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How flexible are NPQs?

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Date published 25 May 2021

With some lead providers saying different things about how flexible national professional qualification programmes (NPQs) are, it is not surprising that teachers and school leaders ask us “how flexible are the NPQs?”

In short, the content of the NPQs is fixed, though the way we deliver the programmes to participants allows for some flexibility. One important element in this is that they require both programme participants and lead providers to approach the qualifications in new ways.

So, what is fixed about NPQs?

In a word, content. To meet Department for Education (DfE) requirements for fulfilling the NPQs, lead providers must map the content faithfully onto the modules that they put together.

NPQs are all built from the same evidence base and, together, form a coherent pathway of career-long professional development for teachers and school leaders. All providers must ensure they cover the same content and, to achieve an NPQ, participants must engage with all of this content. This will result in every teacher and school leader who participates in an NPQ being exposed to the same research, all backed by the same secure bases of evidence.

At Ambition Institute, we have been advocating for evidence-led professional development in education for some time now and have been designing our courses with this approach in mind. When the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) helped draft the qualifications’ frameworks, they ensured a high bar for evidence was built in, and they also quality-assure all NPQs. We support and welcome the greater emphasis on evidence in these very important frameworks.

How can Ambition build flexibility into NPQs?

When we build courses and curricula around the frameworks, we can place emphases on different topics that match the needs of course participants. We can also spend more time exploring particular ideas to support particular participants. This flexibility is about how we set the programme in context, and not about changing the content or moving away from the evidence base.

There are other ways to build flexibility into the NPQs, such as how we give programme participants some choice in how they fit the qualification around their busy working lives. Here’s how we do it:

With Ambition Institute, the NPQs are broken down into a number of modules, each delivered over a half term or period of six weeks. Each module has six 50-minute study sessions. These sessions can be spread across the timetable, whether that is between lessons, after school, on a commute or at home.

They can also be accessed in ways which suit the participant, via smartphone, tablet or computer. This allows for teachers to engage with the content wherever they are and, while teachers can’t skip content, they can fit it around their work and lives. Any missed sessions can be caught up thanks to this flexibility built into the delivery.


At points throughout the programmes, we facilitate clinics for participants. These can be booked to fit school timetables. And during the one-hour community sessions, groups of participants come together for discussions on persistent problems commonly faced in the profession. These build in a degree of flexibility in topic, as they are peer-led and can pursue angles and emphases that suit the group.

Why does this require a new mindset for programme participants?

The latest NPQs are very different from previous iterations of the qualifications, and our programme delivery continues to change and evolve too. NPQ delivery has moved away from isolated, ‘one-and-done' full-day events towards a ‘little-and-often’ approach that reinforces learning as it goes. One reason we take this approach is our learning from cognitive science literature that tells us spreading learning out and returning to topics multiple times results in more powerful professional development.

"CPD is not viewed as a bolt-on, but integral to the weekly or monthly workload."

Other reasons for this course design include helping participants and schools to fit programmes around busy lives and schedules, supporting the formation of new habits, and reducing costs with online delivery to meet tighter budgets. This ‘little and often’ approach brings many benefits to enable participants to control their calendars and complete the study topics in flexible ways.

However, the shift from ‘one-and-done' conference-style delivery days to ‘little-and-often' sessions requires a shift in mindset towards studying deliberately throughout the year. This attitude to continuing professional development has been normalised within the medical profession. Doctors continue their studies beyond their most junior years, regardless of specialism or career stage. CPD is not viewed as a bolt-on, but integral to the weekly or monthly workload. If educators and school leaders are to ‘keep getting better’, then this is an approach they will need to adopt.

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