How do our flexible NPQs support women's development?

March 8, 2023

At Ambition Institute, challenging inequality is at the core of our mission. Here, we talk to Katy Patten, Dean of Learning Design, about how our National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) promote flexibility and inclusion for our participants.

The evidence tells us that as teachers move into leadership positions, representation of women decreases.

Though the picture is improving, in 2020 women made up 85% of primary teachers and only 74% of headteachers. In secondaries, these figures were 63% and 40% respectively (Department for Education, 2022). Statistically, men become headteachers earlier in their career, particularly in primary settings. Women and part-time teachers are less likely to be promoted to leadership positions (DfE, 2022).

According to the Policy Exchange, the biggest demographic of teachers leaving the profession are women aged 30 to 39. Figures also suggest that half of women, who make up 73% of teachers, are unlikely to return to teaching after leaving to start or care for their families.

What if access to high quality training could be part of supporting these teachers – not only to stay in the profession, but also to be successful in progressing in their careers?

We asked Katy Patten, one of Ambition Institute’s deans of learning design, about how the National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) have been designed to prioritise flexibility and inclusion.

How are the new NPQs more flexible than previous programmes?

When the Department for Education (DfE) reformed the NPQ programmes, they kept the leadership NPQs and introduced the new specialist qualifications, as well as rewriting the frameworks that underpin them.

As well as the content of the NPQs being different, the DfE also set out expectations for how they should be delivered – with a mix of online and face to face learning – allowing Lead Providers the opportunity to build impactful programmes whilst ensuring accessibility for participants.

The DfE also changed the guidance for how NPQs are assessed. Participants used to be required to write up a project throughout the year, which would require them to be in school over the course of the whole programme. For some people this was time-consuming and inaccessible, or a distraction from the core learning of the programme.

Now, participants complete a final case study assessment, sort of like an open book exam, at the end of their programme. This is a much more accessible and equitable way to assess participants, with reasonable adjustments and a strong support package built in.

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How does flexibility feature in the delivery of our NPQ programmes?

We believe all NPQ participants are entitled to access their full programme, regardless of whether they are part-time, request a deferral, take parental leave, or move schools.

One way to make our programmes as accessible as possible is to build in flexibility. So, we have designed the NPQs in a way that allows participants to engage at a pace and cadence that suits their needs by making tweaks that don’t compromise on learning.

We schedule of face-to-face and live events or training sessions carefully. The majority of an NPQ programme is completed online, via the learning management system Steplab, at a time and place that suits participants: for example, on their working days if participants are part time. See the video below to see how it works.

We also design modules that can be completed individually, in pairs, or in trios to ensure that scheduling challenges need not be a barrier to engagement. We have built flexibility into the tasks participants complete so that they can select the one that is most appropriate to them. All of this online content can be accessed any time, and on any device.

To support attendance and engagement at live events we aim to share key dates as far in advance as possible and offer alternatives if participants are given an event which falls on a non-working day. We have also worked closely with our delivery partners on flexible scheduling, to ensure that part time work is not a barrier.

"We advise that little and often is better in terms of your cognitive load, but you're a professional; you can manage that for yourself."

What have we changed since we first delivered the NPQs?

When we originally designed the programmes, we thought that we would release one module per week and then people would work through their NPQ little and often, in line with what might be optimal for learning and habit building.

But we’re working with school leaders – they're busy, they've got lots going on. Week-to-week their roles are very responsive. Even if they can block out time each week to complete their module, there are lots of things that might make that impossible for them, both in their work life and their wider life.

We now release modules in blocks so participants will get access to more content in one go. We release them in advance, which enables people to get ahead if they need to or catch up if they’ve missed a few weeks. You might be looking ahead and thinking ‘I've got parents evening next week. I'm going to do two modules this week.’ Or ‘I had parents evening this week, so I didn't get around to my NPQ, but I’ll catch up next week.’

This gives teachers agency over when they choose to engage with their course. We advise that little and often is better in terms of your cognitive load, but you're a professional; we trust you to manage that for yourself.

We've also really invested in our catch-up materials for both conferences and clinics. So, if you do have to miss an event you get some video recordings, workbooks and activities to go through at a time that suits you. Either Ambition or your delivery partner can support you to complete that.

Does the flexibility of the NPQ programmes apply to our other programmes?

I think it does. A lot of this thinking has been happening informally for a long time, but the NPQs are the most recent suite of programmes that we've designed.

I think there's been a much tighter focus on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion and accessibility in recent years, which has meant that we've had more of a laser sharp focus on exactly how we are we ask ourselves this question more explicitly.

If you were to look at a lot of our other programmes, you would see a lot of these features replicated there.

Want to read more about some of the inspiring women Ambition Institute has worked with?

Read about Claudenia Williams, and our blog about inspirational women making waves in education.


Learn more about our National Professional Qualifications on our programme page.

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