Choosing the right professional development for all school staff

More people in schools, whatever the setting or phase, should take up SSAT’s Lead Practitioner accreditation to benefit themselves and their school in equal measure. Full disclosure, I am writing this blog piece as the programme leader for LP accreditation so you would be forgiven for thinking I am biased – I am.

This blog is for those in school who are either looking for professional development for themselves or senior leaders looking for professional development for a range of colleagues in their schools. As a tried and tested programme launched in 2007 and currently counting some 9,500+ accredited lead practitioners, SSAT’s Lead Practitioner accreditation is one of the best professional development programmes available to support staff, teachers and leaders.

With the recent announcement from DfE regarding the reduction in NPQs offered from Autumn this year, it is helpful to consider why we feel LP accreditation is the right choice for many practitioners in schools.

In this blog, I set out to examine the differences between the National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) and SSAT’s Lead Practitioner accreditation – who should opt in to each, and crucially the differences in outcomes between them.

As well as being the programme leader for LP accreditation for over nine years, I have worked for several years on the NPQs as a national facilitator, leadership mentor and assessor, so I hope I can show a broad experience of programmes which develop knowledge, skills and understanding for those in school who are leading learning.

Let’s start by laying out what each programme consists of:

LP accreditation

The SSAT Lead Practitioner (LP) programme provides:

  • A framework and set of standards for international benchmarking in leadership of learning.
  • A professional development tool to identify and set professional targets.
  • A formative process that encourages evaluation and critical reflection, collaboration, and a relentless focus on impact.
  • Support and guidance to develop LPs with skills and attributes to lead improvements in their schools.
  • Access to a wide range of resources, research and case studies.
  • Opportunities to engage with the regional, national and international network of LPs.

During your LP accreditation, you will:

  • self-direct your engagement with evidence of effective pedagogy, current educational research and international best practice to give you the knowledge and skills to improve an area of school improvement in your context.
  • take part in support seminars (face-to-face for school cohorts, online for national cohorts) and self-directed study.
  • develop a portfolio of impact in your context, assessed at a gateway of your choosing (one gateway per term from November 2024) within two years of commencement.


‘Specialist NPQs can help you develop your classroom teaching or specialism. These are in leading teacher development (LTD), leading teaching (LT), leading behaviour and culture (LBC), leading literacy (LL), leading primary mathematics (LPM).

‘Leadership NPQs can help you develop your leadership skills or progress to a leadership role. These include senior leadership (NPQSL), headship (NPQH), early years leadership (NPQEYL).’

‘During your NPQ, you will:

  • learn from an evidence-based curriculum of your chosen qualification, drawing on effective pedagogy, current research and international best practice to give you the knowledge and skills to improve in your current role or take the next step in your career.
  • take part in a mixture of face-to-face sessions, webinars and self-directed study.
  • answer an assessed case study question (the summative assessment).’

The four key differences between the NPQs and SSAT LP accreditation are:

  1. Who participates? Although NPQs may be taken up by anyone with a Teacher Reference Number, the vast majority are teachers and leaders. In SSAT’s LP accreditation, support staff are regularly involved with accreditation for themselves, particularly for school or trust cohorts. Teachers, leaders at all levels and other staff including exams officers, librarians and cover supervisors have all successfully gained LP accreditation since the programme launched in 2007.
  2. Direction of travel: NPQ participants will select the most suitable NPQ for themselves, particularly important with specialist NPQs. A participant can’t change their NPQ mid-stream. In SSAT’s LP accreditation it is usual that an improvement project develops over time, responding to the changing needs of the school – there is no requirement to have improvement projects validated by SSAT, as participants will choose the most appropriate project for their school or trust.
  3. Formal participation levels: 90% attendance in scheduled activities such as webinars and face-to-face meetings is a requirement for NPQs. The SSAT LP accreditation programme is far more flexible, providing access to support and guidance at times to suit the aspirant LP. The LP reference library is available at all times, online meetings are recorded for reference, and LPs themselves define engagement levels to suit their workload in school and the rhythm of the school year specific to their project of improvement. The LP team are highly experienced in ensuring that every participant receives support that is carefully tailored to the particular needs of their project.
  4. Assessment of impact: NPQs rely on an assessed case study which may or may not align with participant’s school context. LP portfolios reflect the process of progress towards impact within and beyond the school context against the ten LP standards. An LP improvement project is typically based on a school or trust priority area but can justifiably be an important local issue that affects the social or academic parts of school life, involvement of the community and/or the culture and climate of the school – in short an LP portfolio demonstrates a very broad range of improvements, not limited to a particular strand of teaching or leadership.

LP accreditation is for anyone involved in school or college who can demonstrate impact in context, through the development of colleague’s practice outside of their own team. The planning, implementation and evaluation of their project is firmly in the hands of the aspirant LP.
Successful LPs are:

  • creative, inspiring, and resilient, with good personal organisation and self-motivation.
  • prepared to push themselves beyond their comfort zone to develop the practice of others (and this impact must be beyond their team – e.g. year group, phase, or curriculum area.
  • risk takers, trialling new approaches in their own team, before transferring this expertise to others.
  • self-managing – attendance at a seminar or engagement with research is not sufficient – action must follow.
  • credible in their field, with an authentic message for others.

An NPQ delivers prescribed content that is applied to an abstract case study, but if you prefer professional development that is driven by you, sustainably and consistently impacts on colleagues’ practice and drives school improvement where it counts – in your school, then SSAT LP accreditation is the right choice.


We know that professional development budgets in schools are finite with many demands on the coffers, and in post-Covid times the DfE have subsidised NPQs for the vast majority of participants. With the announcement that NPQ funding will be limited from Autumn 2024:

‘Funding for autumn 2024 will target those teachers and leaders who work in the most challenging schools or educational settings, serving more disadvantaged communities.

Scholarship funding to cover the full NPQ course cost will be available to teachers and leaders from:

  • the 50% of schools with the highest proportion of students who attract pupil premium funding.
  • 16 to 19 educational settings identified as having high disadvantage.
  • For the early years leadership NPQ, highly disadvantaged early years settings will also be eligible.’

Perhaps now is the time to examine the suitability of professional development courses available for individuals and cohorts of practitioners more carefully. There is no doubt in my mind that for some, the NPQ is a good option, but at a non-subsidised cost of £1000+ per person, perhaps it is wise to consider colleagues working together in a cohort of aspirant LPs at a cost of £499 per person (for SSAT member schools) where they can support each other on several relevant school improvement projects that will have meaningful outcomes within the context of the school itself.

In summary, I feel that improvements in the context of the school and the community it serves is key, and where SSAT’s LP accreditation is far superior for the majority of aspirant leaders of learning. If we consider the concept of constructive alignment where learning outcomes, teaching activities and assessment tasks are aligned with each other to make learning effective and meaningful, then SSAT LP accreditation is the right choice for most.

LP accreditation, through its framework of standards enables the leader of learning to demonstrate how they have inspired colleagues to develop their approaches, to improve their school, and ultimately to impact on outcomes for children and young people, and this is why we are calling on schools and individuals across the sector to join the growing LP community.

Lead Practitioner Accreditation

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