Learners First – a Department For Education accredited provider of the new


Learners First has been designing and delivering the NPQSL qualification since the DFE first licensed provision in 2012. Since then over 475 aspiring and serving senior leaders have accessed the Learners First programme.

Who is NPQSL for?

NPQSL is for those who are, or are aspiring to become, a senior leader with cross-school responsibilities e.g. an experienced middle leader, a deputy headteacher, an assistant headteacher, or other senior staff.

This includes those who are, or are aspiring to be, a senior leader with cross-school responsibilities e.g. a Director of a Teaching School Alliance (TSA).


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)


What you will learn on NPQSL  …..

Each of the NPQs feature the same 6 content areas as below, however the knowledge and skills within a content area increases in sophistication, depth and breadth progressively through each of the NPQ levels.

Strategy & Improvement

Analyse performance data to identify the causes of variation within a school and against comparative schools (for example, in relation to national benchmarks, historical performance or between different groups)

Ensure data collected is necessary, proportionate and manageable for staff

Work with the governing board effectively to identify and agree approaches to school priorities

Design and implement sustainable change across a school

Teaching and Curriculum Excellence

Use a range of techniques to gather evidence on teaching quality and the impact of interventions across a school

Reduce variation within the school and against comparative schools by improving pupil progress, attainment and behaviour

Develop and maintain a rich, high-quality school curriculum

Leading with Impact

Lead, motivate and influence others, including beyond the line management chain, to deliver whole-school objectives

Develop a communications plan that promotes or defends the school’s performance, policies or decisions effectively

Working in Partnership

Identify a range of local and national partners that can support school improvement

Put in place systems, processes or structures which facilitate knowledge transfer and shared best practice within and beyond the school

Identify the most effective partnerships for improving pupil progress

Managing Resources and Risks

Deploy resources across a school effectively and efficiently to deliver school priorities (for example, in relation to the use of Pupil Premium funding)

Monitor the use of resources across a school, identifying opportunities and pressures (for example, in relation to teacher workload)

Systematically identify, manage and mitigate risks to the school, its pupils and staff

Increasing Capability

Identify excellent professional development practice

Identify talent within an organisation and put in place arrangements or tools to develop and retain it

Design professional development strategies, which engage all staff (including new/recently qualified teachers) and anticipate future professional development needs

Leadership Behaviours

In addition to learning about the 6 content areas, as part of the NPQSL participants are required to evaluate their strengths in each of the following 7 behaviours at the beginning of their NPQ, and plan how they will develop these during their study programme. Descriptors of the behaviours are as follows:-


The best leaders are self-motivated and take a creative, problem-solving approach to new challenge


The best leaders readily engage with, and invest responsibility in, those who are best placed to improve outcomes

Personal Drive

The best leaders are self-motivated and take a creative, problem-solving approach to new challenge


The best leaders remain courageous and positive in challenging, adverse or uncertain circumstances


The best leaders will know themselves and their teams, continually reflect on their own and others’ practices, and understand how best to approach difficult or sensitive issues


The best leaders act with honesty, transparency and always in the interests of the school and its pupils


The best leaders their respect the rights, views, beliefs and faiths of pupils, colleagues and stakeholders

Assessment for NPQSL

*The assessment outlined below is applicable only to participants starting their NPQSL study programme after 01st September 2017.


Participants must:

  • Lead an improvement project across their school, lasting at least 2 terms, to reduce variation in pupil progress and attainment (part A) and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching (part B).
  • Submit a written account of the project to the provider for assessment, which aims to evidence the criteria indicated. This should cover the design, implementation and evaluation of the project.
  • Submit supporting documents/material as evidence where indicated below. Supporting evidence must be concise and directly related to the candidate’s project and corresponding assessment criterion.
  • Not exceed a total word count (across both parts of the project) of 5,000, excluding supporting documents or annexes.

Content areas assessed

Part A

Strategy and Improvement

Teaching and Curriculum Excellence

Leading with Impact

Working in Partnership


Part B

Managing Resources and Risks

Increasing Capability

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


Owing to the restrictions and social distancing requirements arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Learners First approach to delivering NPQSL 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 leaders with successful track records.


The cost of NPQSL with Learners First is


This includes the cost of one assessment submission.

Should a participant fail to adhere to the assessment requirements they may be liable for the cost of resubmission.

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.


Applications for the next NPQSL programme will open in November 2020.


If you have any queries regarding the new NPQSL please email:-


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.


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.