Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

New and improved?

NPQH box

As the redesigned NPQH moves from pilot to national roll out this month, Crispin Andrews investigates whether it will prove to be a more relevant training experience for tomorrow's headteachers than the old model.

With the national spotlight on the rising number of headship vacancies, expectations are high, to say the least, for the redesigned model of the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH). This is one makeover that the National College for School Leadership (NCSL), cannot afford to get wrong.

"There's a new mindset underlying the redesigned qualification," says Terry Allcott ASCL's management and professional services director who was closely involved in the consultation carried out by NCSL, which runs the qualification.

"It's no longer, 'I'd better do this now in case I want to become a headteacher somewhere down the line.' Rather, it is 'I'm ready for headship now so I need to do this in order to put myself forward as a candidate,'" said Terry.

The revamped programme has now gone through a full pilot and the first recruitment round opens this month, with around 800 participants starting in September 2008. Another 600 trainee heads will be identified in October and 600 more in January 2009. They will be followed by four further intakes each of around 500 participants during 2009-10.

According to Jane Doughty, NCSL's operational director leading the redesign, the new programme has two key aims: to offer a more personalised form of professional development for aspiring heads; and to reflect the changing role of headship and of school leadership.

A far more rigorous entry assessment and development process will help to ensure that only candidates who are 12-18 months away from applying for headship will be admitted onto the qualification.

There will be fewer participants than before but, even so, NCSL has said that it believes that the number of candidates for headship will not decline. Terry agrees. "In the past, many applicants were years away from headship or simply saw NPQH as the best available CPD option. I don't think those candidates will make it through the new selection process."

Ready for headship

Applicants for the new NPQH complete an online application form which requires evidence of their leadership experience, qualities and achievements in relation to the six key areas of the National Standards for Headteachers.

Michael Gosling, deputy head at Grange Technology College in Bradford was one of the first cohort of 150 applicants for the pilot. He explains: "You state the leadership activity you have undertaken, explain its strategic significance and illustrate it with positive outcomes relating to improvements made or impact you have had."

Demonstrating the relevance of his experience was time-consuming, he said. The positive side was that, "as it involved a lot of reflection about leadership and my own role, I would have got something positive out of it even if I hadn't been accepted on NPQH."

A supporting statement from the applicant's line manager is also passed on to the NCSL-accredited assessors, many of whom are serving or former heads.

Once selected, candidates complete two online self-reflection activities and a diagnostic that gathers anonymous online feedback from peers, followed by a two-day regional assessment and development event. "Here we ask 'How ready are you for headship?'" says NCSL's Jane Doughty.

Michael is enthusiastic about the residential assessment, calling it "the best two days I have ever spent out of school". He adds: "The day reaffirmed my belief that I am ready to make the step into headship and gave me some useful pointers as to my strengths and weaknesses."

He also became aware of a strength he didn't realise he had. "I was told I have a natural ability to coach and get the best out of others, even though I haven't had any formal training."

One-to-one support

At the end of the two days, the trainee headteachers are given a personal development log to fill in over the coming weeks, ahead of an in-depth interview with an assessor where they receive feedback about their readiness for headship.

Throughout the programme, participants receive one-to-one support from a verified NPQH coach and access to NCSL leadership and management materials. They engage in peer learning and attend seminars and master classes.

"It's no longer a tick-box approach," says Sue Moore, head of Queen Elizabeth II High School on the Isle of Man who, as chair of ASCL's Professional Committee, represented the association at NPQH consultation meetings.

"Applicants will get the chance to demonstrate qualities that are difficult to measure, such as resilience and emotional intelligence."

Participants also complete online interactive modules. 'Leading personalised learning' focuses on working with students and staff to bring about school improvement, while 'leadership for sustainability' is about building capacity across a school. 'Models of leadership' helps prepare aspiring headteachers for leadership in a diverse range of contexts.

In another new element, the school placement, trainee heads learn alongside leaders in an unfamiliar context. Depending on their previous experience, the placement lasts five to 20 days, during which time an assessed leadership task is completed.

One issue raised by Sue concerns the selection criteria for placements. They must be monitored, she believes, to ensure that aspiring heads are not routinely placed only in successful schools.

NPQH graduation assessment requires candidates to provide a portfolio of evidence verified by the applicant's coach, line manager or headteacher of the placement school. "Participants will need to show what difference their experiences have made to the quality of their leadership," says Jane Doughty.

NCSL is finalising the exact nature of this process but Jane believes, now that assessment is not predominantly school-based, NPQH will be more attractive to people working outside schools, in local authorities and national education organisations.

Terry Allcott also predicts that more senior school leaders from non-teaching backgrounds, such as business managers and those leading extended school initiatives, will graduate and become part of the next generation of school principals.

"As long as the member of the senior leadership team with responsibility for teaching and learning has a teaching background, there is no reason why principals must always be former teachers," he says.

Diagnostic tools

Existing heads now have solid criteria against which to base judgments about the readiness of senior staff for NPQH. "It's about a person's motivation and aspirations as well as their capabilities," says Jane.

"And if the member of staff is not quite ready, NCSL offers a range of other activities - in particular Leadership Pathways - for recently-appointed senior leaders or those who may be two or three years from headship."

A pre-entry stage consisting of activities, diagnostic tools and materials is also available on the NCSL succession planning website, enabling potential candidates to make judgements about their own readiness for NPQH.

Sue adds one word of warning however. "We want aspiring heads to plan for their future but as a profession must be careful not to make it impossible for those who might wish - maybe in response to an unforeseen opportunity - to apply for headship earlier than first envisaged."

Crispin Andrews is a freelance education writer.

Key elements of NPQH

  • Targets those 12-18 months away from applying for headship

  • Rigorous entry assessment and development process to determine readiness and help applicants plot a personalised pathway through the programme

  • Duration: one year maximum but can be completed sooner

  • Six units of resources based around National Standards for Headteachers

  • Three online modules - leading personalised learning, leadership for sustainability, models of leadership.

  • National learning materials, placements, coaching, online resources and local leadership development activities also part of process

  • Graduation assessment portfolio evidence verified by line manager, coach and headteacher of placement school

  • Pilot project underway for first 150 aspiring headteachers with first two cohorts selected in June and October 2008

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