The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has launched the UK’s first specialist Diplomatic Academy to ensure its staff are able to meet the department’s needs.
Launched last night by foreign secretary Philip Hammond, the academy was originally the brainchild of Hammond’s predecessor William Hague.
Speaking at the launch, academy director Jon Davies – a former head of the FCO’s Middle East Office – said the central aim of the programme is to improve staff skills “at all grades at home or overseas”.
“At the heart of it was a realisation that we didn’t always have the level of knowledge and skills we need for the people in the Foreign Office to do their jobs as well as they should,” he said.
The academy comprises 11 faculties, which offer modules in international policy, economics, languages and law. Qualifications are divided into three levels: foundation, practitioner and expert.
The first foundation level modules, all of which will be available online, are expected to go live this April and are likely to be accredited by City & Guilds.
Last year, Defence Select Committee chair Rory Stewart criticised the FCO for prioritising management skills over local expertise in its overseas staff and called for “more emphasis on language, political reporting, and deep country knowledge”.
Asked by CSW whether the academy will address Stewart’s concerns, Davies said that while both the practitioner and expert levels aim to equip staff with the necessary practical and country-specific knowledge, the main aim of the academy is to improve learning and ensure it is consistent across the board.
“The academy is more about making sure the learning is really good, really well focused, so that when you do go out there, we’ve given them the foundation and the fundamentals so that they can go and really learn,” he said.
However, he added: “We will do what we can to make sure that the regional knowledge, and the country-specific knowledge that I know he [Rory Stewart] has talked about is something that is done here as well.”