The new National Professional Qualification for Headship pilot is underway. Crispin Andrews talks to one of the first participants

Around one hundred and fifty applicants from all over the country are currently making their way through personalised programmes facilitated by the National College for School Leadership (NCSL). Previously criticised by many as too general or a one-stop shop for all school leaders, the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) has been redesigned to focus solely on the specific needs of those considered to be imminently ready for headship.

Jane Doughty, NCSL’s operational director with responsibility for leading the redesign process, explains how significant changes to the educational landscape have made it necessary to give NPQH an overhaul for the first time since 2001. ‘Headship has become more complex over the last few years,’ she says. ‘Major changes in the way schools interact with each other and with other services means that headteachers now lead an increasingly diverse workforce towards broader objectives within a much clearer accountability framework.’

Throughout the redesign process, NCSL consulted with a wide range of school leaders and stakeholders and built on the experience of more than 30,000 NPQH graduates. Feedback from the pilot will also be used to make further improvements to the programme going forward.

A member of the first group of aspiring heads is Keeley Ungerechts, deputy headteacher at Brampton Community School, a village school on the outskirts of North Allerton in Yorkshire. Just back from a day’s NPQH training in Manchester Keeley witnessed John Townsley – headteacher of Morley High School and the winner of the Royal Air Force Award for Headteacher of the Year in a Secondary School in the North of England at the 2007 Teaching Awards – give an inspirational address.

‘It was great to see someone so passionate, but so practical about the role of headteacher,’ she enthuses. ‘John advised us to look at government requirements and initiatives and make each fit the specific needs of our own contexts, schools and children. “These things don’t always come packaged specifically for you,” he told us.’

The one-day event was the first time all 150 NPQH applicants had come together. Here they took part in workshops relating to each aspect of the programme. They found out about their school placement, which, depending on experience, could last for between five and 20 days; the aim being to give the applicant a complimentary experience to that gained in the school they are currently working in. Candidates will also be paired up with a coach, gain access to NCSL’s online leadership and management materials, engage in peer learning, and attend seminars and master classes.

A workshop explaining how to collate the necessary evidence needed to apply to the NPQH graduation board was also part of the day. Exact assessment procedures are still being developed by NCSL, but trainee heads will have to provide a portfolio of evidence verified by their coach, line manager or the headteacher of their placement school. Keeley Ungerechts says: ‘It was a great opportunity to network with other applicants and exchange contact details, so we can share ideas, discuss pertinent issues and help each other meet challenges relevant to our own particular development priorities.’

NCSL has designed the new NPQH to have an on-line focus, using cutting-edge technology including downloadable audio/ video, blogging and connection systems that will allow trainee headteachers to work collaboratively. The units within the new NPQH materials reflect the six key areas of the National Standards for Headteachers:

  • Shaping the future.
  • Leading, learning and teaching.
  • Developing self and working with others.
  • Managing the organisation.
  • Securing accountability.
  • Strengthening community.

There are also online interactive modules for candidates to complete. These are:

  • Leading personalised learning to bring about school improvement.
  • Leadership for sustainability: building capacity across a school within a 21st-century environment.
  • Models of leadership.

‘NPQH will now better equip aspiring heads with the skills and expertise they need to take on 21st-century strategic leadership and management challenges,’ says Jane Doughty.

Issues relating to new innovations and practice were discussed at the recent Manchester event. For instance, applicants were given an insight into the more senior roles being developed for school business managers (SBMs). NCSL research suggests that an appropriately qualified business professional working as part of the senior leadership team with responsibility for all support staff can save up to 30% of a headteacher’s time and allow them to focus energies on leading teaching and learning. NCSL are currently piloting new advanced roles for highly trained SBMs, some of whom are working across clusters and groups of schools. Keeley Ungerechts says, ‘As headteachers we are going to be working with more and more non-teaching professionals at a senior level in the future, so it’s important we learn how to delegate leadership responsibility and look at all sorts of different leadership models so when the time comes we can select the right one for our own contexts.’
For Keeley and the other applicants, the process of moving into headship begins during the online application form completed prior to acceptance on the NPQH programme. Evidence of an applicant’s leadership experience, qualities and achievements in relation to the six key areas of the National Standards for Headteachers must be provided and a supporting statement from the applicant’s line manager passed on to the NCSL accredited assessors.

Keeley Ungerechts explains that to complete this application successfully it is important to keep an ongoing record of relevant leadership tasks completed in a way that enables you to demonstrate their effectiveness and show that you understand why, how and where an impact has been made. ‘Think about things in analytical terms, what made something work well, what you have learned from what happened as a result and what could you have done differently to take things in a different direction.’

Keeley also encourages future applicants not to understate their achievements and think that just because something doesn’t have an obvious ‘wow factor’ then it is somehow not significant enough to mention in too positive a light. ‘The application process is very time consuming, though, so make sure you really want to go into headship before you get started,’ she adds.

Competence and confidence
The latest NPQH recruitment round opened in June 2008 with around 800 participants starting in September 2008. Another 600 will be identified in October and then 600 more in January 2009. Four further cohorts of around 500 will embark on the course during academic year 2009-10. Jane Doughty says: ‘The programme focuses on ensuring that graduates will have the competence and confidence to apply for headship as soon as they have finished the qualification. We anticipate individuals will take between four to 12 months to graduate depending on their personalised needs.’
Keeley Ungerechts has no doubt that the NPQH programme will give her what she needs to achieve her ambition of becoming a headteacher within a year. ‘The whole thing invites you to step outside your own experience; you are encouraged to look at how things are done differently in other schools and contexts and to talk to colleagues in secondary schools to see if there are models that could work across phase, or aspects of practice that might be applied successfully.’

She encourages applicants to be positive and not over critical of themselves when assessing their development priorities. ‘There may be areas that you simply haven’t had the chance to experience so it’s vital to communicate well with your headteacher about what you need to do.’

Keeley, who realised she needs to gain more experience of financial matters, recently arranged some time with the school finance officer where she was able to look at procedures and systems and ask questions relating to the financial management of the school. She says, ‘For others it may be working with governors or community organisations, so it’s important to have a supportive headteacher.’

‘My headteacher has been great,’ Keeley continues. ‘I’ve only been at the school since September and I made it clear in interview that I would be looking to do NPQH and move on into headship within a year, but she has been extremely supportive the whole time.’

Jane Doughty adds: ‘NPQH is for aspiring heads who are a year or so away from headship. It is not just for those school leaders seeking really good professional development. NSCL offers a range of other opportunities for school leaders, including programmes like Leadership Pathways, which have been developed for senior leaders who may be two or three years from headship.’