The new NPQs: Your questions answered

June 28, 2021
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Ambition Institute

The new National Professional Qualifications (NPQ) frameworks reflect a real change in the focus for the education sector.

They offer a range of professional development options which are intended for teachers and school leaders across the UK to master their craft, with professional development options at every stage of their career.

As a lead provider of the new and reformed NPQs, we’re constantly talking with teachers and schools about what the frameworks mean for them, and we’ve noticed some common myths and misconceptions arising about the frameworks. We’ve collected them here to share the answers as widely as possible.

Here are six questions that we get asked about the National Professional Qualifications:

  • Are NPQs only useful if you want a promotion?
  • Is it only worth doing the highest level NPQ I am qualified for?
  • Are NPQs just another set of standards for all teachers and schools to adhere to?
  • Can I do one of the new NPQs if I’ve already done an NPQ?
  • Are the new NPQs still valuable without an improvement project?
  • Can my school afford to engage in expensive training like this?

You can also catch up on all the essential NPQ information with our recent 'Your questions answered' webinar, which included a live, 20-minute question and answer session.

Are NPQs only useful if you want a promotion?

The new NPQs are not designed to be just rungs on the promotion ladder. There are NPQ options for teachers with all sorts of plans, aspirations and goals, who are at different stages of their careers.

While there are three NPQs which are aimed at developing the leadership skills and knowledge of teachers, there are also three specialist NPQs that are intended for anyone who wants to focus on different aspects of classroom practice and school life.

This rebalancing shows that it is no longer the case that mid-career teachers have limited options for development which keep them in the classroom. Now all teachers have options for high-quality, evidence-informed, practical professional development.

Is it only worth doing the highest level NPQ I am qualified for?

The broader suite of NPQs allow teachers to focus on different areas of their teaching practice, so the idea of aiming for the ‘highest’ qualification doesn’t really apply.

For example, a teacher or senior leader who has expertise in pastoral roles may want to broaden this to include knowledge of teaching and learning, and choose the NPQ Leading Teaching (NPQLT). On the other hand, a middle leader could choose the NPQ Senior Leaders (NPQSL) to prepare for a future role. In both cases, they have options for broadening the knowledge and skills they have beyond their current expertise.

An experienced teacher in a school where behaviour is challenging may opt for the NPQ Leading Behaviour and Culture because it is the best choice to increase their repertoire of skills and knowledge relative to their context. A head in a different school might enrol their senior leadership team on the NPQSL to ensure they have oversight of school management.

All these choices make sense for the teachers at their levels, in their local context, rather than ticking the next career box.


Are NPQs just another set of standards for all teachers and schools to adhere to?

The frameworks have stated categorically that they are not a new set of standards with which to hold teachers, leaders and schools to account. Teachers’ Standards still apply, with the new qualifications and their frameworks providing a shared knowledge base to standardise and increase expertise across the sector.

At Ambition, we think this change will support a move away from relying on generic and compliant approaches, and instead towards a sector in which teachers and leaders have the foundation of knowledge and evidence they need to better understand their context and apply the best possible interventions.

Can I do one of the new NPQs if I’ve already done an NPQ?

Yes. The new and reformed NPQs are all distinct from the previous versions. National Professional Qualifications can be undertaken regardless of your previous engagement with NPQs. And the approach to leadership development is very different from that taken in the previous versions of the qualifications. This means it is entirely appropriate for a teacher or leader to access the new suite of NPQs to develop skills and knowledge in a more specialist area. Find out more about the NPQ offer here.

Are the new NPQs still valuable without an improvement project?

Measuring the impact of anything in school is difficult. Improvement projects were one approach to assessment, but they were not without flaws. For example, writing up improvement projects is time consuming for school leaders already time poor and juggling priorities.

With the new NPQs, participants should not feel any pressure to create and implement projects in schools in order to complete their qualification. In line with the NPQs’ focus on developing knowledge and expertise. In the new NPQs, summative assessment will assess participant knowledge and application of the framework through an ‘open-book’ case study assessment.

Implementation will only be undertaken when the concept is most appropriate for the setting and provides a solution for a problem genuine to that school context. This is better for our schools, because participants will be encouraged to be thoughtful regarding the knowledge they apply in school, making impact more genuine in classrooms, leadership and practice.

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