What are the NPQs and are they for me?

The National Professional Qualifications for School Leaders are courses tailored to leaders and aspiring leaders in education settings. But what do they entail? Grainne Hallahan explores

NPQ CPD for aspiring leaders

For aspiring school leaders, there are plenty of options when it comes to planning a route up the career ladder. Shadowing an existing leader, taking on responsibilities and implementing new initiatives will all stand you in good stead.  

But if you want to be able to gain a recognised qualification, the National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) offer a range of courses for teachers looking to take on leadership responsibility.

As well as helping you gain the knowledge and skills you need for effective school leadership, the NPQs also provide the means for you to have a  significant impact on improving teaching and learning in your school.

Tes Institute NPQ

What are  the NPQs? 

The NPQs are a range of qualifications, with content specified by the Department for Education (DfE), specifically designed for teachers looking to move into leadership roles. They are delivered by DfE-accredited NPQ providers.

The courses offer career development opportunities for teachers who want to take the step up to middle leadership right through to those looking towards headship or executive positions. 

As well as giving aspiring leaders the knowledge and skills required to lead a department, a school or a group of schools, the courses give you the chance to put these into practice through an assessed improvement project  designed to make a real difference to teaching and learning in your school.  

What types of NPQ are there?

There are  four  NPQ courses:

  • National Professional Qualification for Middle Leadership (NPQML) – for those that are, or are aspiring to be, middle leaders with responsibility for leading a team, such as heads of year or department.
  • National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL) – for leaders that are, or are aspiring to be, senior leaders with cross-school responsibilities, such as deputy or assistant heads.
  • National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) – for leaders that are, or are aspiring to be, headteachers or heads of school, with responsibility for leading a school.
  • National Professional Qualification for Executive Leadership (NPQEL) – for leaders that are, or are aspiring to be, executive headteachers or multi-academy trust chief executives, with responsibility for leading several schools. 

What do the courses entail?

Each NPQ course looks at developing leadership skills through current, practice-focused training. All of the NPQ courses cover the following six content areas:

  • Leading with impact.
  • Strategy and improvement.
  • Teaching and curriculum excellence.
  • Working in partnership.
  • Managing resources and risks.
  • Increasing capability.

In addition, participants develop a variety of leadership behaviours, as identified by DfE, including:

  • Commitment.
  • Collaboration.
  • Personal drive.
  • Resilience.
  • Awareness.
  • Integrity. 
  • Respect.

How are participants assessed?

For each NPQ, participants produce one (middle leadership, senior leadership) or two (headteacher, executive leadership) written accounts of practice-based change projects, underpinned by learning from the course content. Candidates demonstrate their competence by linking their assignment to the knowledge and skills set out in the six content areas.

The assignments are as follows:


If you are on the NPQML course, you will be required to design, implement and evaluate an improvement project in your setting lasting at least two standard school terms. The improvement project should aim to improve pupil progress, develop your leadership skills and grow the capability of your team. 


Those on the NPQSL course are asked to lead a two-term-minimum improvement project across their setting. This project should help you improve the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching in your setting, and reduce the variation in progress and attainment between different student groups.


If you are on the NPQH course, you have to complete two assignments. The first is a whole-school change project, lasting a minimum of two terms.  The second is an account of a nine-day placement that you undertake in another, contrasting school. Your task is to design an action plan to meet the placement school’s resourcing and capability needs and then present this to the governing board and seek their feedback.


The NPQEL has two assignments. In the first you design a sustainable business development strategy for your organisation, analysing the benefits, costs and risks of different options. The second assignment requires you to lead a project to improve progress and attainment across several schools.

Opportunities for further study

On completing an NPQ, there is the possibility of going on to further study at master’s level. Depending on the NPQ provider you choose and the level to which you study, you may be able to earn between 40 and 100 master’s credits.  

What do the courses cost?

Completing an NPQH costs between £2,500 and £3,000 (depending on provider).

What can you expect?

Completing the improvement project won’t just give you great professional development and bring about improvements in teaching and learning, it will also provide you with a topic of substance to discuss in your application letters and interviews when you come to apply for promotion. But what might your project look like?

Dame Alice Hudson is executive headteacher of Twyford CofE Academies Trust, one of three lead schools for Real Training, a DfE-accredited NPQ course provider. She describes one project that prompted a fundamental change in how the school ran its observation programme.

“One NPQH candidate organised a coaching project, where it was identified that it would be beneficial for the school community to move from a lesson observation system that was performance-management-based and judgemental to a coaching programme which would be peer led,” she explains.

“As a consequence of this project, the candidate was able to persuade the governors that this could be piloted and might have a greater impact than the previous model. This NPQH project genuinely brought about change across our entire trust.”

Stuart Allen is headteacher at Mile Cross Primary School in Norfolk. As well as having completed the NPQH himself, he’s also put a number of his leadership team members through the courses.

His assistant head used his NPQSL improvement project to introduce Mathematics Mastery, across the school, as part of the maths curriculum.

“Through the NPQ as a vehicle, we were able to drive through what we wanted, which was Maths Mastery. We started that in nursery, Reception and Year 1 to begin with, and then each year we’ve then rolled that out and it’s now in year four. The children’s understanding around numbers is far greater than it’s ever been.

“The course is designed to see whole-school change, so it involves staff CPD, budgeting and resources. This got the candidate to the point where he was thinking about leading something, not just managing something.”

Tes Institute NPQ

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