Coaching for leaders - Steve Munby, chief executive, National College for School Leadership

Lauren Higgs
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Leaders of children's and young people's services are facing challenges from all sides. Politicians have upped the ante on safeguarding, the 14 to 19 reforms herald new demands and the recession is forcing councils to slash budgets, while managing an increased demand for services.

Steve Munby, chief executive of the National College for School Leadership (NCSL), is the man charged with helping directors of children's services through these troubled times.

At the end of last year, he was asked to lead a new training programme for directors of children's services (DCSs), as part of the government's 2020 Children and Young People's Workforce Strategy.

Training starts in September, so Munby has a busy few months ahead. So far he's conducted 20 phone interviews with DCSs. More are in the pipeline and he plans to shadow several DCSs before the programme kicks off.

He's been asking them questions like "do you enjoy your job?" and "what should the programme do?".

Their answers are helping to shape his plans. "What's so interesting about my conversations is that they really vary. Some DCSs are confident about the political side of their job, such as dealing with councillors, others are brilliant at dealing with head teachers," he says.

A tailor-made programme

For this reason, the programme will be tailor-made for every DCS. Sceptics may question whether training can really address the complex issues that DCSs face on a daily basis. But Munby is eager to emphasise that the scheme is more than just a course. "We're talking about mentoring, coaching, it's about a different way of working," he says.

DCSs will be tested before enrolling on the programme to assess where their strengths and weaknesses lie. That way, Munby and his team will be able to plan each leader's development.

One idea is that experienced DCSs should mentor their less experienced counterparts.

"On the phone DCSs have been saying that they would have appreciated having a mentor in their first or second year of the job. We're going to try to address that," he says.

Mentoring and coaching

Mentoring will be at the heart of the scheme, Munby says, and not just for new DCSs. The programme will go on for at least a year, with a mix of mentoring, coaching and on-the-job learning.

But in this age of integrated services, what makes an agency that specialises in school leadership so apt to lead the programme?

Munby admits that his background in education cannot possibly reflect the wide remit of modern children's services.

But he's clear that DCSs themselves will define the programme's content. Plus, the Association of Directors of Children's Services and the Children's Workforce Development Council are helping to develop the scheme. "This is not NCSL saying we're the experts," he says.

Munby explains that the college's priorities are partnership working and the "moral purpose" of better outcomes for children.

Local solutions

The NCSL is also opposed to the so-called one-size-fits-all approach. "We tend to go for local solutions rather than national, because we think context really matters," he says. He believes this ethos applies easily to the whole of children's services, not just education.

But regardless of NCSL's experience, the year ahead will be challenging, not least because of Lord Laming's report into the failures at Haringey.

So how will the leadership programme respond to the current focus on safeguarding?

Munby describes Laming's report as evidence, and says he'll take it into consideration much like any other relevant report or research. "It will be just one of the things we look at," he explains.

His aim is to make the role of the DCS the most sought after job in the sector. And for now at least, he thinks things bode well: "What's great is that of the DCSs I've spoken to so far, nearly all of them said they love their job."

LEADERSHIP TRAINING - DETAILS OF THE PROGRAMME

- The leadership programme for directors of children's services (DCSs) was announced in December 2008, as part of the government's 2020 Children and Young People's Workforce Strategy

- The National College for School Leadership leads the programme, with support from the Association of Directors of Children's Services and the Children's Workforce Development Council

- While the cost of the programme is still under negotiation, training for the first 24 DCSs will start in September. It will be tailored to individual needs and is likely to include mentoring by more experienced directors.

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