Advice and support for subject leaders

This guidance aims to inform subject, middle and senior leaders of the responsibilities associated with leading a subject. The complexity of subject leadership and preparation for inspection can be significant and this advice aims to support manageable workloads, professional support, and collegiate learning cultures. 

Subject leader role

Anyone who leads the delivery of a curriculum subject is a subject leader. You are a subject leader if you:

  • lead a subject area in a primary or secondary school;
  • share responsibility between you and others if the subject is divided into different areas and roles - such as assistant, or deputy subject leads, or subject leaders for particular phases;
  • work in special settings, as subject leads for areas such as communication and language, cognition, or learning/pastoral support.

Teachers can lead more than one subject. For example, someone may be head of Key Stage 2 and lead Maths. Another teacher may lead a subject area in addition to their role as SENCo. Subject leadership is a supplementary role and so requires additional payment and non-contact time to existing responsibilities. 

Additional responsibilities

For all subject leaders, their role is additional to that of a classroom teacher, because they oversee and lead the subject’s delivery across the school, federation, or MAT. This means they have duties additional to their existing classroom and leadership roles. 

The additional duties include but is not limited to: 

  • Ensuring consistency of subject teaching, including through observations and ‘book looks’.
  • Curriculum sequencing and mapping.
  • Meeting with Ofsted inspectors about their subject.
  • Supporting planning, team-teaching, and delivering CPD.
  • Attending subject network meetings.
  • Organising subject events e.g., subject days, weeks, and assemblies.

Example of positive case study 

Sophie leads Art alongside teaching a Year 3 class full-time. She is given 1.5 hours of non-contact time each week in addition to her PPA and TLR 2a. Sophie has discretion on how to best use her time, and feels able to observe colleagues, sequence the curriculum, and order resources as necessary. 

Example of problematic practice

Michelle has been a head of year at her school for over three years. She is on the Main Pay Range and receives TLR 2a for her year lead work. At the start of the school year, the History lead post remains unfulfilled. Michelle’s head asks her to lead History and explains that as Michelle receives a TLR and non-contact time already, she is not entitled to additional pay or non-contact time.

There may be other co-ordinator or specific roles that are not linked to a subject, such as mental health/wellbeing, SENCOs, and Forest School leads. 

Do: Teachers who are expected to lead and carry out tasks in addition to their classroom post should receive additional payment and non-contact time. 

Don’t:  Except in exceptional circumstances, with the express agreement of the Early Career Teacher (ECT), ECTs should not be asked to become subject leaders. Schools should focus on supporting early career teachers, and their successful development, rather than expecting additional workload.

TLR payments 

The NEU recognises the significant pressures on school funding, but staff must be remunerated fairly for taking on additional responsibilities. 

If you don’t know which TLR payments you may be entitled to, please speak with your workplace rep.

Check your school’s pay policy which should be agreed annually with staff and is normally available online. Your school pay policy should include information on staffing structure, pay ranges and information on how TLRs are awarded; the numbers of posts with TLR payments; whether those are TLR1, TLR2 or TLR3, and the specific values of the payments and the responsibilities of each TLR role in the school.

Pay policy

The importance of fair pay policies in schools and the need for policies to align with STPCD. The NEU outlines the process for challenging unfair pay and the support available for securing equitable pay policies.

Keeping workload manageable and realistic

Many members are reporting that changes to the school inspection framework have increased the workload of subject leaders. Please read our guidance on reducing accountability workload in your workplace. This guide has been designed to support you and your colleagues to understand and identify what is causing additional workload in your workplace. 

The Union does not think it is necessary for managers to use ‘mock’ deep dives because this generates excessive workload.

Professional development

Developing skills and confidence in leading a subject requires support and access to professional development opportunities as appropriate. 

You should feel able to ask to discuss what opportunities are most beneficial to develop your skills. Our programme offers a wide range of CPD for you.

Frequently asked questions

If your TLR payments are removed or reduced because you have returned from maternity leave part time, this could be sex discrimination. 

Contact the AdviceLine if your TLR payment has reduced after your return from maternity leave, long term sickness absence or after going part-time.

TLR payments are intended to reward classroom teachers for undertaking a sustained additional responsibility, “for the purpose of ensuring the continued delivery of high-quality teaching and learning and for which the teacher is made accountable.” (2022 STPCD para 20).

