NPQML implementation and impact in a North-East MAT

Diana Whistance-Smith spoke with Emma Coupe of Tees Valley Education to see how NPQML has shaped participants’ ability to be successful leaders

Tees Valley Education is a relatively small trust, launched in September 2015, which includes five primary schools. Between them, they have 49 candidates in three cohorts of the Department for Education’s National Professional Qualification for Middle Leadership (NPQML). These include candidates from three special schools, three secondary schools and 15 primary schools.

With the success of their existing three cohorts (see panel), Tees Valley is now planning a fourth. The trust’s improvement and development leader, Emma Coupe, is one of the NPQML programme trainers, along with three deputy headteachers from within the Trust, one head, another deputy from a Middlesbrough school and a director of Teaching School from a local secondary school. SSAT’s Dan Belcher has also provided some bespoke training. Normally, Emma leads the training sessions, with one of the others co-delivering, depending on their specialism.

Feedback from Tees Valley’s NPQML cohorts

Participant responses have been 100% good or better, including: “thanks for all your help, support and advice throughout the process”; “sessions are very informative”; “we appreciate and value the time and the opportunity to network with colleagues and leaders from across the area.”

The schools in cohort 1 enrolled more of their middle leaders onto cohorts 2 and 3.

So far this academic year, 15 sessions have been delivered across the three cohorts, with three more planned and an additional drop-in session coming up. The most recent sessions have been half termly, full-day or half day sessions.

Tees Valley’s NPQML partnership with SSAT first came about through the trust’s CEO, Katrina Morley, who had worked with SSAT for many years and sits on their Primary Strategic Board. She admired their commitment to the professionalisation of education. This fits with Tees Valley Education’s ambition.

Representing the primary voice

Being able to be a part of something on a national level has significantly helped this smaller North-East England trust. Tees Valley had already used SSAT’s Lead Practitioner Accreditation programme, and the trust felt passionate about representing the primary voice and being involved with organisations like SSAT who shared their values. The trust has become a lead school for NPQML, which gives them an opportunity to work on a national level.

NPQML has enabled the development of the middle leadership team and added capacity across the trust at that level.

Encouraged by this success, Emma and her colleagues delivered one of the workshops at SSAT’s National Conference in December 2018. Every Child, Every Chance, Every Day was the workshop Emma and her colleague Louise Stogdale held. “We talked about poverty proofing and what we do around that, and I think without having this experience, I’m not sure we would have put ourselves forward: it has given us the confidence,” she explained. “It’s developed us as senior leaders as well as our middle leaders. We would love the opportunity to speak again this year [the theme of the 2019 National Conference is social justice], as poverty proofing is incredibly close to our hearts. Working in schools which are in the bottom 1% of IDACI (income deprivation affecting children index) is a daily challenge for us, as individual academies and as a trust.”

A recent Ofsted inspection has also recognised the value of the NPQML programme in one of the schools, which has six middle leaders taking part. The inspection report noted their leadership qualities. Interestingly, this school had very new leaders, yet they were recognised for their knowledge, confidence in presentation and eloquence.

NPQML has given Tees Valley staff the confidence to speak up, and challenge colleagues in a constructive way. Emma attributed this to their feeling supported by current academic research, which they had discussed during the programme. She believes the staff feel they have more credibility and can problem-solve much better: “I think it’s given them a lot more confidence to take the lead and to develop.” Staff members have valued the time they’ve had to reflect, to learn, to read and to become the ‘genuine learning community’ that they have strived for.

Among the NPQML in Tees Valley Education, a spelling programme in one of the schools has had a particularly good impact on children’s spelling progression.  The trust now plans to run it in three more schools next year, using the middle leaders currently doing the training. Another project entails delivering and using research for school staff, which is a priority for the trust.

Tweaking the model

In general, Tees Valley has followed SSAT’s delivery model, while adding local context where necessary. An example of this is how local Middlesbrough schools have focused on progress. They have been analysing local data-capture systems and how data is tracked, holding pupil progress meetings and interventions to support children’s needs. They utilise expertise from their SEND Hub, which they run on behalf of the Middlesbrough region. They have found that being able to tweak the model to their local context in these ways was particularly useful, while remaining committed to the programme’s principles of six areas of school improvement, which support rather than work against local communities and networks.

NPQML’s six areas of school improvement:

  • strategy and improvement
  • teaching and curriculum excellence
  • leading with impact
  • working in partnership
  • managing resources and risks
  • increasing capability

Our local teaching schools and the local authority work collaboratively with us to support ongoing improvement and development for the children of Middlesbrough which includes supporting our future leaders. For example, the NPQML builds on the skills developed for early leaders on a local Developing Future Leaders course. “Locally, people have seen the benefits of working with SSAT and it being a nationally accredited course; that’s gotten a buzz around the area and recognised as a level of professionalism that should be invested in,” she concluded.

The engagement with NPQML continues to grow through successful marketing across Middlesbrough, as Tees Valley has always worked with other schools and educational bodies in the region. NPQML has been promoted at the local headteachers’ conference and the fortnightly forum.

It is thanks to a well-blended mixture of experienced and aspiring middle leaders that the programme has had such an enriching impact. Participants have had opportunities to network and expand their contacts with colleagues, including those in secondary schools. Emma Coupe says many colleagues have benefited from sharing their experiences, eg. in how they’ve tackled various challenges at work. All those involved have helped to raise awareness, and the commitment of a variety of leaders within the cohorts has enabled Tees Valley’s NPQML participants to truly flourish as leaders.

Find out more about the NPQML programme and how to become an accredited delivery partner to deliver the training across your school, trust and wider network at

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