NPQH – A change for the better?

The prerequisite of holding NPQH before becoming a headteacher has finally been removed. As from 8th February this year, applicants will no longer be required to hold the qualification before they take up a substantive post. For many, this may seem an inevitable step; many serving headteachers commented that the qualification in its current form was far from perfect and did not prepare newly appointed head teachers for the job that they were required to do. So, what will this mean for schools, governing bodies and those aspiring to be head teachers?

NPQH became mandatory in Spring 2009. Prior to this, many deputy head teachers and school leaders often saw NPQH as ‘ a badge of honour,’ that could be gained without any obligation to ever become a head teacher. It was this prevailing attitude, along with the NCSL’s (National College of School Leaders) need to streamline succession planning, that led to applicants being required to be no more than 12 – 18 months away from applying for a post. The redesigned course was hailed as a way to ensure only those applicants who were ‘nearly there’ would secure a place on a much more personalised course.

Fast forward 3 years and we seem to have come full circle. According to NCSL and the Department for Education, the NPQH Qualification is ‘to become non mandatory in bid to make it a mark of quality.’ In addition to this, the bar for entry and assessment for the qualification will be raised and the content will be made more demanding, ‘through the introduction of a core curriculum focusing on the key skills of headship including leadership of teaching and learning, and with a greater emphasis on behaviour.’

Further changes include the requirement to pass five modules including three (leading pupil behaviour, developing leadership skills and managing teacher performance) which will be compulsory. Applicants will also be expected to spend a minimum of nine days in a school in a different context. Furthermore, the applicant’s line manager will play a greater role in sponsoring and providing a suitable reference.

In short then, it would appear that the NPQH has been almost completely overhauled. For those currently enrolled on the program, there will be no noticeable change; NCSL have already made this clear on their website.

But what of those who are on the verge of applying? NCSL and the DfE talk about a higher bar for entry on to the course and for the graduation assessment. However, there is no detail on what this actually means. As someone who has completed NPQH only recently, I feel that the bar for entry was already high and raising it further would only serve to put off those who now don’t need to do it.

Recalling my own experiences of my ‘NPQH journey,’ the initial application form itself was in-depth and required many hours of evidencing where I had met the requirements for entry. There are, apparently, many would be trainee head teachers that do not make it past this round, mainly due to the wording of their applications not showing what they as school leaders have done to improve their school and not quantifying evidence.

Having written a successful application, candidates then complete two days of assessment tasks in which they take part in role plays (in front of assessors), have face-to-face interviews and complete written tasks based on what might be in a head teacher’s intray. If the applicant could clear both of these hurdles, then they were admitted on to the course proper. It was an exhausting 48 hours but, according to our assessors, necessary to ensure that we really were ready for the course.

A large focus of the course was the school placement and preparation for this and NCSL now says that the minimum time for a school placement is to be 9 days. It is difficult to see how the logistics of this would work in many schools that face budget deficits and little money available to cover absent staff. However, it should be noted that applicants from small schools can be subsidised on the course. My difficulty lay inĀ  negotiating with my Head how much time I could have away from my own class. As I am Deputy Head Teacher with a full time teaching commitment in year 6, it was decided that this would be for the minimum five days allowed by NCSL.

The placement was supposed to have a focus on one of your development points that had been highlighted in the 2 day assessment and I spent much time with my learning coach (provided by NCSL) discussing what my focus should be. The outcome for the placement was a report or presentation to the governing body of the placement school. In my experience, while I was welcomed by the Head and given access to all requested documentation, I did not really feel that I gained a great deal from my placement. The Head, who was extremely busy and also supported another school, made it clear that she would not be able to give me a great deal of time. During the placement, therefore, I was largely left to my own devices. In the end, I produced a report for Governors on the school’s Creative Curriculum and the formal report from the school briefly said that this would be used for self evaluation.

It would seem then, that making the placement longer would only place more pressure on both the placement school and that of the applicants. Furthermore, making placements longer will not make them any more focused, an area which was lacking in my experience.

It is clear from Person Specifications sent out with job applications that governing bodies have taken on board the fact that NPQH is no longer mandatory. The essential criteria states now that being a serving head teacher or having previous experience of being a head teacher is taken as equivalence to NPQH. I believe this is rightly so – there can be no greater qualification for being a head teacher than having actual experience of being a head teacher. This is something that NPQH largely ignores and focuses on applicants being coached in the ways of being a school leader, rather than offering practical experience and advice.

It would seem then, that the removal of NPQH as a requirement for headship may be a good thing for schools and governors. NCSL justify its removal thus;

the government recognises that high-performing schools are led by strong leaders, and it has a commitment to ensuring that those who aspire to this role have access to the best leadership development. But it also recognises that schools should be allowed more freedom to choose how these skills are developed.

It would seem that what NCSL and the DfE are saying is that schools are the best places for aspiring head teachers to learn their trade and NPQH is a bolt-on to achieve this.

So, would I do NPQH now? No, probably not. While it is still a recognised qualification, it would seem that making it optional has downgraded its status, despite NCSL’s protestations. There can be no substitute for experience and the best school leaders have a lot of this – many without NPQH status.


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Greg Hawman

Greg Hawman attended Teeside University and graduated with BA honours in History. He went on to complete PGCE at Durham University in 2002. He has taught for over in a range of primary schools in the North East and North Yorkshire. He has much experience of teaching in upper KS2 and has worked as a tutor and as a supply teacher. He has been a Deputy Head Teacher for four years and has a particular interest in whole school assessment and tracking. Greg completed NPQH in 2011 and is now looking for head teacher positions in the North East of England.

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