School pay policies should set out the following information in a transparent manner:

  • how permanent additional responsibilities in the school are fairly rewarded with TLR1 or TLR2 payments;
  • that temporary TLR3 payments are also allocated appropriately;
  • information on how to apply for leadership posts; and. 
  • Information on the SEN allowances paid in the school should be set out transparently in the school pay policy.

School pay policies should be reviewed annually in negotiation with union reps, including NEU reps. This should give reps the opportunity to raise any issues on members’ behalf.

The school teachers’ pay and conditions document (STPCD) provides for three broad bands for the values of TLR payments – TLR1, TLR2 and TLR3. Each school will decide for itself the number of levels of TLR payments within the two bands and the specific values of the TLR payments at each level. There is no longer any prescribed minimum differential between each level of TLR payment in schools. 

The Union recognises that variations between schools on the levels and values of TLR payments will increase inequality within and between schools and complicate the career path for teachers. Below are the minimum values for each band. We have also used various examples of practice throughout this guidance to put the different TLR bands in context. 

The following structure for TLR payments reflects the former five levels of Management Allowances at values uprated in line with annual changes to the TLR payment ranges. The minimum values below should be used.

TLR2a    £3,017       TLR1a      £8,706 

TLR2b    £5,028       TLR1b   £11,367

TLR2c    £7,368       TLR1c   £14,732 

The more recently introduced TLR3 payment must be no less than £600 and no greater than £2,975. Where the school wishes to make TLR 3 payments, the proposed responsibilities, level of payment (within the published range) and the duration of payment should be set out clearly in the school pay policy.

In Wales, TLR 2 is set from £3,071 to £7,497. TLR 1 range is from £8,859 to £14,990 and TLR 3 is from £611 to £3,028. 

The separate STPCD for Wales specifically states that the TLR can be paid in full where a part time teacher undertakes the full duties associated with the TLR.

You can read further guidance on TLR payments here.

Example of good practice case study: 

Satvinder, a Music subject lead, leads a music project across her school trust. It is agreed with her headteacher that the project will last one year and that she will receive an additional TLR3 to her existing leadership TLR 2a. She already receives 1.5 hours of additional non-contact time each week as a Music lead, but she and her head agree that she will need an additional hour each fortnight to lead the additional project across the trust. They both agree to review at the end of Autumn Term. 

If this information is not available, or you believe that you are not being compensated appropriately, organise a meeting or contact your rep/local NEU office to discuss. They will be able to support you by raising the issue within your workplace. 

Teachers who are required to take on additional responsibilities that are not expected of their colleagues must receive additional non-contact time to carry out their responsibilities. This is on top of their PPA time.

It is a normal and reasonable expectation that teachers should be provided with the necessary support to discharge their responsibilities if they are to be held accountable for them by anyone.  In terms of time, the STPCD states that teachers have a right to non-contact time, additional to their PPA time, for management responsibilities (2022 STPCD para 52.6). 

Example of problematic practice

Yasmin leads English across her primary school. She is responsible for leading CPD after school, line-managing English intervention staff and sequencing the curriculum. She is given TLR2a but no additional non-contact time. Her headteacher explains that the TLR covers the cost of Yasmin working in her own time. 

The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), statutory guidance which all maintained schools and Academies should follow, sets out the limits on what teachers can be expected to do if they do not receive a TLR payment:

“Teachers are expected to contribute ... to curriculum development by sharing their professional expertise with colleagues and advising on effective practice. This does not mean that they can be expected to take on the responsibility of, and accountability for, a subject area or to manage other teachers without appropriate additional payment. Responsibilities of this nature should be part of a post that is in the leadership group or linked to a post which attracts a TLR [payment]” (2022 STPCD para 44).

If leaders are unable to provide this within their budget and staffing constraints, then NEU advice, based on the STPCD, is that those teachers should not be viewed as responsible or accountable for that subject area.

Leaders should not ask teachers without TLRs to be responsible for standards in that subject, standards of teaching in that subject, feedback in that subject, sequencing of knowledge in that subject, consistency of teaching in that subject, or monitoring and evaluation of teaching and learning in that subject, across the school.

Leaders should not require teachers without TLRs to complete any paperwork which records any of the above.

