Learners First is delighted to be one of a small number of providers accredited by the DfE to offer this exciting new qualification. In choosing Learners First as your NPQEL provider you will connect into an established school led partnership that has a strong track record of high quality delivery over many years. You will have access to a national network of partner organisations that provides a wealth of outstanding, serving leaders with whom you can work.

NPQEL Overview

Who is NPQEL for?

The Learners First NPQEL is a new, nationally accredited leadership programme designed for those in the formative stages of their Chief Executive Officer (CEO) career, those currently with strategic responsibility for leading more than one school as an Executive Leader, or leaders with exceptional talent who could soon move into an Executive Leader or CEO role.


How are the NPQs quality assured?

The DfE accredits a range of providers to design, deliver, and assess the National Professional Qualifications (NPQs). To ensure that a participant’s NPQ is accessible, high quality, and nationally consistent, providers’ provision must meet the requirements of the NPQ quality framework. The quality framework sets out the requirements that all those accredited to deliver NPQs are required to meet and maintain.

The DfE NPQ quality framework is available to download here together with the latest report on the performance of Learners First against the framework. The report is independently produced by the DfE’s quality assurance agent, Tribal.

Learners First QA Report (as at Sept 2020)




Taking both a practical and pragmatic approach, the Learners First NPQEL programme offers an exceptional leadership development opportunity designed to support leaders in any phase of education to:

  • Reflect on their own leadership challenges in an executive role and further develop the essential leadership skills to successfully navigate the transition into the CEO role;
  • Be better prepared to deliver continuous improvement across their MAT or group of schools recognising the increasing complexity and change within the education system;
  • Analyse strategy, practice and emerging leadership in other sectors as well as within the education sector to bring about improvements;
  • Connect to both local and national networks that will sustain and continue to develop high quality leadership.

Programme Content

The suite of NPQ qualifications are built around the six core Content Areas.

At each level of the NPQ framework, the knowledge and skills associated with each content area progressively increases in sophistication, depth and breadth. The six content areas are:

Strategy and Improvement

Teaching and Curriculum Excellence

Leading with Impact

Working in Partnership

Managing Resources and Risks

Increasing Capacity

Although not directly tested through the assessment, there are also seven Leadership Behaviours which set out how the best leaders operate. Participants will be supported to reflect upon these behaviours throughout the programme.

The seven leadership behaviours are:

  • Respect
  • Commitment
  • Awareness
  • Collaboration
  • Resilience
  • Personal drive
  • Integrity

Programme Delivery and Overview

The Learners First NPQEL programme has been designed to be both practical and pragmatic with opportunities to work with leading industry experts within and beyond education. The year-long programme will consist of an induction and four separate one and a half day sessions, each taking place as a residential. Sessions will encourage leaders to consider a range of pertinent areas such as those outlined below and all will have a focus on ‘leading with impact’. Between each face to face session participants will be expected to be involved in a peer review process of each other’s organisations using techniques developed during the programme.

Owing to the restrictions and social distancing requirements arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Learners First approach to delivering NPQEL has been re-modelled. For the cohorts that started in the 2019/20 academic year that have some of their modules to complete and the new starters in 2020/21, module delivery will be via digital/online means until restrictions are lifted and at least until the end of the Autumn Term 2020.

In order that participants are afforded sufficient time and development opportunities to successfully meet the assessment criteria, the DfE has extended the programme completion timeframe from 18 months to 24 months which includes submission for assessment.

Delivery of all modules will continue to be by experienced school and industry leaders with successful track records.


This session will help set the national and local context within which the participants’ MATs or group of schools operate. There will be an opportunity to shape and influence the programme in response to individual assessment feedback.


Session 1 : Strategy and Improvement

Participants will use a range of techniques to compare and contrast different approaches to strategic planning including those from other sectors. This will involve exploring:

  • emerging accountability frameworks for MATs
  • ethical leadership and managing significant change
  • translating an inspiring vision into strategic action
  • approaches that might help shape and influence your partner organisations

Session 2 : Teaching and Curriculum Excellence

Participants will look at examples of developing excellence in curriculum delivery, teaching and learning and the use of data across groups of schools. This will involve a study of national and international research evidence into effective teaching and learning and will use the evidence from our first MAT Peer Review exercise.


Session 3 : Managing Resources and Risks

Participants will consider and study models of financial sustainability including:

  • considerations of income and resource generation
  • MAT growth plans
  • Current and emerging accountability mechanisms.

The sessions will involve a consideration of governance and risk management as well as a review of safeguarding and health and safety across groups of schools.


Session 4 : Working in Partnership to Increase Capability

This session will consider effective ways of working with Directors, DfE/EFA, Teaching Schools and other potential partner organisations that could contribute to the continuous improvement in participants’ schools. This session will involve considerations of effective delegation, internal and external contracting and your own ‘brand management’.

Application Process

To apply for a place on the Learners First NPQEL programme, leaders are required to submit a current CV, a letter of application and provide a sponsor statement endorsing the application and suitability for the programme. Applications will be assessed by a partner organisation, independent of Learners First. Given the nature of this new and innovative programme, each cohort will be limited to a maximum of 15 participants.

The programme overview can be accessed below.


Applications for the 2020/21 academic year will open in the Autumn for a Spring Term 2021 start.

NPQEL Privacy Notice


To graduate from the programme and gain the NPQEL award participants will need to complete a final assessment which requires them to:

  • design a sustainable business development strategy for their organisation, analysing the benefits, costs and risks of different options; and
  • lead a project to improve progress and attainment in several schools

Through these two projects participants should demonstrate their competence linked to the knowledge and skills set out in the six content areas.

NPQEL participants can choose to focus their Task 2 on coronavirus recovery, if they wish to do so. Alternative assessment criteria for sections 2.4.1 – 2.4.4 of the content and assessment framework apply in such cases.

The assessment for NPQEL is conducted externally on behalf of Learners First by NPQ Online an experienced assessor for quality leadership in education.


All applicants for NPQ programmes with Learners First are advised to familarise themselves with the policy and procedure for dealing with incidents of malpractice. The policy is available for download below.



The cost of NPQEL with Learners First is £2,995.

For any participants from schools subscribing to Learners First, 25% of the costs will be met through the subscription.

NPQ Scholarships

DfE funding is available to support leaders from schools in Opportunity Areas, Category 5 and Category 6 Achieving Excellence Areas to undertake the NPQs in 2020/21. If within a MAT, at least one school is located within one of the eligible areas, all schools within the MAT become eligible to access the DfE funding to cover the full cost of the NPQ programme (all levels). Locally, this would include colleagues from schools in Doncaster, Sheffield, Barnsley and areas of Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.


All complaints related to the NPQ programmes with Learners First will be addressed in accordance with the policy and procedure set out and available for download below.