Introducing the new GCS Curriculum

I started working in communication, writing press releases and briefing journalists in 1992. I’ve seen huge changes in the practice of media, marketing and internal communication since then – largely for the better. From GCS initiatives like the Modern Communication Operating Model, to the Civil Service Leadership Statement and industry-wide best practice like ‘Engage for Success’ we have a body of professional knowledge which enables us to be better public servants.

But the pace of change and problems we are tasked with addressing through the power of brilliant communication continues to develop. Last week Google reported that they had blocked or removed approximately 3 billion ads last year for violating its policies, and blocked nearly 100 million Covid-related ads in 2020, including those for ‘miracle cures’ and fake vaccine doses. This is one example of the sort of digital challenge we face and indicative of the knowledge we need to do our jobs effectively. It’s why we developed the Rapid Response Unit and the RESIST framework to tackle disinformation.

I am determined that we remain a leading profession where we can evidence the positive benefit we can deliver in terms of improving, enhancing and saving lives. So I am delighted to be announcing our ambitious new approach to learning and development today – marked by the launch of the first GCS Curriculum and our new guide to learning and development.

The curriculum is designed to set out stretching professional standards for the Government Communication Service.

We are a Civil Service profession with a theory of practice, a proud history, case studies and a canon of learning. Maintaining our standards is the foundation of our public service and enables us to deliver the best work.

So, for the first time, we are making it mandatory that everyone working in the GCS in a central department plans their development using the GCS Curriculum, has a Personal Development Plan (PDP) in place, and completes 30 continuous professional development points (roughly 30 hours of learning) over the course of the year.

The resources are available to everyone – I encourage communicators working in Arm’s-Length Bodies, public bodies and other public sector organisations to use them. I was speaking to public servants in Wales last week and suggested they take part in the new scheme – there is no bar to learning for any organisation.

My challenge to you

The scale and pace of change in our work demands that our professional practice is constantly moving forward and is of an exceptionally high standard. At all times we need to be able to say with confidence that our communicators and our profession are truly world-class, delivering for ministers and implementing government policy effectively.

There are undoubtedly areas of professional practice that are genuinely world-leading and of which we can already be proud.

However, as we move forward with our ambitious programme of improvement and modernisation through Reshaping GCS, we now need greater clarity, consistency and challenge when it comes to raising the standards of what we offer to, and expect of, the profession.

Clarity means setting out how much time to invest in learning and development, and the diverse range of learning we should be recognising.

Consistency means setting out the stretching standards that we need to apply across all our grades and disciplines.

And Challenge means that, for the first time, we make it mandatory that every single one of us plans our development using the GCS Curriculum, has a Personal Development Plan (PDP) in place and completes 30 continuing professional development points over the course of the year.

To be clear – learning can be on the job; as part of a course; a book read and blog written, or a presentation to colleagues. It might be learning a language or writing a campaign plan for the first time or mastering the techniques of digital advertising. It should be knowledge we can use, not simply sitting in a classroom.

The new approach to professional development

I am pleased that all central department Directors of Communication have signed up to this critical agenda for 2021/22. We will lead by example by sharing our PDPs in due course and ensuring that every member of our team has a PDP in place.

That learning starts with me. I’ve contributed to the new curriculum with an introduction to GCS and hope to contribute online learning classes on leadership, campaigns and public speaking – and am always happy to talk to departments or agencies about any of these things. And many of my Director of Communication colleagues have provided brilliant material for the curriculum.

My PDP for the next year will cover improving my leadership skills, understanding major projects, improving my commercial knowledge and sharpening my digital capability. I’m also doing an online course in football coaching and cricket umpiring which I hope will also help me in the workplace as well as the sports field.

Please make time for this learning. At the height of the pandemic last year we put together an advisory panel report supported by the CIPR, PRCA, IOIC and CIM, to capture the lessons we learned so far. We did this because unless we learn from our successes – and from our failures – we will not improve.

Please do take the time to read the new guide: GCS learning and development 2021/22: Your guide to the new GCS curriculum and standards. It provides you with the information you will need to set up your PDP by 30 April 2021.