In 2017 the Department for Education (DfE) launched National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) in middle, senior and executive leadership, as well as a revamped NPQH for headteachers, to train school leaders in England. Delivery then was through 41 accredited providers, with £10 million of targeted funding available to schools in selected areas (DfE, 2021, pp. 18–19). In 2021, DfE shuffled the deck by announcing £184 million for all schools to spend on an expanded suite of six NPQs before naming nine lead providers. In this blog post, we focus on job adverts which demonstrate how government policy has enriched a handful of densely networked players, put others in potentially precarious positions, and impoverished teacher development.
The ace of spades
In 2022, ministers announced four multi-school trusts – Star Academies, Harris Federation, Outwood Grange Academies Trust and Oasis Community Learning – would run a National Institute of Teaching (NIoT). Its job, to deliver DfE’s ‘golden thread’ (DfE, 2022, p. 5) of ‘world-class teacher development’. The NIoT’s initial teacher training (ITT) role has attracted much attention, less so their position as ‘flagship lead provider’ (DfE, 2022, p. 8) of NPQs. The NIoT needs multiple incomes to cover over £100 million in running costs beyond its start-up funding. A job advert for a research fellow to work on a leadership programme aimed at multi-academy trust chief executives shows one strategy of the NIoT is investing in research purposefully designed to ‘support the design and delivery’ of its programmes. The NIoT is under pressure to claim that products such as its NPQ in executive leadership are ‘cutting edge’. But research-on-demand to ‘support’ programmes is no guarantee of quality.
Four of a kind
The trusts running the NIoT are also known as the School Led Development Trust. Some of those trusts have ‘institutes’ or ‘leadership colleges’ which collectively also make up the School-Led Network, (SLN) along with other partners. The SLN is explicit about its NIoT links in marketing its NPQ provision. SLN members are also individually engaged in the process of building their own empires, too. This is evidenced in a recent advertisement by Star Institute for ‘consultants … committed to working with local talent on the delivery of the Golden Thread provision’. Recruitment is ‘ongoing’ – presumably to fill a large number of positions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a genuine commitment to delivering training. But it is problematic if slick pitches, being in the right network and sheer scale leads to other expertise being sidelined.
‘School-Led Network members are also individually engaged in the process of building their own empires.’
Harris Federation for example is both a lead provider of NPQs and part of the NIoT, as well as the Harris Leadership College being in the SLN. But what about the less well-networked? Eighty-seven ‘teaching school hubs’ have linked up with lead providers to access the market (DfE, 2022, p. 8). To take one, Cranmer Education Trust was formed in 2015 out of the Blue Coat Academy in Oldham. With just five schools, they nevertheless have their own Cranmer Institute, delivering NPQs approved by lead provider University College London. Recently Cranmer recruited an operations co-ordinator post to be paid like a cover supervisor, but with the remit ‘to help us drive our business functions’, suggesting they need new back-office staff to succeed. We do not highlight this to single out any one specific organisation, but this illustrates how local providers are also being forced to gamble, and could easily lose out financially if policy or relationships with lead providers change.
A bad hand
The Department for Education’s policy has created a lucrative market. The range of NPQs has now grown to eight, including ‘leading literacy’ and ‘leading teacher development’ – any area can seemingly be tagged ‘leadership’ to make money. But with all NPQs strictly following the same ‘golden thread’ of evidence, and from such a narrow range of closely linked providers, a skilled and supposedly valued work force of teachers and school leaders is being bluffed.