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NPQs not up to scratch for increasingly ‘complex’ headship

National professional qualifications (NPQs) for school leaders lack the “full extent of skills and knowledge” needed for the “complexity of increasingly senior roles” a report has warned.

The development programmes for heads (NPQH) and executive leaders (NPQEL) also risk being seen by government as the “complete answer to what leaders need”, rather than the “minimum entitlement” they were designed to be.

Big Education and the Centre for Education and Youth spoke to academics, teacher trainers, policy experts and school leaders.

Becks Boomer Clark

They concluded that the government should review the programmes to “consider how to expand their scope and remit to more fully meet the needs of emerging and existing leaders”.

In a piece for Schools Week, chief executive of Academies Enterprise Trust Becks Boomer-Clark said NPQs are “necessary but they are not sufficient – it does not and should not end there.

“As well as further programmes to develop deeper and specialist knowledge, we also need a whole suite of support for leaders on how to implement change effectively in a complex environment.”

Pilot ‘NPQ+’ provision, government told

The NPQ report recommended ministers team up with the Education Endowment Foundation to pilot “beyond NPQ” or “NPQ+” provision that goes further than the existing programmes.

This would place more emphasis on supporting leaders to develop “in relation to their own wellbeing and leading cultures which support this in others, both staff and pupils”.

The current qualifications were launched in 2020 as part of a reformed suite of six NPQs aimed at improving development for mid- and late-career school staff.

The government subsequently announced £184 million to offer 150,000 free places by the end of this academic year. But take-up has been slow.

Data shows 65,225 funded participants in the past two academic years, meaning almost 85,000 participants would have to sign-up this year to meet the allocation.

In 2021–22, there were 3,902 funded participants in the NPQH and 1,056 in the NPQEL. Last year, there were 4,357 headteacher participants and 1,342 executive leaders.

‘Insufficient progression’

This week’s report warned of “insufficient progression” in the core content of the qualifications and “recognition of the changing scope and complexity of increasingly senior roles”.

Researchers added the DfE should review both NPQs to give a “clearer understanding of the role of the leader beyond the implementer of evidence informed interventions”.

They should also introduce “greater differentiation in content from other NPQs to better meet the needs of the most senior leaders”. Ministers should also commission a broader independent review of leadership development more generally.

James Bowen, of the NAHT, said the report shined a “helpful spotlight on where there are gaps in the current suite of national leadership programmes and qualifications”

Demands faced by school leaders “require more than just a set of technical skills, important though they are…it is therefore vital that leadership training and development addresses all aspects of the role”.

ASCL’s Sara Tanton said: “We agree with the need to create more opportunities for leaders to learn with, and from, leaders from other sectors, and much more needs to be done to break down barriers to leadership faced by teachers of colour and to support emerging and existing leaders from underrepresented groups.”

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