Civil Service Learning programme a “work in progress”, committee hears

“Marmitey” Civil Service Learning programme is not a finished product, say officials 


By Sarah.Aston

16 Dec 2014

Skills and capabilities in the Civil Service are better than they were thanks to Civil Service Learning (CSL), but there is still a way to go, senior Whitehall figures said yesterday.

Appearing before the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), Chris Last, Oliver Robbins, Hilary Spencer and Francis Maude emphasised the successes of CSL but acknowledged there is still more to do.

Responding to a question on which areas of CSL are currently successful and where CSL can improve, Spencer – who became director of the learning programme in September – said CSL has delivered on its objective of providing collaborative and cost-effective learning.

She also identified a number of challenges facing the service, however.

Because CSL comprises a mixture of online and classroom learning – carried out by in-house and external providers – Spencer said that there “is almost too much for people to make sense of.”

The complex nature of the service has led to a split in opinions as to whether CSL is actually useful, she said. This polarisation was particularly evident in the response to the e-learning programmes, Spencer added.

“E-learning seems to be a bit ‘Marmitey’ for people,” she said.

Last, who is head of Civil Service Human Resources, added that another area in need of improvement is how CSL trains leaders.

“There is still work to be done on the high end piece,” he said, adding: “One of the big things we realised we haven’t got is good development all the way up the Civil Service.”

It was not all bad news, however, as Civil Service director general Oliver Robbins pointed out.

“The clarity over accountabilities has improved and Civil Service Learning has got rid of an enormous number of duplicating and overlapping capabilities across departments,” he said.

“One of the things we have to watch is that we don’t try and look at very short term failures and successes. This takes time, over many years, not a few months,” warned Last.

For Maude, CSL will never be a finished product: “I think everyone concerned with Civil Service Learning will say it’s a work in progress and it probably always will be.” 


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