If you are seeking your first Headship in a UK maintained school, academy or free school, the NPQH is a good choice, in order to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence needed to become a highly effective headteacher; as for the independent sector, achieving it can only be positive – indeed some selection panels may question why you haven’t taken it as part of your CPD. Some dispute whether it is the best qualification, as it lacks the academic independence and self-study aspects of a Masters program. However, it will allow you to explore school leadership in some depth and creates a powerful forum through which a school's senior leadership team can raise the standards of leadership and provide very good CPD. It also links well with the National Professional Qualification for Middle Leadership course. Stuart Dennis, an experienced international Principal says “during my time in Dubai I used the NPQH as a very successful leadership development tool for those ready for posts as Heads of School. (It)…was valued internationally as a sound bench-mark for school leaders from the UK wishing to work in British schools overseas“.

Undertaking an MEd demonstrates a commitment to the education profession and a deeper understanding of pedagogy. The options within MEd programs will enable you to develop your critical thinking and analytical skills and broaden your knowledge in areas of special interest such as curriculum and learning, educational enquiry, literacy and numeracy, behaviour, and educational leadership and management (examples from the Open University). Most, if not all, courses are built around the state sector, so teachers from the independent sector may have significantly different experiences to the majority of other students on the course, not that this should be a problem, in fact it should be enriching. The modules, however, may not cover all those which would be useful to the independent sector, such as boarding education.

The core content of MBAs is based around business and commerce, with case studies taken from private and public sector organisations. For instance, the Imperial MBA includes such subjects as; managing people and organisations, processes and products , information systems, economics, finance and accounts, markets and competition. The Henley MBA encompasses a range of subjects around its three integrated stages of; managing the organisation, making business choices, and making a difference. For knowledge of how to create a successful and operationally-efficient organisation, as well as an understanding about how an organisation fits into and is affected by its external environment, an MBA is very useful. One expert, whose view was sought for this article, points out that “these things do, of course, apply to running schools which now have to focus far more on creating value, cost efficiency and competitiveness”. 

However, from another interviewee's experience “there are not many MBAs with an education basis. Oxford Brookes, for example, with its strong education faculty, does not include this in their MBA”. If you are studying an MBA without an education focus you may find yourself having to work out how topics relate specifically to your experience. Additionally, a key benefit of an MBA is the network of contacts that students develop. You may find that as a teacher or school leader, you could be the only person from that profession on the course and the network, while still useful, would be less relevant.

When thinking about the focus of your qualification, consider your longer-term career aspirations and the types of leadership posts in which you might be interested in the future. Will pedagogy remain your core interest or might you find yourself veering towards commercial management. For example, in educational organisations which operate school groups, a Head with an MBA will have commercial insight into areas which might give them access to more senior corporate roles in the future.

Getting to interview, Governors selecting a new Head would welcome the thinking and expertise the NPQH, an MEd or an MBA could bring to the school. However, it is not simply the qualification on your CV that counts; the selection panel is likely to want to explore what evidence there is that it has made a contribution to your leadership capabilities beyond that of others. 

Stuart Dennis suggests that the NPQH, possibly with additional short course qualifications in leadership beyond the confines of schools, such as Dale Carnegie's executive's coaching course, would show your commitment to and appreciation of the demands of a leadership role. Candidates who have taken a Masters degree may well have completed this in support of another role, such as Director of Studies. This would show the ability and commitment of someone beyond the ordinary and could be a useful differentiator for two similar candidates. One ex-Head suggests that “selection committees often seem more impressed with an MBA than the NPQH on the grounds that it is thought to be more demanding”.

An important consideration is that of cost and return on investment, as well as which institution to study with. The NPQH costs about £4,000 in total. An MEd can be expensive and an MBA even more so. For UK students the fees for an MEd at Oxford Brookes University are over £5,000, for the Oxford Brookes MBA, £14,000, the Henley Flexible Learning MBA is £19,500 and for the full-time MBA at Said Business School, Oxford, just short of £50,000. At Masters level, the reputation of the institution can be as powerful as the qualification itself, so it is important to invest in the right course. Study time is also a factor to consider – unless you have the luxury of taking a year or more out of work, the likelihood is that you will be studying via distant or flexible learning. Spend some time thinking about how you will study alongside your work, family and social commitments. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.