August 2018


  • And breathe...
    Geoff Barton reflects on what has been another extremely busy year for school and college leaders, and says the summer will hopefully, for many, be a time to unwind with family and friends. More
  • Stress less
    As we continuously strive to improve and support the wellbeing of our pupils, we mustn't forget to ensure the health and welfare of our staff too, says Trust Director Julie Yarwood. More
  • Social media: Enjoy, engage or avoid?
    Whether you're developing a social media strategy for your school or college, reviewing existing policies, or managing your own online presence, Online Editor Sally Jack provides advice to help you navigate the social media maelstrom. More
  • Make the news
    By telling their story and knowing how to respond to bad news, schools and colleges can build a successful relationship with the media which can be a huge benefit to them, says ASCL's Head of Public Relations Richard Bettsworth. More
  • Free for all?
    New research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and the Sutton Trust has found that pupils at secondary free schools perform slightly better than pupils at other types of schools, but is that the only thing we should judge them on? Karen Wespieser looks at the data. More
  • Pioneer programme
    The NPQEL programme offers multi-academy trust leaders a roadmap for leadership in this challenging new territory. Julie Nightingale reports. More
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The NPQEL programme offers multi-academy trust leaders a roadmap for leadership in this challenging new territory. Julie Nightingale reports.

Pioneer programme

Jeremy Rowe was a stand-up comedian in his twenties and became practised at responding off-the-cuff to the jibes and heckles of sizeable audiences at his gigs.

Not only did it prepare him robustly for a career in the classroom, but the ability to improvise and respond to the unexpected is also vital as the CEO of a multi-academy trust (MAT) where there is no template for leadership.

“We’re all learning as we go along,” says Jeremy, who was made CEO of the Waveney Valley Academies Trust in Suffolk in 2016 after eight years as a head. “Before we became heads, we had role models. We worked for headteachers so we could get an idea of what the job involved and see first-hand some different ways of doing it. But you don’t have the experience of others to draw on as the CEO of a trust. We are all putting the train track down as the train is moving on it.”

There are now more than 1,200 multi-academy trusts in England. Some 700 of them contain three or more schools, 189 have 6–10 schools and 91 of them have 11 or more schools. For all of them, the leadership challenges are wide-ranging. How do you drive improvement across a group of schools? How do you deploy staff effectively and allocate roles and responsibilities? How do you manage risk at this scale?

The need to fill this knowledge gap led to the creation of the National Professional Qualification for Executive Leadership (NPQEL) in 2017, following a government review of all of the national professional qualifications for school and college leaders. ASCL, working with four Teaching School Alliances, launched its own NPQEL programme the same year and the second round of applications has just opened for the programme starting in November 2018.

The programme covers familiar topics, including data, curriculum excellence and school improvement but explores them from a multi-school perspective, alongside issues such as change management, business development and MAT governance. It takes a blended learning approach, combining local twilight sessions with online materials and a national training day that brings all participants together. There is also a 360-degree diagnostic, plus access to executive coaching and mentoring throughout.


Knowledge-sharing between leaders is also central to the programme, says ASCL Deputy General Secretary Malcolm Trobe.

“One of the key things we’re trying to do is to ensure that it is practically based. There is the theory, academic support and research online but mixed with access to practitioners who are doing the job at the moment and who can talk about what they have done.”

Leaders’ willingness to be open about the challenges they face is one of the most powerful aspects, he says.

“People are being honest and saying, ‘This is what I did but knowing what I know now, this is what I would have done had I known a little bit more about it.’ Hearing what didn’t work can be more of a learning experience than someone saying, ‘This worked really well and I’m a great leader.’ And as someone said, it’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes than your own.”

Jeremy, who is in the first cohort of the ASCL programme, agrees that the chance to link up with other CEOs and heads who can share their experience, as well as those who are at the same stage as him, has been one of the major benefits.

“We’ve already formed a network in East Anglia for CEOs. Geoff Barton [ASCL General Secretary] is coming to speak at our next meeting in October and Sir David Carter [the departing National Schools Commissioner] and Sean Harford [National Director, Education, Ofsted] have been to speak, so we are hearing from people who are already leaders at a national level. They are willing to invest their time in local groups because they realise that there’s a new era of school leadership and we are the ones having to construct it.”

Tactics for approach

The insight into tactics for approaching other schools has also been valuable, Jeremy adds.

“We’ve learned some good things about growing MATs and the dos and don’ts of approaching other schools. For example, we were talked to about the difference between cold selling and warm selling, which I thought was really good, so rather than just ring up a school and say, ‘Would you like to join our MAT?’ you do your homework and then you ring and say, ‘We like A, B and C and because of that we think you could fit into our MAT really effectively. What do you think?’”

Helena Marsh also embarked on the programme this year, looking for support in her role as Executive Principal of the Chilford Hundred Education Trust in Cambridge, which she took on in January 2016. Unusually, she had not been a head before but assumed the executive role alongside the role of principal of the secondary school in the MAT when the previous leader was promoted. The trust is made up of the secondary and two primaries, and will be joined by a new primary free school and another primary from September.

“I think the business management and finance sides are going to be particularly helpful,” she says. “Strategic financial planning is a key element for any small trust that is looking at growth. There’s also the opportunity to be able to mix with colleagues in similar roles that are beyond your local context. My training is delivered by a teaching school alliance in Kent so the delegates give me a different perspective from my local leadership network.”

Learn through projects

The blended learning approach, which enables people to dip in and out at their own pace, and learn in different ways, fits well with the demands of the job, she adds.

“With any professional learning, I think you have to earmark time for it and make it happen. The nature of the NPQEL means you can use it as an opportunity to learn through projects and initiatives you are already engaging with rather than see it as additional add-into.”

The next round of ASCL’s NPQEL programme starts in November and is open to serving and aspiring MAT leaders, though, over time, Malcolm expects it to be seen as a career developmental opportunity geared more towards aspiring executive leaders.

“Just as NPQH has been for those who want to move into headship, it makes sense that the NPQEL programme appeals more to heads who want to move into the executive role,” he says. “We need to move beyond expecting people to learn on the job, now, to a point where people are prepared for executive leadership as part of their career path.”

We need to move beyond expecting people to learn on the job, now, to a point where people are prepared fo r executive leadership as part of their career path.

There are now more than 1,200 mATS in England. For all of them, the leadership challenges are wideranging

Want to know more?

The next programme starts in November 2018 – go to for more details or call 0116 2991122 or email NP

Julie Nightingale
Freelance Education Writer