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Civil Service

Making learning second nature

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Hilary Spencer, Director, Civil Service Learning
Hilary Spencer, Director, Civil Service Learning

Having spent my career working in education, I'm really passionate about the opportunities that open up when we develop our skills and knowledge. As the Director of Civil Service Learning, how we best support our people’s development is a subject close to my heart.

I want to help create a more skilled and capable Civil Service, which is able to provide consistently excellent public services. To do this, we all need to be able to have access to truly high quality and effective learning, which helps us do our jobs to the best of our ability and supports us to develop our skills and our careers.

We know that in the Civil Service we need to deepen and improve our skills and knowledge in certain areas, particularly the crucial skills of leadership, commercial capability, digital and project delivery. But we also need to support the professional development of our people so that we can attract, retain and develop a highly skilled workforce.

Fired up about learning

My vision is to build a culture in the Civil Service where learning is second nature, where we all seek out opportunities to learn, and where we can confidently apply that learning back at work.

I want us to be genuinely fired up about the learning we do and the way it helps us to do our jobs even better. I want to help create a culture where managers and leaders support their teams to develop, and where expert civil servants in different fields share their knowledge and experience to help others learn.

For my team and me in Civil Service Learning, this means we need to do things differently. We've just appointed new suppliers to work with us in designing and providing a new suite of learning. These contract awards mark a major milestone in transforming the learning on offer for the whole Civil Service. The new learning we will build together will be modular and flexible, so that what you learn is highly relevant to your needs, and you can put that learning into practice straight away.

We’re working with our new suppliers, and with experts from departments and professions across the Civil Service, to co-create and then test the new programmes. Do let us know if you would like to get involved in helping us design and develop the new offer.

CS Learning colleagues explain to Sir Jeremy Heywood about developments to the CSL site at Civil Service Live 2015: London
CS Learning & GDS colleagues explain to Sir Jeremy Heywood about developments to the CSL site at Civil Service Live 2015: London

The new digital service we are developing with the Government Digital Service will provide learning that you can access easily and efficiently when and where you need it. Whatever level you're at and whatever your personal or professional background, we want to find ways to create engaging learning that draws on best practice and reflects the way people learn in their everyday lives.

Supporting every civil servant

There’s a lot of brilliant work going on across the Civil Service. As the sponsor of the building capability and skills category in the recent Civil Service Awards, I was really impressed by the effort and energy people are putting in to increasing their own and others’ skills. For me, our role in Civil Service Learning is to recognise and celebrate the good work that goes on, and support more teams and individuals to create a true culture of learning and development.

My aim for Civil Service Learning is to support every civil servant to contribute to an outstanding Civil Service, and we would really welcome your input, feedback and ideas to help us do that. So whether you’d like to try out our new digital service, pilot our new learning or just give us feedback on how we’re doing, please get in touch at

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  1. Comment by Robert Green posted on

    Communication and customer service are not high on Civil Service Learning's priorities as we move to a new provider. I have dedicated considerable time any effort to ensure a current programme of delivery is maintained throughout the transition to a new provider however no one from CSL has the courtesy to either speak to myself or reply to emails. I have 350 managers, at various stages, progressing through a programme and I have no confidence in what will be offered in terms of continuity of content, delivery or even if the current content will be available. Unfortunately I am reduced to putting comments on a blog to hopefully get a response from someone willing to discuss. Hopefully!

  2. Comment by Tim posted on

    Will you be blogging about the latest on training for SCS, with Korn Ferry Hay Group? Be interested to find out more about how this is taking shape

  3. Comment by Charles M Lines posted on

    I do hope that there will be adequate focus upon collaborative working, both within and external to the Civil Service. '...a culture where managers and leaders support their teams to develop, and where expert civil servants in different fields share their knowledge and experience to help others learn' does not just happen, and it takes specific skills, not just a change of culture.

  4. Comment by David posted on

    Not all areas appear to be covered by Civil service learning. All Departments have environmental and sustainability reports to complete but there don't appear to be any courses for people to develop new skills and knowledge in this area.

  5. Comment by anon posted on

    I use platforms like Coursera and EdX a lot. It would be nice if the Civil Service were ready to recognise verified course certificates from suppliers on these platforms (and ideally if we were able to cover the small costs from our training budgets). Some are excellent and cost as little as £35 per course.