Example of problematic practice 

Bradley, an NQT, is told that every teacher in his small school must lead a subject and is given Computing. Bradley is told he can pick from either non-contact time, or a TLR.

Teachers should be supported in developing their skills at all stages of their career. There should be an open dialogue between teachers and senior leadership on what support is most beneficial in different circumstances. 

Support and development could include:

  • Involvement in good practice hubs and groups;
  • Attending relevant NEU events.
  • Mentoring and training. The NEU offers a middle leader development programme and seminars throughout the year on covering, managing teams, leading change, coaching skills and having difficult conversations;
  • Reading our middle leaders guidance
  • Getting involved with subject associations, who offer training, resources and support.

Ofsted’s 2019 inspection framework has a focus on the quality of the school’s curriculum. To assess curriculum quality against the framework’s Quality of Education judgment requirements, inspectors are doing ‘deep dives’ into subjects, agreed in the pre-inspection phone call with the headteacher.

As part of the ‘deep dive’, inspectors will meet with subject leaders. They are being asked, amongst other things, about:

  • The match between the school curriculum and the national curriculum
  • How teachers, throughout the school, plan for memory retention and retrieval
  • Evidence of consistency of teaching approach and quality throughout the school
  • The rationale of the sequencing in the subject
  • How the curriculum is monitored and evaluated

This approach to inspection, preparation for inspection and ‘deep dives’, have the potential to increase workload and create excessive workload. For this reason, the NEU recommends that: 

  • the workload of subject leaders must be kept under review;
  • subject leaders’ workload must be under regular discussion with SLT.  

The NEU has guidance to support you and colleagues to act together to challenge accountability workload in your workplace, for instance challenging mock deep dives, if these are happening in your workplace. 

The NEU believes that excessive hours spent on unnecessary tasks generated by the accountability regime does not help pupils learn and is contributing to the recruitment and retention challenges across education. 

The NEU advises that you shouldn’t be asked to take on subject leadership responsibility without a TLR and appropriate non-contact time. 

If you don’t have a TLR, or the necessary non-contact time to undertake the responsibilities, we advise that you should be accompanied by a senior member of staff to any meetings with Ofsted inspectors. That senior leader should contribute to the discussion of the curriculum, its delivery and monitoring, throughout the school.

When senior members of staff accompany teachers to meetings with inspectors, it should be made clear to inspectors that the NEU, their union, has advised them that due to budget and staffing restraints, the teacher cannot be held responsible for the quality of the curriculum in the subject deep dive

The NEU recommends that leaders provide information for the Ofsted inspection team about budget and staffing constraints and ask for this to be reported in the final inspection report. 

You are entitled to raise concerns you have about the inspection process, including the way deep dives are being conducted, with your senior leadership team as soon as possible.  Your headteacher should then consider raising these concerns with the lead inspector. 

Ofsted has stated that deep dives should not lead to a judgement or grade about a particular subject but should help inspectors evaluate the quality of education provided by the school.   

Any meetings you have with an inspector should be conducted professionally and in working hours. Inspectors should not have a preferred curriculum approach or way of teaching when evaluating a subject. The School Inspection Handbook states that Ofsted will:-

  • ‘judge schools taking radically different approaches to the curriculum fairly’ and; 
  • that it ‘recognise the importance of schools’/trusts’ autonomy to choose their own curriculum approaches.’

Ofsted began publishing curriculum research reviews in April 2021. 

Reviews now cover almost every subject area and are meant to provide an ‘authoritative guide to good practice as well as ground the inspection approach’ (Ofsted Annual Report 2022).

The NEU, subject associations, educators and others, have since raised significant concerns about the rigour of these reviews and their narrow scope. The English Association, for example, has written that Ofsted 'does not do justice to the full breadth and range of research in English, does not support the National Curriculum and is inadequate as a guide for leading the discipline’. Similar concerns have been expressed in other subject areas.

The NEU believes it is critical that the professional judgement and expertise of subject leaders is not undermined because of these research reviews. Subject leaders should feel confident to draw upon a range of expertise and good practice they have gained in the profession and in their subject leadership role. 

Feedback on the impact of Ofsted’s curriculum research reviews, subject leadership responsibilities and/or the school inspection process is welcome. Please get in contact with the NEU at  [email protected].

If you need further advice or support, please contact your local NEU officers

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