The government is launching a national leadership programme in 2020 to support talented leaders to become directors of children's services (DCSs) and help DCSs who are new to the role or want support as they move roles.
DCS turnover was relatively low in 2018/19 with 17 new appointments - the second lowest number recorded in the 12-year history of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS). Thirteen were promoted from assistant director level and in two cases an existing director of adult services took on children's services as an additional role. There are currently 40 such "twin hatters".
Leadership roles in children's services are becoming more wide-ranging, with those in senior positions increasingly finding themselves responsible for services outside their historical area of expertise. "Many challenges public sector leaders face test their ability to manage dilemmas, in which there is no single ‘best way' to proceed," says Jo Davidson, principal at The Staff College, one of the main sources of training for children's services leaders. "We run Think Tanks and webinars to enable leaders to think through some of the most complex issues facing the sector, their regions or organisations, as well as national programmes to support leadership succession planning."
Last year, The Staff College ran the first of its new Aspirant Directors of Children's Services Programme, starting in February. A second cohort completed the programme in June this year. Aimed at senior leaders who aspire to a director-level role in children's services in England, it brings together learning from Staff College senior leadership programmes, NHS Horizons' experience and expertise in supporting and delivering large-scale change, and contributions from leading academics and thinkers. Around one in three DCSs have been through an aspirant programme delivered by the college. Applications for the third cohort open later this year.
To improve diversity in senior leadership positions, the college runs a national programme for Black and Asian leaders. The college will deliver three cohorts this year with a further two already planned for 2020.
The college has developed a scenario planning tool called Project 2035 to help authorities and systems leaders think about current challenges while planning for the future. Meanwhile, a digital learning portal for subscribing authorities allows DCSs and others to take part in discussion forums and contribute to think pieces and factsheets. The Staff College also works with individual councils and across regional partnerships to design and deliver bespoke programmes in areas including partnership leadership development, education systems development for school-led improvement and health and wellbeing.
The Local Government Association (LGA) runs the Leadership Essentials Children's Services programme, a residential course providing an intensive introduction to the role of lead member for children's services. It also offers mentoring and coaching and has provided bespoke learning and development support for individual councils and councillors. The LGA provides a range of children's services peer challenge and diagnostics, which may be partly or fully subsidised.
The Institute for Public Care delivers leadership and management training specific to children's services. The organisation is currently delivering a bespoke programme for heads of service and service managers in Gloucestershire based on its Postgraduate Certificate in Strategic and Operational Leadership in Social Care.