What is the NPQ in Senior Leadership?

Feb. 13, 2023

Since September 2021, Ambition Institute has welcomed teachers and school leaders from across the country onto our National Professional Qualification (NPQ) programmes.

This article unpicks the National Professional Qualification in Senior Leadership (NPQSL). You will learn how the NPQSL could help you build your confidence to take the next step in your career, whilst making a long-lasting positive impact on pupil life chances.

Why focus on senior leadership?

An effective school leader has the potential to raise the quality of teaching and learning, improving pupil outcomes (Vaughan Cruickshank, 2017). But schools are complex places, and senior leadership roles are particularly complex. In fact, senior leaders will have both operational and strategic responsibilities in their school or trust, as well as full understanding of their educational context. Alongside this, they will have expertise in specialist areas related to their role (DfE, 2020).

We know that leaders are developed, not born (Ericsson et al. 2007). Both the importance and the complexity of senior leadership makes it vital that senior leaders, or teachers with leadership responsibilities, receive support to thrive in their role.

In creating the NPQ in Senior Leadership, the Department for Education has recognised the need for professional development (PD) for those in senior leadership roles, or those aspiring to lead in their school or trust.

The NPQSL provides the opportunity to learn about evidence-based school leadership and put it into practice in your school or trust. By the end of your qualification, you will have the confidence in your practice to lead positive change, boost attainment for your pupils and excel as a leader as you take the next step in your career.

What is contained in the NPQ in Senior Leadership framework?

As part of your NPQSL you will study nine courses, one every half term. These courses are:

  • Implementation
  • Culture
  • Teaching and Behaviour
  • Professional Development
  • Assessment and Curriculum
  • Additional and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
  • Organisational Management
  • Working in Partnership
  • Governance and Accountability

But what does this mean in practice?

It means learning to implement the right change in the right way for lasting impact.

It means setting clear goals and communicating shared values that improve the culture in your classrooms and school.

It means establishing a safe and positive environment for pupils and ensuring they experience great teaching.

It means supporting colleagues to meet individual needs and leading school-wide professional development for staff.

It means developing rigorous assessment and curriculum approaches that support pupil progress.

It means providing the best quality education for all pupils, including those with SEND.

It means helping to lead an organisation that is well-run, effectively governed and that builds impactful partnerships.

It means doing all this whilst benefiting from the latest evidence-based learning, applying and translating learnings to your own school context and learning from a network of like-minded peers.

Most of all, it means building the confidence to excel in your practice and improve outcomes for your pupils.

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How will I learn?

Our NPQ in Senior Leadership is designed to be flexible to fit alongside your working role. Training is delivered with a little and often approach to support knowledge retention, and you will have the opportunity to learn at a time and pace which supports you.

During the 18-month programme you will benefit from:

  • Nine half-termly courses, each including six modules.
  • Six two-hour clinics and one assessment clinic at the end of your programme.
  • Nine one-hour community sessions designed to provide additional networking and learning opportunities.
  • Two full day conferences (six hours each).

The NPQSL will help you to develop your practice by giving you the opportunity to focus on specific leadership challenges in your school or trust.

At the end of your 18-month programme there will be an eight-day assessment period. During this time, you will sit an ‘open book’ style assessment in which you respond to a short case study. We will provide a webinar and live clinic in advance of your assessment to ensure you have all the support you need to excel.

You will have access to Steplab, the innovative learning platform specifically designed for teacher education. Watch the video below to see how it works.

You can find out more about Steplab in this blog.

How will the NPQ in Senior Leadership benefit me and my career?

The NPQSL is designed to develop your leadership expertise, ensuring that you are well placed if you decide to continue your progression into headship or executive positions at your school or trust.

The community sessions built into the NPQSL curriculum will enable you to collaborate with other senior leaders as part of a supportive network. The connections you make will last beyond the close of your programme and will be key to your future leadership development.

The NPQSL forms part of the Department for Education’s golden thread of professional development. On completing your programme, you have the option to engage in our other leadership programmes, or specialise in an area of teaching or leadership which interests you.

Who is eligible?

The NPQSL is designed for senior leaders, or aspiring senior leaders, with cross-school responsibilities.

Suitable roles include:

  • SENCo
  • Head of department, phase, key stage or subject
  • Assistant headteacher or principal
  • Deputy headteacher or vice principal

To access the programme, you will be employed in either a state-funded primary or secondary school, or state-funded organisation for 16- to 19-year-olds, in England.

The NPQSL is fully funded by the government, making it free to those working in state schools in England.


Cruikshank, V. (2017) The influence of School Leadership on Student Outcomes. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 5, pp. 115-123. https://www.researchgate.net/deref/https%3A%2F%2Fdoi.org%2F10.4236%2Fjss.2017.59009

Department for Education (2020), National Professional Qualification (NPQ): Senior Leadership Framework, p.7. National Professional Qualification (NPQ): Senior Leadership Framework (publishing.service.gov.uk)

Ericsson, A., Prietula, M., Cokely, E., (2007) The Making of an Expert. HBR: https://hbr.org/2007/07/the-making-of-an-expert.


Learn more about our NPQ in Senior Leadership, or register interest here.

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