Leading for learning: how the intelligent leader builds capacity

Government policy offers new freedoms to the public sector that have enhanced the responsibilities of practitioners and make new demands on the systems tackling the often complex needs of vulnerable children and their families. While such developments bring very significant challenges to leaders of children’s services, they also offer new freedoms and opportunities. Local authorities are therefore responding to these developments in a wide variety of ways, resulting in ‘a mixed economy of provision with a greater role for citizens, communities, voluntary agencies and the private sector in children’s services commissioning and delivery’ (C4EO, 2011:10). In this context, all practitioners need to adapt to the changing environment without increasing the risk of failing vulnerable children and their families. Leaders need confidence that professional judgements will lead to the best possible outcomes for children, young people and families. Meanwhile the practitioners they lead need to learn a) to recognise what it is important to work on and b) how to collaborate with others to achieve what really matters. These demands have led to increased attention to building capacity within and across children’s services to develop well-informed, child-focused systems. At the heart of this process is a focus on the learning that creates a self-improving system, within which practitioners

learn by listening to each other to build the knowledge needed to improve the lives of children, young people and families. This report describes innovative and outstanding leadership practice in the development of learning organisations in the public sector. It identifies what effective directors of children’s services (DCSs) do to promote a learning culture and learning practices in which knowledge is nurtured, shared and utilised within an ongoing climate of change to achieve positive outcomes for children, young people and families.

The aims of the study were to identify:

  • the actions taken by senior leaders to build capacity
  • how these actions link to the strategic purposes of their organisations

The study was undertaken by Professor Harry Daniels (University of Bath) and Professor Anne Edwards (Oxford University). It involved intensive work with 10 DCSs gathering evidence on how they fostered learning. While this research focused on the work of DCSs, it is also of potential interest to school leaders and others with an interest in promoting learning within their organisation.