How one primary school leader empowered staff with the NPQLTD

Share this page

Date published 23 October 2023

Zoey Lowe, former headteacher at Foxyards Primary in Tipton (now Foxyards Academy), is one of a growing number of educational leaders seeing the value in changing an entire school's approach to teacher development.

After the school received an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating in 2019, Zoey was brought in by Manor Multi Academy Trust, which runs the school. “It was placed into special measures,” she says, “so we had a rapid improvement journey to go on really quickly.” However, the pandemic halted some of their efforts to improve the quality of teaching and learning, and the school was academised in January 2021.

“We had a restructure and we had an academy conversion. In two to three years, the school had been through a lot,” Zoey recalls. After the initial goal of bringing some stability, Zoey wanted to focus on professional development across the school.

Focusing on what works

“We had a very reactive approach to school improvement and continuing professional development (CPD),” she says. Her aim was to take an evidence-informed and carefully sequenced approach that provided the conditions for effective teacher improvement. This led to her enrolling her entire senior leadership team on the National Professional Qualification in Leading Teacher Development (NPQLTD) through Manor Teaching School Hub, a partner of Ambition Institute.

The NPQLTD is fully funded by the Department for Education (DfE). It uses evidence-informed practices to help participants train as teacher educators and deliver effective professional development in their schools.

“I'd been to a heads meeting and the new NPQs were being introduced to us,” Zoey recalls. “I really liked the sound of the NPQLTD because I think we all assume we know how to educate children and to improve as teachers and school leaders, but actually to do some real research and learning around improving the quality of education was really exciting.”

Zoey and five members of the senior leadership team completed the one-year programme in autumn 2022. “Since then," she says, “we have been on a really transformational journey.”


Developing leaders to raise pupil attainment

With 45 pupils in each year, Foxyards Academy has a close connection between families and teachers who are equally aspirational about the children’s futures. “The Foxyards community is very special,” Zoey says. When the school conducted a parental survey, they asked parents “what they perceived to be the value of education. What did they want for their children? The responses were incredible. It was about their life chances, their opportunity to go on to further education, to go on and get degrees. They were really ambitious."

It was clear the school and the parents were aligned in their mission to improve pupil outcomes, with professional development being one of the most impactful ways to achieve this. The NPQLTD, which Zoey and the team undertook, is designed to improve the quality of education by developing leaders.

"This was not just an individual journey,” she says. “This was school improvement together.” The programme enabled the six staff to work together to transform the school. It gave them a shared language around development that they could use to discuss their vision for the school’s future. The ultimate aim, of course, was to raise pupil attainment.

But has it made a difference? Zoey says the programme had a positive impact on the development of the whole leadership team. It sparked fascinating insights into how people, including teachers, learn, and it has informed a whole new approach. The content around behaviour change and habit formation has been particularly illuminating for the team.

“When new things don't stick, you often hear, ‘but I've told them to do that. Why are they not doing it?’,” she says. Understanding more about working memory (where thinking takes place) and cognitive load (the amount of information our working memory can process) has been instrumental for Zoey and the senior leadership team in changing how they offer professional development to teachers. They began to realise how difficult it can be for people, including pupils and teachers, to learn new things.

“If we look at our staff as learners too, they can improve their teaching quality when they revise, revisit, rehearse, practise and undergo coaching. If we're doing a package of CPD on something new now, it will focus on one thing and last around six weeks. Then we might leave it for half a term before we come back to it.”

“Previously, I think we'd just expect teachers to pick stuff up straight away. So, we're constantly revisiting prior learning now. The way some sessions were organised on the programme made us understand, as teachers, we need to do this with our children too.”


A flexible learning experience

The programme is designed to fit easily into existing teaching schedules. As Zoey says, "I think from a time and a workload perspective, I didn't feel it increased because it was enjoyable. Because the content was really engaging and relevant to school improvement, we were applying what we were learning as we went along. I think everything worked and definitely having that every two weeks, as opposed to big chunks of learning, was beneficial."

In addition, she says that having support outside of school from others on the programme helped her with time management thanks to their fortnightly meetings to share reflections. “As a head, I was paired with a class teacher, and I think that balance was really lovely to have those different levels of experience discussing the same scenario as well.”

Zoey left Foxyards in the summer of 2023 to pursue a post in a larger school with a resource base provision. She left behind an excellent legacy, handing over a school in a completely different place to how she found it, with higher levels of staff satisfaction, pupil attainment and a strong collective vision for the future – along with a clear method to achieve it.

Since completing the NPQLTD, Zoey has created a plan for how to build her knowledge and skills over time, using what she has learned from the programme. However, the whole-school approach also had a positive impact on the professional development of the wider leadership team, strengthening relationships and building sustainable foundations for the future of the school.

"We needed a more proactive approach to leading teacher development instead of just being responsive to needs," she notes. "To do the NPQLTD as a team was a bonding opportunity as well. We all did it together and we learned and we grew together, which was really nice."

Go further. Learn how the National Professional Qualification in Leading Teacher Development can support you to become an expert teacher educator. Learn more on our programme page.

Search blog posts by topic: