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NPQs: Your questions answered

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Date published 28 June 2021

Last updated 04 April 2024

The 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 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. We’ve collected them here to share the answers as widely as possible.

Here are five 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 an NPQ if I’ve already done one of the previous versions of the qualifications?
  • Are the NPQs valuable without an improvement project?
Photo of a teacher being coached by another member of staff.

Are NPQs only useful if you want a promotion?

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

While there are five NPQs which are aimed at developing the leadership skills and knowledge of teachers, there are also five 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 for Leading Teaching (NPQLT). On the other hand, a middle leader could choose the NPQ for Senior Leadership (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 for 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.

Photo of a teacher helping a pupil use a microscope

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 set of standards with which to hold teachers, leaders and schools to account. Teachers’ Standards still apply, with the qualifications and their frameworks providing a shared knowledge base to standardise and increase expertise across the sector.

At Ambition, we think this supports a move 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 current 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 current suite of NPQs to develop skills and knowledge in a more specialist area. Find out more about the NPQ offer here.

Are the NPQs 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 current 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 current 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.

Go further: you can find out more about each of our NPQ programmes here.

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