Maybe my search-fu is too weak, but I've both skimmed the JR books and tried a search here in the JR sub-forum, and still have no answer: how are the major escorted NPCS (Ameiko, etc.) expected to level during the AP? The only mention that I could find was a brief sidebar in the beginning of Book 5 which talked more about how it is expected that the caravan itself will be left with allies, but the major NPCs will want to join the party on the various quests.
Once the PCs overtake the NPCs' levels, should the NPCs stay just one level behind? That will give them some agency, but not enough to overshadow the PCs (and disqualify them from becoming cohort options).
I've heard (or read) -1 to -2 levels behind the PC's is reasonable. We even picked up both Celestials. As for any class direction, I guess it's whatever you might want. Been looking at the PC's teaching some or all a level in Martial Artist Monk (Possibly combo'd with Wanderer Monk)to up the the options... But that's just me.
The level advancement of the escorted NPCs depends on the needs of the campaign. In the first two modules, the caravan of allies is often sidelined on some excuse so that the PCs can claim the limelight. Not advancing the levels of the allied NPCs until they are two levels below the party will leave them weak enough that the party members can tell them, "We are the experts here. You stay back and stay safe."
I took a different tack. I replaced Ameiko Kaijitsu, who was off helping her Rise of the Runelords friends, with her half-sister Amaya of Westcrown. I began the campaign with 8 players, so I marginalized all the other NPCs. Koya Mvashti and Sandru Vhiski helped them get north to Riddleport but then left. The party formed a new caravan at Kalsgard at the beginning of The Hungry Storm[/url], led by Ulf Gormundr and Uksahkka, but left that caravan at Ordu-Aganhei at the beginning of [i]Forest of Spirits.
Only Amaya stayed with them, so only she leveled up. She was at equal level to the party, working right alongside them in the healer role--she was a time oracle. Ameiko Kaijitsu caught up to them in Forest of Spirits, leveled up to the same level as the party, too, with a class rebuild that removed her aristocrat class. Once the party gained the Seinaru Heikiko fortress as a base in Tide of Honor, they established the cautious policy of leaving one of the sisters at Seinaru Heikiko during any mission, so they had only one full-level NPC with them at a time. Thus, they avoided too much NPC involvement.
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Looks at my caravan of roughly 38 NPCs most of whom have been levelling alongside the party...
Do what feels right for you as a GM and for your party as a whole. My experience of Jade Regent would have been significantly less interesting if the players didn't basically travel with a small village everywhere they went.