literacy hour is using it all.
Rachel's training sessions are well attended, there are no forces of conservatism here refusing to update skills, the school meals assistants (SMAs) are eager to learn about the literacy hour:
So I said I would be available for twilight on Monday evening and about 11 came, including a few of the SMAs which is wonderful. Obviously we can't insist that they come.
The few staff who could not attend that session got individual attention
The use of resources and the role of the subject leader
Initially, the spending of money occupies the mind of Lucy and she is cautious about spending the money allocated for the literacy hour. The problems of buying new resources without knowing enough to make wise choices brings ethical dilemmas about how much she is allowed to photocopy. There is a stark contrast between the standard of the Government issued materials and the provision in the school. This is illustrated by her comment:
One of the things about the training materials they are very smartly presented, beautifully done, the overheads and everything. I mean we don't happen to have an overhead projector which is working at the moment. But I didn't find that too much of a problem, but it still involves hours of work
Clearly, it is preferable for a school to have one OHP in each room and in a way the provision of a few creates more problems than having none. Lucy's problems mounted when two new ones were bought because she had to consider the movement and allocation of them throughout the literacy hour.
In contrast, Rachel does not discuss the purchase of any resources but describes sorting and allocating them, her interviews were later in the year and spending decisions had been taken earlier, perhaps with less caution than Lucy showed.
She clearly has negative feelings about the literacy hour and her analysis is that the amount of money and time spent on it could have produced better results if spent in other ways. She wonders whether, if all the time, which she is spending on it, were spent on something else, the same results would show. As far as she is concerned, it has been an exercise to get her to work more hours and have more worries.
Quite frankly, the hours and the amount of energy put into it, I get far more results out of SRI, I think not putting less into it because we've put a lot into it, but if you add all the hours these extra members of staff have put in, it's not been the bonus that SRI has brought back. Not value for money.
She regrets spending decisions that have been taken earlier, in the rush to get money spent before it disappeared, she has inadequate dictionaries and thesauruses, there is no money left now and the school will have to manage. (Webb and Vulliamy 1995) found that resources management was a safe area for subject leaders, it was one way of helping other staff in a non-threatening way, but getting other staff to use the resources was a massive task.
Coordinators viewed resource management as a relatively straightforward task which could be done alone, was non threatening and was appreciated by staff for its practical value. P. 35
Although it may be an easier task, from the point of view of interpersonal stress, it still caused difficulty for our two subject leaders.
How much planning do subject leaders do?
A lot of planning does take place in the primary school. Lucy recalls discussions leading to learning objectives in Literacy science and IT and PE and they were all related to the National Curriculum. She thinks that the burden of planning has increased. Holidays are the only time when a sufficient length of time can be devoted to it.
The medium term plans take - you don't work it out in full days do you? - But I would say 3 or 4 hours a day for 2 weeks for medium term planning. That's a rough estimate but it is a lot. I know at Christmas I need to allow 1 week of the 2 weeks for planning and record keeping.
I spent five hours on Sunday planning this, and you've got that conflict.
Lucy regards herself as a model for other staff to help them to become organized with their planning, this is a coaching role which she feels under some pressure about. She is depressed that so many of her plans have to be abandoned because of changes in policy and emphasis.
Rachel tries to make planning fun for other staff. There are helpful and unhelpful ways of group planning
I put everybody in with the person who they work next to [who taught the next class up or down]. They each, together in pairs, just planned at half term knowing what went before and what went after. That worked extremely well. I'd imagined it being really hard work but it was just so brilliant, they weren't practising on some class they were never going to teach, they were working with somebody on something that they were then going to put into practice, and that's what I feel it should really be about and what the training should be about
Rachel, who is also good at planning, is also becoming disillusioned about the process when it can be hijacked by other agendas.
The development plan was done every year based on teaching views, based on appraisal outcomes, based on staff interviews and generally what is needed. But to be quite honest with you sometimes it is a bit of a farce because you do all that and you plan your subjects and what is needed and then you get a literacy hour imposed on you which takes three of your training days.
