In defence of the NPQH

After John Stanier's criticisms of the NPQH, one provider argues it's a key route to headship – when it's well delivered

Cavelle Priestley-Bird


Becoming a headteacher is a privilege.

You will be the one person who has ultimate responsibility for the safety and education of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children.

This takes commitment, personal drive, resilience and integrity.

The newly devised National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) is a Department for Education-accredited programme of national significance and the rather negative message in the recent article "5 things I didn’t learn in headship training" has rattled the cage of those who provide the NPQH.

Defending the NPQH

In simple terms, the article does not represent those of us who deliver exemplary NPQH programmes as DfE-accredited providers. Not to put too fine a point on it, there is possibly a range of quality in terms of the NPQ programmes as each provider writes and facilitates their own programmes.

However, be reassured that the DfE provides clear learning outcomes that we have to adhere to and there is an independent quality assurance agent in place to ensure quality and consistency across all the providers.

At the Alliance of Leading Learning (ALL), and many other organisations delivering the NPQ programmes, we are genuinely in this to support our school leaders and make a difference.

What should headship training look like?

Those of us providing exemplary professional learning have worked hard to engage school leaders and encourage the new heads of the future to value this as a highly privileged job.

Contrary to the opinion that the NPQH programme had a frustrating lack of useful advice, there are hundreds of our NPQH alumni who directly attribute their promotions to headship to our NPQH programme and reference how practical the programme is.

It could be argued that “one man's meat is another man's poison” (as said by Roman poet Lucretius) but articles such as Mr Stanier's undermine the work we are doing, and there appears to be a lack of understanding of the aims of the NPQH.

This is not a “headteacher in a box” content-driven, operational programme.  It is not aimed at a school leader with only “knowledge of classrooms”. Only those ready for headship within the next 18 months are ordinarily accepted on to the programme.

Choose wisely

The NPQH is about developing the leadership skills required of our future exemplary headteachers and creating independent reflective thinkers. The modules are designed to:

  • Stimulate, challenge and provoke thinking.
  • Build and extend knowledge, skills and expertise.
  • Promote changes and improvements in leadership behaviour.

The NPQH is also a work-based programme developing leadership in the workplace – learning on the job and doing real leadership work through impact-driven assessment projects.

I would suggest to professional colleagues considering the NPQH – as with any professional learning – that you should make an informed choice and need to ask:

  • Is this an established provider with a tangible record of success?
  • Are the facilitators delivering the programme current exemplary school leaders fully trained in advanced facilitation skills?
  • Do they work with an extended partnership to ensure the training is world-class?
  • Is the leadership programme underpinned by national and international research?
  • Have they got evidence of participants having real impact back in the workplace?

For the majority of the DfE-accredited providers delivering the NPQs, we are confident that the answer to these questions is a resounding “Yes". 

Cavelle Priestley-Bird is executive director of the Alliance of Leading Learning

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