Does Teacher Subject Knowledge Matter?

“Having deep and fluent
knowledge and flexible
understanding of the content you
are teaching.”

Element One of the Great Teaching model from the
Great Teaching Tool Kit Evidence Review

It is common sense that teachers with a deep understanding of the subject they are teaching will be able to teach that knowledge more effectively – even more so when we consider both content knowledge (the content of the curriculum) and pedagogic content knowledge (knowing how to teach that knowledge effectively).

But it turns out that teacher knowledge doesn’t make a great deal of difference to pupil outcomes. According to the Great Teaching Toolkit, the evidence “is a bit mixed and conceptually somewhat

Hattie (2023) too finds a low correlation between teacher subject matter knowledge and pupil outcomes (d=0.13 – barely worth worrying about). He unpicks this though. His hypothesis is that when we teach mostly surface level knowledge in class, it doesn’t matter very much whether the teacher has deep subject knowledge – and he finds are that typically we teach surface level knowledge in our classrooms. If we were to teach more ‘deep and connected learning’ (see the Great Teaching Toolkit), teacher subject knowledge would become more important.

So, the best bet is to simultaneously develop teachers’ subject knowledge alongside professional and curriculum development which supports deep and connected learning in class.

For primary science teacher subject knowledge CPD, ReachOut is an excellent training course. Each topic takes about 20 minutes and has video and quizzes. Plus it’s free for UK teachers.


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