NPQSL: A quick guide for wannabe senior leaders

Thinking about leadership training? Read this first, says Mark Roberts

Mark Roberts


What is the NPQSL?

The National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership is a nationally recognised qualification aimed at recently appointed senior leaders or experienced middle leaders with aspirations to move up. An expectation of the NPQSL is that you’ll have, or want to take on, whole-school responsibilities.

How do I apply to study for it?

The DfE have a list of accredited regional organisations, but to be accepted on to the course, you’ll need a nod from your headteacher. The school will have to agree to meet the cost (costs vary between providers, but expect to pay around £1,250) and allow you to be released for up to six full- or nine half-day face-to-face events. Funding support is available for those working in opportunity areas.

What does the programme involve?

In the face-to-face days, you’ll discuss key educational topics, such as tackling the disadvantaged attainment gap, alongside theories of leadership behaviours.

The course has a heavy emphasis on self-reflection to help inexperienced leaders gain a greater awareness of their strengths and weaknesses and a greater understanding of how others view them.

In addition to the face-to-face days, you’ll undertake online learning courses to develop your appreciation of the theories and concepts introduced in your meetings.

Throughout the course you’ll work towards the submission of a final written assessment, evaluating your leadership of a whole-school priority improvement project agreed with your headteacher.

In total, the NPQSL usually takes about a year to complete, although it can be extended up to 18 months.

What are the downsides?

The time commitment is significant. As you trudge upstairs for a 60-minute webinar at 8pm on a Wednesday evening when you’d rather be watching Netflix, you might begin to question your sanity in ever signing up.

Likewise, the writing up of the final project requires regular extended periods of work. If, like me, you’re the kind of person who finds knocking out last-minute essays quite easy, you’ll need to adapt your methods. Rather than a discursive task, the final assessment is a report that requires a rigid adherence to competency-based success criteria. Believe me, it isn’t the kind of thing that you can knock out in one sitting.

To avoid a last-minute meltdown, you’ll need to be organised throughout, keeping a regular journal, or at the very least a detailed timeline of what you did and when you did it.

So, is it worth doing?

If you’re hoping to beef up your CV, there’s no doubt that the NPQSL is viewed as a valuable and rigorous qualification. Given the distinct emphasis on leading a whole-school priority, the NPQSL provides clear evidence that you can take theories about driving through organisational change and translate them into practical outcomes. Most interview panels want to see demonstrable impact and the NPQSL project very much fits the bill.

But beyond looking good on an application form, the qualification will drag you out of your comfort zone, forcing you to confront the areas of leadership that you find difficult and naturally shy away from. Whether you’re a dire delegator, have awful time management skills or – as is most often the case with rookie senior leaders – are hopeless at holding colleagues to account, you’ll take comfort from learning you’re not alone.

Reassurance comes with the opportunity to debate and share useful strategies with fellow strugglers, under the guidance of course leaders who have seen and done it all.

For every banal “inspirational” leadership quotation you’ll have to endure, you’ll encounter sage, practical advice that will hopefully make you a more honest, open and optimistic leader. And, in the long run, that alone will make doing the NPQSL a worthwhile endeavour.    

Mark Roberts is an assistant headteacher in the South West of England.

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