There are different sorts of preparation, planning what is to be done and preparing the resources. She has to prepare the themes of the lessons and then to make sure that all the materials are in place that involves photocopying and collecting books for others as well as for herself. I have already addressed the issue of monitoring but it seems that monitoring what is going on is not as important as monitoring what staff have planned to do. Perhaps the teaching is less important than the planning? Rachel explains that she does not have time to look at what people are doing so she looks at their plans, she can do that in the evening or on a Sunday. She explains that literacy takes a teacher five hours a week to plan but that other subjects can be planned in less to their detriment. In this way the literacy is stealing the best time and resources by virtue of its powerful endorsement (it is not actually compulsory). Teachers are having to meet new standards, no only because of the literacy hour, but with every new phase of the National Curriculum. Rachel tries to handle the planning of a new policy in a non-threatening way, letting it evolve from practice:
You see people are so fed up of feeling threatened, especially when they're working like I am, scared on Sunday night. But if I give this to them to say, look it doesn't matter, it's a working document, this is what we've done this year,
Some of the planning can be purchased commercially, Rachel is delighted and is willing to spend £60 of her own money to save her planning so many lessons each Sunday. So we have Lucy spending 20% of her salary to give her time to do her job and Rachel buying commercial lesson plans from her own pocket. This is where the money to run the modern primary school is now being sought.
The effect of the job on the subject leader
The issue of lack of office facilities for a job that has increasing office implications is quite serious for Lucy:
I was becoming so stressed out 18 months ago. It was starting to affect my health and the only way I could possibly do it was to go on a four day week, which financially I didn't want to do, but it was worth it for my health and I actually work Friday mornings. I even telephone publishers and things from home and people such as yourself, because I can do it in a much more relaxed way. We only have one telephone line at school so it is very difficult communicating especially when you have got a class as well. But last year, we did have two hours non-contact about every 8 or 9 weeks.
Even decisions about the new house are taken on the basis of whether it has capacity to accommodate the material that her job generates. Home is not the haven that it used to be however:
You go home, you have got to do this thing. Every night. You know, if your child is ill or you get unexpected visitors you are thinking "Oh no. I have got to do this planning".
Planning takes evenings and weekends and some can only be done at school using a primitive photocopier, which only handles single sheets. At lunchtimes, Lucy should be taking a well-earned rest from all-day contact with demanding youngsters but it is filled with fleeting meetings with children and teachers.
What we have here is a teacher finding the job has become more demanding who takes a voluntary 20% pay cut in order to find time to do the job. She says:
It was only last year that I went on to a 4 day week. I think, I mean obviously I would manage it on a 5 day week, but less would be done. It would be impossible to do as much as I do. I would be unhappy. And yet a little part of me feels resentful that I am doing that on an unpaid day but I know that I am not staying up until midnight every night. And I would be.
So how does a teacher who does not take a "four day week" cope? Rachel works at school from 7.30 until 6 most days and regrets the carefree weekends of her early service in schools. She worries who will want to come into teaching when it is so demanding and what will be offered to children when all the fun has gone from the classroom. She says:
I think people are just burning themselves out. I don't think it is possible to carry on doing what I have done for the last two years indefinitely.
Rachel feels that those who make the rules and who devise the curriculum and run the inspections do not understand the pressures of the job. She worries that she is failing the children who are a little different. In order to give them a chance, they get extra of her time and she worries that any success will be put down to the literacy hour whereas it is actually her free time and extra coaching which is doing it.
In my class I have one group, my bottom group in literacy hour where I've got two children who've got special needs but they get no support because they're not on a statement, and they are struggling to read at level 2, really struggling. And in the same group I've got two children that on a good day could possibly squeeze a level 3. now how can they read the same text? They have to in literacy hour, and every time I do it I think gosh, I either meet the needs of two of them or the other two or the other two. But with three pairs at three different levels in the reading scheme, there the last group because they've got to be as a group. And unless I actually listen in old fashioned terms to those children reading, ... I'm failing them, and the only way I'm not is because I keep them in on a lunchtime and do it then. But if I get results from them then the literacy chap is going to say oh, it's because the literacy strategy is working, which is absolute rubbish!