    It would also be nice if CS learning were as user-friendly and accessible as these platforms.

  6. Comment by Sue Spedding posted on

    I'm really pleased that Civil Service Learning is being looked into. After lots of problems on our last training day, many people were getting extremely exasperated with this very poor training system and having to give up before being able to complete. What sort of time scale is this going to take? I myself have been trying to undertake i-proc and basware training on Justice Academy which is also just as exaperating. So far, it has taken me 3 different attempts on differnt days and it is still not complete. Will anything be done with this system too?

    • Replies to Sue Spedding>

      Comment by Naomi, CSL posted on

      Hi Sue, we are making improvements to the current site, reducing unnecessary content, improving the search function and introducing new booking pages. We are also working with a cross-government team to design a new digital learning service. This is currently in ‘alpha’, which means we are building a prototype, which will be ready for a decision to proceed in Spring 2016. All this work is about making it simpler, easier and quicker for you to find and book the learning you need. We're constantly recruiting participants for user research, so we're keen to hear if you'd like to get involved - email if so.

  7. Comment by Max Blunt posted on

    Hilary, below is a reply I posted on the PUS blog back in October, originally as a discussion starter on Defence Connect, to try and unearth some solutions to the ever present problem of accessing Higher Education.
    ‘ We have all seen the articles on the Intranet promoting professional development, lifelong learning, challenging yourself etc. with links to the Defence Academy web-site and other academic institutions. And it is with baited breath that we read them, thinking: this is the one, at last I’ve found it, I’m finally getting my foot on the ladder; only to have our aspirations crushed when we find that it’s for post-grads or the course is only for grades C1 and above; or whilst it costs hundreds or even thousands of pounds, that’s not a barrier because you can use your learning credits to pay for it. Of course, we can’t use our learning credits because, as far as I’m aware, as civil servants, we don’t get them!
    To the pessimists amongst us it gives the impression that professional betterment is only available to those that are already better (are they?), or are fortunate enough to wear a green or blue uniform. Being eternally optimistic however, I am sure that the means to reach my goal are out there, it’s just that I haven’t found them yet. I cannot for one moment imagine that in our little corner of the Civil Service where everything is fair and balanced that some areas are more fair and balanced than others…
    Since I started writing my little piece I have discovered, on the Intranet, a blog post from the PUS, Jon Thompson, in which he says: “The Civil Service wants to ensure that everyone, regardless of their socio-economic background, has the same access to opportunities, to fulfil their potential and rise to a leadership role if that is their aspiration”. Well, Jon, it is my aspiration so let’s see what we can do about it, shall we?
    p.s. Of course this request goes out to anybody who can help me, not only the PUS.’

    As you can see it quotes the above blog from Jon and I put a link to it in case anybody was interested enough to look. Apart from two "likes" from two reads I’ve had no other responses, maybe that’s an answer in itself?
    It's a bit lengthy, I know, but all I want to do is develop professionaly and contribute to an outstanding Civil Service.

  8. Comment by David Sangster posted on

    the key question is whether digital by default approaches to at desk learning are compatible with 7-10 desk ratios and the squeeze on office space; do we have a diverse approach to learning so that face to face/room based learning is still affordable - this is particularly important when dealing with the compulsory courses which seem to be poorly conceived and contain erroneous content which cannot be challenged in an online environment like a face to face environment could

  9. Comment by Martyn Holt posted on

    I have become a number of staff in the MOD who cannot access the Civil Service Learning because managers tried to create accounts for their staff before the External Gateway Service validated their email address, therefore unable to validate the account.

    Is there a way to rectify this issue, as it is impacting on mandatory training, and the helpdesk seem to be unwilling to help, or even resend the validation email?

  10. Comment by Alex posted on

  11. Comment by Juliet, CSL posted on

    Great - thanks Alex, we'd love to get you involved. Drop us an email at and we'll send you further details. Have now added the address at the end of the blog, for everyone's convenience.

  12. Comment by Alex posted on

    How do we get in touch with you to let you know if we are interested in helping designing or developing the new training? Thanks.