Welcome to the upon programme

Latest Update | Welcome to the upon programme | Jo Davidson | August 20, 2020

Hello and welcome to the upon programme, our development programme for Aspiring and New Directors of Children’s Services (DCS). I was a DCS for a number of years and in my last role as Director of Children’s Services for Derbyshire for almost 6. I am privileged to be the Programme Director for Upon and Chief Executive of the Staff College as it provides me with a unique opportunity to work and support the development of the leaders of the future.

Directors of Children’s Services have been around since 2005, working with their political counterparts, the Lead Members for Children and other corporate and political colleagues and as key systems leaders across partnerships. Whilst there have been changes over time, including the introduction in some areas of children’s trusts, the DCS role is unique in local government as the champion for all children and young people in the local place. The role is fascinating, complex and incredibly rewarding. Over 150 DCS’ in the country lead and influence their teams, partners and communities creating an environment where children, young people and families can thrive.

DCS’ have a huge responsibility in relation to childrens’ outcomes whether they be educational outcomes, safeguarding or in relation to their broader wellbeing. They have a key role as leaders in their place to influence and harness local partners to work together focusing on joint endeavour to improve the overall life chances of our youngest citizens within the resources that are available. As a corporate leader, they are part of the professional leadership of the council, advising and working with politicians to shape local plans, policies and services relating to the whole community.

DCS’ are incredibly skilled – they are inspiring leaders, highly competent managers, promise keepers and innovators. They need to be team players, talent builders, technically competent and have political nous. It’s a role that combines both the art of the possible and the science of what works. It requires courage, determination and empathy, orchestrating and supporting many thousands of people.

We have always known that DCS’ have to balance the need to both stand back and think long term strategy alongside having to respond to immediate situations as they arise and the years of the Covid pandemic have shown DCS’ at their most flexible and creative.

The Upon programme is funded by the Department for Education and delivered by a consortium led by the Staff College, blending the combined skills and resources of GatenbySanderson, Skills for Care and the Institute for Public Care. It centres on the expertise and wisdom of sector leaders themselves – Directors, Chief Executives and other partners.

Our continuing ambition for the programme is to attract a diverse range of future leaders. We focus upon leadership skills, behaviours and management approaches which help aspiring Directors understand whether this is the role for them and provide a good grounding to help new Directors feel equipped for what the role will bring and the self-reflection skills that will enable them to learn and grow during their first months and years. This will be through a combination of exploring leading leadership thinking from a range of disciplines and cultures; practical activities to translate theory into practice and develop skills; support and guidance from programme facilitators and from the sector itself.

Once people become new Directors, we will support them and their employers during their first crucial years as they hone their Director skills through further learning, trying things out and coaching.

Peer support within Children’s Services is well established. We will build upon this, helping participants create lifelong connections within and beyond children’s services. There will be resources that can be depended upon as a source of practical advice and information.

Jane Parfrement


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