Her private life is disappearing and she reports that several of her colleagues have had to give up relaxation activities.
People are giving up clubs and things that they do in the week because, especially if they have got a family as well. I mean I have given up line dancing on a Monday night because it is 2 hours and by the time I have finished here with the staff meeting or twilight on a Monday night then I have done my planning for the next day, marking for the next day and made work sheets for the next day - we are having to do a lot of that for literacy at the moment because we are short of resources - then I can't afford two hours out unless I want to stay up until midnight and I can't do that. I need my 8 hours as do a lot of the other staff.
She wants people to know that there is more to being a primary teacher than is realised outside the profession, she does not see herself staying in the profession as soon as her husband is qualified and earning. This is a teacher who paid for her own M.Ed. study and did it in her own time who, two years ago wanted to progress to being head teacher. Now she reports hoping her husband will go out for the evening so that she can get on with her work. The sheer amount of work is damaging her marriage
I actually now have grown to hate Sundays. I began work at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon and at half past 11 at night I was still struggling to get everything done, I worked every night, often until as late as ten or eleven o'clock
Can we afford to lose this teacher? What changes are required to keep her? She does not believe that what she has been asked to do is reasonable and manageable anymore. She thinks it is "a lie, it's unobtainable and it's not helpful and it's just not right. And I feel that I've got to speak with my feet really." She is having to stay up late at night to create resources for literacy, such as words for linking speech which are not "Said" or "Says". She knows that other teachers in other schools are doing exactly the same. She works by her own admission, 70-80 hours a week. As soon as she is able to do so she will leave the profession. Where is the next generation of heads to come from if present deputies think like this? But it is worse than this, it is more serious than just not wanting to continue the job because of the pressure. It is a despair about what sort of society we are creating.
Well, I think now I am at the stage where I think that if this is going to happen, the type of society we are going to create with it, I don't want to be a part of leading it.
This has been a case study, and as such, it is difficult to generalize from. However, so much of what these two subject leaders have been saying is supported by the representative survey of (Webb and Vulliamy 1995) that it would appear that little has changed since then, apart from the increase in Government initiatives, for instance, (OFSTED 1996). The Government agencies are responding to a number of pressures in promoting the idea that the subject leader post should apply to the primary school.
There comes a stage in the recognition of ducks when we have to say, "it walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it looks like a duck, it probably is a duck." The OFSTED documents, although ostensibly trying to convince us that the curriculum coordinator is the way of achieving excellence in the primary school, have actually demonstrated the idiocy and impracticality of the idea. They have shown through the case studies that it is plainly not possible for teachers to coordinate a subject and to teach a class, and this point would be agreed by the two case studies discussed here for the first time. (Webb and Vulliamy 1995) confirms that what these two subject leaders are saying is not beyond what subject leaders were saying up to 1995. Galton in (O'Neill and Kitson 1996) says that post holders also experienced conflict between their advisory role and their position as class teachers. They also experienced distress, since they were held accountable for the quality of the school's provision in their subject. Not only were they required to identify their colleagues' shortcomings but they were also expected to provide the necessary resources to enable corrective action to be initiated. When colleagues performed well the post holder received little credit: when things went badly he or she took the blame. The comments made to me by the two subject leaders who are the subjects of this paper indicate that there are many difficulties about leading those who are regarded as equals, and indeed who have greater expertise in some areas. (Webb and Vulliamy 1995) confirm this aspect,
Infant teachers were thought to be particularly skeptical, and rightly so, of advice offered by coordinators who "Know nothing about infants" p. 37
The way forward is to doubt that there is a future for the subject coordinator, whilst celebrating the subject expert. The power difficulties within the school, the absence of time and assertiveness to tackle the inadequacy of colleagues' approaches, and the nature of full time primary workload in the classroom, militate against it. What is needed is a promoted post, for every ten teachers, in medium to large schools that is specifically for curriculum improvement. This would enable the post holder to work with each teacher for half a day per week in a coaching capacity or utilizing the provisionary, zetetic or modeling modes that are described by Galton. A teacher who is competent throughout the primary curriculum should occupy the post. A suitable qualification might be the Teaching and Learning module from the NPQH. The expertise of individual teachers in particular subjects would be a resource, but an extra resource. Not all National Curriculum subjects are represented by first degree subjects in the primary school, indeed they cannot be in a one-form entry school because there are not enough teachers.
