The leadership NPQs: Six reasons to get excited

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Date published 28 April 2021

Last updated 21 March 2024

At Ambition Institute, we are really enthusiastic about the national professional qualifications and how they can help create positive outcomes in the classroom. We wrote about the five specialist NPQs on our blog, but if you’re more interested in leadership NPQs, here is all the information you’ll need to get up to speed.

There are five leadership NPQs, and they are:

Here are six reasons to get excited about them.

1. Specific to leaders of schools

The frameworks seek to map out what best practice means for school leadership, in a move that takes these NPQs away from a more generic approach to leadership.

Leadership professional development has often focused on personal traits, such as the qualities of dynamic and charismatic leadership. The current NPQs pay less attention to generic management and leadership styles. They pay more attention to the knowledge and skills that school leaders need to tackle the persistent problems of their daily roles.

They are organised around ten areas of leadership that are all specific to the school context. The areas attend to both the specialist areas of school leadership like ‘curriculum and assessment’ and approaches to school improvement like ‘professional development’. This means every part of the NPQs is as relevant to schools as possible.

The ten leadership areas covered by the frameworks are:

  • Culture.
  • Teaching.
  • Curriculum and assessment.
  • Behaviour.
  • Additional and special educational needs and disabilities.
  • Professional development.
  • Organisational management.
  • Implementation.
  • Working in partnership.
  • Governance and accountability.

The frameworks for senior leadership, headship and executive leadership all cover these same ten areas.

The NPQ in Early Years Leadership covers the similar areas of:

  • Culture
  • Child Development, Curriculum and Assessment
  • Additional and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
  • Professional Development
  • Organisational Management
  • Implementation
  • Working in Partnership

The NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators covers the similar areas of:

  • Culture
  • Teaching
  • Behaviour
  • Identification and assessment
  • Provision and intervention
  • Professional development
  • Working in partnership
  • Implementation (explore)
  • Implementation (prepare; deliver; sustain)

This commonality between the leadership NPQs provides the ‘golden thread’ of learning by which a school leader can continue developing their knowledge and expertise as they move through their career.

2 . A ‘golden thread’

Building on the initial teacher training core content framework and Early Career Framework, the current suite of NPQs completes a series of Department for Education reforms which seek to provide a ‘golden thread’ of professional development throughout every stage of a teacher’s career.

From those nervous, early days as a classroom teacher through to training to become a headteacher or an executive head, there are now joined-up training options which provide a consistent approach (or ‘golden thread’) for gaining teaching and leadership expertise through these professional development frameworks.

Schools and trusts can have confidence that all their educators, from early career teachers to leaders of multiple schools, are building and developing their practice from the same evidence-based framework.

3. Focus on knowledge

The frameworks are set out as a series of ‘learn that…’ and ‘learn how to…’ statements that emphasise what knowledge and skills are most critical to school leadership. This is to ensure school leaders are secure in the formal knowledge that is required in education, such as which teaching approaches are most effective. They also provide practical knowledge of how to lead and manage in a school setting, such as how to create the conditions for staff and pupils to thrive.

If you want to learn more about why we think developing school leaders’ knowledge matters, read our hidden knowledge of experts blog.


4 . Breadth qualifications

The leadership NPQ frameworks are longer than their specialist counterparts and cover more leadership areas, because the work of senior leaders in schools is more complex and multi-faceted. Senior leaders require a well-rounded view of school leadership, beyond just their current areas of responsibility, and a clear understanding of how the different areas of school leadership interact.

The breadth of leadership areas covered by the leadership frameworks – from ‘teaching’ through to ‘organisational management’ – provides an opportunity for leaders to fill any knowledge gaps that may have arisen by following different career paths. Studying such a wide range of leadership areas is also great preparation for school leaders thinking about progressing into more senior and strategic roles.

5 . Drawn from a common evidence base

The current frameworks have been developed by looking at a wide evidence base including how children learn, what impacts their behaviour and how they are assessed and what makes effective professional development for teachers and leaders. The frameworks have been approved and endorsed by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

This common evidence base is a major part of the ‘golden thread’, which brings a shared terminology and experience to the national conversation on leadership development for schools. This has the potential to reduce the inequality in education that many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds still face.

6 . There is an Early Headship Coaching Offer (EHCO) available for new headteachers

When senior leaders step into their first roles as headteachers, they undertake what is acknowledged to be a particularly challenging career transition. Now, on top of the standard NPQH programme, lead providers will offer Early Headship Coaching Offer for participants new to headship. The provision of additional funding to support the development and retention of these leaders is most certainly a welcome investment.

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