Teacher training

NPQs: Trusts reveal viability fears after courses slashed

Leaders fear cash-strapped schools which miss out on free NPQs will be unable to afford the training

Leaders fear cash-strapped schools which miss out on free NPQs will be unable to afford the training

21 Jun 2024, 5:00

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Massive cuts to the number of free national professional qualifications (NPQs) places have sparked viability concerns, with one trust considering teaming up with other providers to ensure that slimmed-down courses can go ahead.

The government has also been warned that it risks creating teaching “cold spots” in England’s poorest regions, as some of those delivering the programmes have seen fully funded spaces slashed by up to 75 per cent. 

Leaders are concerned that cash-strapped schools which miss out on free NPQs will be unable to afford to pay for the training.

Schools Week revealed this year that the government was scaling back its free NPQ programme. The government was tight-lipped about how many places it would provide, but Schools Week understood they were capped at just 10,000.

This year, it is thought that nearly 40,000 NPQs were funded by the government.

‘Risk of undermining infrastructure’

Allocations have now been shared with providers and trusts, causing alarm about the severity of the drop. Some have expressed concerns that cohorts will be too small to run viable courses.

Speaking at a Schools Week webinar this week, Academies Enterprise Trust boss Rebecca Boomer-Clark said: “We have just established a potentially dynamic, successful delivery infrastructure [for NPQs] at scale across the whole country.

“And we are risking undermining that for what’s a relatively small amount of funding.”

Exceed Academies Trust chief executive Duncan Jacques has 91 funded NPQs next year, a fraction of the “close to 400” he got this year. He has already received “114 expressions of interest”.

He said: “If we only have five people on a cohort, then that’s not viable to run, but there’s an opportunity to partner with other teaching hubs locally to deliver a cohort across the piece.

“We will do whatever we can … but it might mean further travelling [for them] if we have to link with others to get those delivered.”

He said many schools will not pay for courses, which range from around £800 to up to £4,000.

For the past three years, all schools have been able to enrol staff for free under a £184 million Covid recovery package. From the autumn, only teachers and leaders in the top half of schools with the most youngsters on pupil premium will be eligible.

SENDCO NPQ in demand

There are normally two cohorts a year, but ministers have so far only announced funding for the autumn.

The Department for Education works with eight organisations to provide NPQs. They team up with trusts and teaching school hubs to put on the courses.

One large MAT which offered around 250 free NPQs last September has seen its allocation reduced to less than 100. Another has been offered about 200 fewer places, a cut of almost two-thirds on last year.

Both AET and Ormiston Academies Trust said allocations were lower than expected. Tom Rees, Ormiston CEO, said it was “disappointing we now won’t be able to offer this development opportunity to so many of our colleagues who are keen to progress and improve”.

The Leigh Trust, which runs Thames Gateway Teaching School Hub, said it has received funding for just four executive school leader NPQs across the 180 schools it serves. 

Simon Beamish, the trust’s CEO, said this was “not particularly viable”, adding: “The bigger problem for the sector is an inability to afford to train staff on these high quality programmes which staff really enjoy.”

While the number of funded courses has dropped, it is understood that the new NPQ for SENDCOs – which is mandatory – is in high demand, leaving fewer free places for other courses.

The SENDCO qualification, along with the NPQ for heads and leading primary maths, will be free to all schools.

Schools Week knows one provider that has received more than 2,000 expressions of interest for the course – with official applications not yet open.

‘Cold spots risk’

Hilary Spencer, chief executive of Ambition, said she does not “want to see cold spots of high-quality professional development re-emerging”.

Hilary Spencer
Hilary Spencer

She added: “Teaching school hubs and trusts have worked so hard to build the infrastructure to deliver NPQs in all corners of England. All schools benefit from [them]… in particular those schools serving the most disadvantaged communities.”

Boomer-Clark said it was “important we do not undermine our capacity to deliver professional training and development at scale at exactly the point when we need to be seen to be investing in teaching as a profession”.

Rees hopes the “decision will be reviewed after the election… It’s vital, now more than ever, that there is an increase in teacher professional development, not a reduction.”

Labour has pledged around £210 million to give teachers a CPD entitlement, but there are few details on how this could work.

A spokesperson for Teach First, another lead provider, said: “It’s crucial we get a substantial longer-term commitment from the next government to secure this vital leadership training.

 “Cuts to leadership development ultimately harm teacher retention and student outcomes.”

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