This requires a compromise between the requirements of subject specialism and good primary practice. We must recognize that it is possible for a good teacher to
A promoted post holder would not be inhibited from commenting on other teachers because of dependency upon their friendship or good opinion (for promotion amongst other things), given the time to do so. She would be directly responsible to the head for the quality of teaching. This would combine the best features of the visiting advisory teacher with the authority of the head and the collegiality of the in-house subject coordinator. In some small schools this post would need to be fulfilled by the head (if she was allowed additional support elsewhere, nothing is done for nothing) or an appointment by a group of "small school" heads to work between the schools.
One huge advantage of this arrangement would be that the subject initiatives would be clearly regulated by the one person responsible. At present there is competition as each subject leader tries to justify their existence and live up to the Teacher Training Agency standards. Subjects like art are resentfully neglected because of the introduction of an initiative in another curriculum area (the literacy hour). Where there are ten subject coordinators, each feels that they should be introducing initiatives all the time, or be found wanting by OFSTED, this leads to overload all round, because, at the same time each teacher is responding to the initiatives of all the other coordinators.
The idea of the role of subject leader being combined with classroom teacher, arose out of the advisory teacher posts in the LEAs, and from the Audit Commission's suggestions in 1989. It has been taken up enthusiastically by OFSTED because it offered a way of monitoring and improving the delivery of the curriculum without any expense, except the health of most primary teachers. It is a flawed idea, which has never worked according to plan, and must be recognized as such. It must be abandoned before we exhaust the primary teachers in post and run out of new entrants for the profession, in the same way as trench warfare was abandoned after the losses of the First World War. It does not do the job and it has significant negative effects upon the postholders (nearly all of primary teachers).
Sometimes, organisations are not able to learn what every member knows to be true. In this case, every teachers trying to coordinate a subject in a primary school knows that the specifications of the Teacher Training Agency cannot be achieved. The Teacher Training Agency has not learned this lesson. Perhaps, until the Government finds extra cash for education, headteachers in primary schools need to mount a campaign in the educational press to explain the measures that they are using to maintain quality of education at a time of rapid change.
The Government has not been able to raise the salaries of teachers because of fears of knock-on effects amongst other state employees, but it has found an electorally admissible method in performance related pay. In the same way, it has not been possible just to increase the number of staff in primary schools. The appointment of instructional monitoring and development posts would provide a possible way to justify the expenditure and it would go some way to counter the lack of appropriate increase of public spending on education during the last few parliaments.
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Fullan, M. (1999). Change forces: the sequel. London, Falmer Press.
HMCI (1996). Subjects and Standards: issues for development arising from OFSTED inspection findings 1994-5, Key Stages 1 and 2. London, HMSO.
Joyce, B., E. Calhoun, et al. (1999). The new structure of school improvement: inquiring schools and achieving students. Buckingham and Philadelphia, Open University Press.
OFSTED (1996). Target setting to raise standards: A survey of good practice. London, DfEE.
OFSTED (1997). Using subject specialists to promote high standards at Key Stage 2: an illustrative survey. London, OFSTED: 28.
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Webb, R. and G. Vulliamy (1995). "The changing role of the primary school curriculum co-ordinator." The Curriculum Journal 6(1): 29-45.
This document was added to the Education-line database on 14 July 2000