It’s DfE Update time again! That special time of the month when the Department for Education fills us mere mortals in on everything that’s been going on behind those oak doors of the palace of Westminster.
This month’s update is exclusively concerning the new set of National Professional Qualifications that have been made available to schools, colleges and early years settings. And they’re free!!?
According to a letter to Heather McNaughton and Caroline Pusey, new joint Senior Responsible Owners of the Early Career Framework and National Professional Qualification programme, an eye-watering £377 million has been spent on developing a whole set of NPQs for teaching staff (from classroom to senior management), in a bid to increase teaching quality and stem the flow of teachers leaving the profession.
In the letter, the DfE recognised that teachers are ‘the foundation of the education system’, which is nice of them. I can’t help but be a little cynical, however, given that a few months ago, the retention crisis in education was referred to as the ‘drainpipe problem,’ the solution to which was to recruit significantly more teachers than were needed in the hopes that the ones who remained would end up filling the gap. So… there’s that.
Anyway, the six new NPQs are really only four new ones with the other two being a revamp of existing ones. You can now apply for a National Professional Qualification in:
- Senior Leadership (NPQSL - already existed)
- Headteaching (NPQH - already existed)
- Executive Leadership (NPQEL)
- Teacher Development Leadership (NPQLTD - previously Advanced Skills Teachers)
- Behaviour Leadership (NPQLB)
- Teaching Leadership (NPQLT - previously NPQML for ‘Middle Leaders’)
We could dive very deeply into all of this, looking at it through the lens of the teaching licence suggestion, which would require renewing every five years through evidence of frequent NPQ training (this has been back-burnered for now); or through the lens of all schools become Multi-Academy Trusts of at least ten schools by the year 2025; or the fact that the rules for international teachers are going to be relaxed (at the moment, international teachers need the equivalent of: Maths and Science at GSCE, grade 4 or higher; a Bachelor’s degree; and an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) score of 6.5 or higher).
But, for today, we’ll stick with what the DfE has sent me. And we’ll be nice and not cynical at all.
The lower tired qualifications (leadership of teaching, behaviour and culture, literacy, and teacher development) are all one year long and require an essay of 1,500 words to complete. It’s a reflection essay based on a case study so I don’t think it’ll be all that taxing. In fact, the difficulty might well be stripping it down to just 1,500 words. For reference, this blog post is 1,390, which, given that most institutions will allow a 10% leeway either side, means you wouldn’t be writing more than this.
They are reported to take up to two hours a week of dedicated study time and comprise of a mixture of group and self-study sessions, although it’s not made clear whether these sessions would be live or via video-conferencing software.
You are free to take as many NPQ as you wish but you will only get funding for each course once. Fail or drop out and you’ll have to pay to repeat. It’s also assumed that you will complete the 1- 2-hours’ study as part of your PPA time in school (so expect to be doing a lot of it on evenings and weekends as your PPA is taken up with marking, covering lessons, arranging meetings… no, no, I said we wouldn’t be cynical).
To apply, you need to first have run it past your line manager. If they say no, then it’s a no. You are also told that you have to know which training provider you are going to use but I managed to get all the way through to the submission option by winging it.
There are incentives if you are from a smaller school! If you teach at a school with fewer than 600 pupils, which, in my experience, is quite a few Primary schools (although, not for long given that drive to push every school into a 10-school-minimum Academy Trust), there is a reward of sorts. For each teacher who takes an NPQ (there is no mention of completing said NPQ), the school will receive £200. Let’s say it’s a really small, 1-form entry Primary. That’s Reception to Year 6, so, seven teachers. We’ll send the SENDCo as well, that’s eight. We can’t send any TAs, HLTAs or LSAs because you have to have a teaching qualification. But still, that’s £1,600 just for taking a free course that would boost your professional CV.
There’s not much else to say, really. It seems like a no-brainer for September to me. Get yourself settled with your new class then go grab yourself an NPQ. These used to be very expensive and reserved for potential School Leadership candidates so to have them made not only free, but also freely available to anyone who works in a school and has a teaching degree is great…
… or is it? I’m not getting cynical; I’m just looking at things from a more suspicious angle. You see, there is such a thing as ‘Diploma Disease.’ First coined by Ronald Dore in 1976, it describes the situation in which more and more people seek to attain qualifications to ensure they are seen as the most suitable and qualified candidate for the job. As a result, the original requirement for the job becomes diluted and you end up needing an even higher level of qualification to stand out among the throngs of people with the previously required level. The job hasn't changed. It isn’t suddenly more demanding or important or influential. It’s just that, now, there are way more people who can apply for it.
The old-school NPQs, as expensive as they were (and this is only in my personal experience) didn’t prove anything more than the fact that you had taken the time to complete a course and write an essay at the same time as teaching. Headteachers didn’t really care about them; they cared about experience in a school setting. Now, to be fair, if you have the qualification on your CV then it’s a convenient shorthand to prove that you have this experience but you can also simply provide examples of having led a subject or school area.
So I wonder if this is actually going to achieve the government’s aims of retaining teachers, or if it is a bit of set dressing to placate a very angry crowd. At the end of the day, as much as a free course is, I’m not so sure that £377 million couldn’t have been better spent elsewhere…
But that’s just me. You might be really excited about it. If you are, let me know - I’d love to have a chat and see things from your perspective.
If you are the sort of person who is interested in giving your opinion about education, by the way, the DfE wants to hear from you! Applications to join the Teacher Reference Groups (Primary Heads, Secondary Heads and Teachers) are open from Monday, July 11th at 5pm. It’s a chance to join a group that gives feedback on policy development and implementation. While you won’t have the power to veto anything, you will be part of the team who helps keep the Department for Education focussed on actual education at the chalk-face (there’s a dated reference for you!).
If that sort of thing appeals to you, you can apply here.
That wraps things up for this week. Short and sweet because… well, because the DfE didn’t really have very much to say and I am busy filming my review of report writing software; writing maths assessments; and drafting a blog post and podcast episode about my time working with Capita marking the SATs. To quote George Clooney from Fantastic Mr Fox, it was a bit of a cluster-cuss.
If you’re interested in that, or in anything else education-related, check out the other posts and subscribe to the podcast. In the meantime, with mere weeks left in the academic year, remember: you can do this.