With thanks and apologies to Kev Bartle for the title!
I received notification yesterday that I have passed the NPQH. It’s no longer mandatory to have the qualification to be a Headteacher, but I’ve spent sixteen months on the course. This blog is really for anyone weighing up the prospect of taking it on. I’ll run through my experiences, and try to answer the question…is it worth it?
Getting on the course
This is really, really tough. I can’t actually blog about what happens in the selection process, as we were sworn to secrecy so as not to prejudice or advantage future cohorts. Suffice to say, when our cohort got together for the first time we bonded over the incredibly rigorous, taxing tasks you have to do just to get a place on the course – really, really tough! The idea is that, if you pass the selection process, you’re definitely capable of passing the course; it reduces the likelihood of anyone getting on it, spending a year and a half, and then failing. Sensible investment I suppose, and a good test!
After successfully passing the selection process, there’s a useful 360° exercise where you self-assess your competencies and your colleagues do the same. You get a report of the results and I found this a great starting point to pinpoint strengths, areas for development and discrepancies between my self-assessment and my colleagues’ views. A really useful process.
Finally, you have to choose a licensee. NPQH is not delivered direct by the NCTL any more, but by regional licensees. I did mine with CPD Southwest and I was very happy with my choice – efficient administration, knowledgeable and helpful trainers, and a functional online resource bank. I went to an information session before I chose my licensee and this was definitely useful in helping make my mind up. I’d recommend doing a bit of research first! Although much of the material is common across NPQH courses, and the assessment is standard, it’s worth bearing in mind that my experience is with one particular licensee and they’re not all the same!
Face to face sessions
There were nine of these in total, covering the core modules: Leading and Improving Teaching, Succeeding in Headship, and Leading an Effective School. There were also sessions on Advanced Coaching Skills and a Viewpoints on Style self-assessment day. On the whole, these were useful days! Here are some of the plus points:
- “Talking Heads” sessions: most days, a serving Headteacher came in to talk to us about aspects of their practice and their route to Headship. These were, without exception, really inspiring and useful. There was a huge range, including Heads from large secondaries and tiny primaries, special schools, new heads, experienced system leaders…and all dedicated, positive, uplifting speakers with lots to offer. I was scribbling furiously during these, cribbing tips and ideas aplenty!
- Cross-phase working: the NPQH was a great opportunity for me to work alongside school leaders from primary and special school sector. Most of the CPD events I go to are secondary-focused, so it was really refreshing to get a different perspective and work with colleagues from across a range of schools. My cohort were brilliant – really supportive of one another and thoughtful, caring leaders.
- Time to reflect: there is rarely enough time in school to step back and think properly about what you’re doing. Taking nine days out across ten terms is a considerable investment of time but the opportunity it provides to reflect is invaluable. It felt, at times, like a retreat – and a treat.
- Coaching: this was my single biggest take-away from NPQH. I’d done coaching training before but it hadn’t really been embedded in my practice; now I use it daily in interactions with staff but also with students. It’s worth a blog post on its own! I know Vic Goddard swears by it and I can see why. I was lucky to have Judith Tolhurst running our session, whose book is well worth a read.
- Finance: we were all worried about this aspect of Headship, and there was a really useful session on running the budget of a school. This was a real confidence booster – it turned out I knew a lot more than I thought I did!
Of course, it wasn’t all brilliant. This happened on one of the days:
And then there was this:
I suppose you can’t get through nine days of CPD without being asked to draw yourself a spirit animal! But aside from these points the days were really valuable and the opportunity to take time out from the daily whirlwind was incredible helpful.
Aside from the three core modules, NPQH involves two elective modules. I did mine on Leading Change for Improvement and School Improvement for Effective Partnerships. At the start of my course, all of the material was hosted on the NCTL’s own rather convoluted website, but halfway through that was shut down and the material moved over to licensees. Either way, there is a lot of reading! At the start, I tried to read everything and I did a pretty good job, filing it away and keeping a running record of key points in Evernote. We discussed the reading often on our face to face days – mainly how hard it was to read it all! – and we soon worked out that you could be selective in your choices. However, I would recommend looking at as much of the resource as possible, because there are some gems in there. Case studies, research papers, policy documents, official guidance, legal frameworks – all useful, some essential. I didn’t agree with all that I read, but then as an avid reader of edublogs I’m used to that – and reading stuff you don’t agree with is often more valuable than reading in an echo chamber as it helps you define what it is that you do really believe that little bit more clearly.
NPQH involves two separate projects: one in your “home” school, and a second in a “Placement” school. My home school project was to implement Teaching and Learning Leaders, and my placement project was an examination of literacy across the curriculum at another secondary academy. This was fantastic – spending five days in another school, seeing what’s the same and what’s different, was an invaluable opportunity. I’ve forged long-lasting links with the SLT there: they came out to visit Chew Valley to have a look at how we’d implemented growth mindset, and I’ve been back there to work on assessment without levels. NPQH forces this kind of system partnership and there’s no doubt this is a real strength of the programme.
The assessment part of the NPQH was time-consuming and difficult. It’s necessary, and in all honesty I couldn’t see a way of making it simpler without reducing the quality. It’s supposed to be challenging! Each of the five modules required a reflective “impact evaluation form” – a summary of what you’d learned and the impact it had had on your leadership. Again, the process here forces reflection, which is important for the process of self-improvement the course is trying to implement. But they are time-consuming to fill in!
Towards the end of the course you have to submit write-ups of your two projects. There are very strict guidelines around pages and word counts here, which were difficult to stick to, and the process of writing up took several days for each project. There was plenty of guidance from the NCTL and my licensee, so I knew what I had to do, but doing it within the word-count was tough!
Finally, if the projects pass, there is a face-to-face assessment. I went to mine already having secured a Headship following a three-day interview, and then having a two-day Ofsted inspection the week before the final assessment. It couldn’t be anything like as tough as those experiences…could it? Simple answer – yes. A panel of three properly grilled me for over an hour following a fifteen-minute presentation. It was every bit as rigorous, thorough and searching as my Headship interview and Ofsted had been. And quite right too; although I did things a bit back-to-front, securing a Headship before completing NPQH, there is no doubt that the final assessment interview would be a good preparation for anyone going on to Headship interviews after completing the course.
Was it worth it?
In a word – yes. The longer answer: I know I don’t need NPQH to be a Headteacher. But sixteen months working on the course has forced me to be more reflective about my leadership, to think about why, how and what I do in my job, in a way that I wouldn’t have done in the normal run of things. The online learning, whilst onerous, was useful. The opportunity to meet and work with colleagues outside my school, beyond my phase, with different experiences and approaches, was invaluable and enriching. And the fact that the assessment, both at the start and end of the course, was so rigorous, gives me faith that the standards of leadership expected of Headteachers are reassuringly high. I have gained NPQH and secured a Headship; now I have to ensure that I live up to those standards in the future.