Managing and leading

Deborah Weston

What does it take to be a successful leader of Religious Education in a secondary school?

The context: The role of the subject leader has changed dramatically over the last 25 years and this reflects the changing vision of leadership and management in schools overall. In the past, subject leaders were usually appointed because they were the most able RE teacher in the school. Little reference was made to management skills in the interview and the phrase ‘self evaluation’ was almost unheard of.

Manage-1.jpg The Head of Department was often semi-autonomous working towards his or her own programme of subject work with little or no reference to the work of any other subject area and even less to any vision for whole school improvement. Contrast this with the present time when leaders of RE teams are often known as middle managers with a job-description to match that title. The role is far more concerned with leadership and management of a subject or faculty development plan that fits together with those for other subject areas and other aspects of the school to drive forward the targets of a whole school development plan.

These expectations are very different although some things seem to have changed very little. It is still common for the subject leader of RE in a secondary school to be leading one or more non-specialists who also teach the subject. These non-specialists may be teachers with other specialisms who have become proficient at teaching RE after a period of teaching the subject. They can become great protagonists for the subject and sometimes become subject leaders themselves.

However, another category of non-specialists are those who are required to teach RE for a few lessons per week in order to make up for a short fall in staff capacity to deliver the RE provision. These non-specialists sometimes take the subject very seriously and make a positive contribution to the work of the department, more often however, these teachers have little or no interest in RE at all, do not contribute to the strategic development of the department, rely heavily on the subject leader for guidance and lesson planning and may resent having to teach the subject with the inevitable consequences on the quality of learning that takes place in the classroom.

On the other hand, the rapid rise in demand by students to study RE at key stage four especially the short course and at post-16, especially specifications featuring the philosophy of religion and ethics has led to some departments becoming quite large. There are an increasing number of 5 or 6 person teams around the country and in this situation the role of the subject leader will different significantly from situation described above.

Over the next few pages, we will examine the role of the subject leader in a range of circumstances. Whether you are a one man or woman band, the leader of a cast of many or of a team of RE graduates we want to help you answer the question, “What does it take to be a successful leader of RE in a secondary school?”

Before you start working through this material, complete a SWOT analysis of your current working situation using the table in managing and leading 2.

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