Burnley Brow Primary: Leadership of history at its best

How one QM school history coordinator approaches the leadership of history

Many history coordinators are thrown into their roles having received little or no training in either the teaching of history or the leadership of the subject*. Leading the subject can be daunting but done well, it can be a stepping stone to senior leadership roles in school.

So what does effective leadership of history look like? We asked Abbi Robinson Nelson from QM Gold Awarded school Burnley Brow Primary in Oldham. 

Abbi has been in post for two and a half years and has been working hard to develop the subject through the quality mark process. She is highly knowledgeable, not just in terms of history subject knowledge, but also in pedagogy. She is passionate about enthusing and supporting colleagues. She is fully supported by the SMT at the school who clearly understand the potential of History to enrich the lives of the pupils.

Abbi has taken time to carefully develop her leadership of the subject which has resulted in her team teaching in some year groups for example with NQTs. This support has been targeted in those areas requiring greatest impact. Information from the scrutiny of a range of evidence including lesson observations, audits and reviews of pupils’ work has helped to identify these focus areas.

Another important area of subject leadership is training. The support of senior leaders for Abbi’s leadership has meant that she has been able to undertake a range of CPD opportunities. She has confidently passed on knowledge and understanding gained from these to the rest of the staff.  Abbi has also been given time in staff meetings and training days to develop teaching in the subject across the school based upon the knowledge she has developed herself. This support for the dissemination of subject based CPD is vital in the development of provision. At Burnley Brow, dissemination has resulted in a shared ethos about the teaching of the subject with common principles being embedded throughout the school. This common approach benefits pupils in the application of models of good practice they can apply to any topic studied.

The views of pupils are actively sought to help develop provision, for example through the school council. In response to requests from staff, Abbi delivered a session on the development of questioning skills. She is now developing networks beyond the school through cluster meetings where good practice is shared. Most recently she has offered to support a teacher at a local school with preparing for the Quality Mark assessment. She engages fully with the resources provided by the HA and directs the staff to appropriate materials to enhance the quality of their planning and teaching. It is nice to see a school really making the most of its HA membership.

Abbi is passionate about history and an excellent motivator of staff as well as supporting and leading by example. The school is working hard to develop links with parents. Any feedback received for example via email communication, at coffee mornings etc. is acted upon.  The excellent work of the subject leader has been used as a model of good practice for other foundation subject leaders to follow and will provide a driver for overall school improvement in the future so the headteacher at the school indicates. 

Abbi has clearly proved herself to provide effective subject leadership in history and the trajectory that she has set for development of history in the school will be rolled out to other subjects. This is really seeing the history Quality Mark working to its best potential. But how does Abbi view her role and how far she has come?

When I initially volunteered for the role of Leader of History I felt daunted and more than a little overwhelmed. I am passionate about history as a means of driving progression across all areas of the curriculum and have always had a great interest in all things historical, but had absolutely no experience in leading any subject, like many other history coordinators across our primary schools.

Coupled with this, individual foundation subjects had not been led separately in our school for some time, but rather maintained across two or more cohorts along with all the other curriculum subjects. This meant that I needed to rethink the approach to the teaching and monitoring of history, and look at content and progression of skills and knowledge across the whole school. Luckily, leadership of core subjects in our school was very strong, and I decided to base my leadership of history upon these models. I performed an initial audit of the subject and found the HA QM criteria to be extremely helpful when identifying our areas of strength and points for improvement.

The next step was to establish a routine which would allow for a constant cycle of monitoring and reviewing of teaching and learning within History.  Again, I based this on the core subject model and use drop in lesson observations, planning scrutiny, environment walks, book scrutiny and children’s voices. Initially this was a little time consuming to set up, but now this cycle is in place I find that I need less time to perform these tasks, and they quickly and clearly highlight any areas for development or support.

I am also very lucky in that I work with a fantastic staff who are all willing to get on board with changes and have embraced fun learning opportunities whole-heartedly. Leading the subject has been a fantastic experience both personally and professionally and has really given me the chance to stretch and develop my skills in different directions. It has also had a positive impact on children’s interest in the subject and has strengthened the profile of history teaching across the school. I love it, and look forward to another year in the role!

Congratulations to Abbi and all at Burnley Brow School on their gold Quality Mark attained in the summer of 2017.

Source: Historical Association Primary Survey 2017

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