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Norfolk County Council

Leadership Q&A

Why your next social work job should be in … Norfolk

Photo: Gary Brigden

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60 seconds with…Matt Dunkley, interim executive director of children’s services, Norfolk County Council

What attracted you to joining Norfolk County Council?
There are some very good people in Norfolk and it is improving, but it was in need of perhaps some experienced leadership and a pushing on of the pace of improvement. That challenge appealed to me and I felt it was something I could contribute to with my 8 years as a Director of Children’s Services in East Sussex.

My ambition is to get Norfolk to a point by the end of the year where it either has got through its Ofsted inspection successfully or is fully ready to do so. I think we’re not that far off from that.

Norfolk was seeking several heads of social work and locality. What kind of people do you need?
We need a mixture of different skills and experience. We’re good at growing our own in Norfolk and we have a lot of people who have progressed their career through the ranks in Norfolk, but we also need that experience from other places and working cultures.

So we’re looking for very good and experienced people to add to the mix here. We need managers who can help us with our accelerating pace of improvement and to help take us onto the next stage, which is to be a good-rated authority within three years.

What will they get from making Norfolk their next career move?
Now is a really good point to be coming to Norfolk. Hopefully we are on the cusp of improving quite substantially quite fast. So if you come to Norfolk you will experience success and a chance to shape something new and good. We also have good career pathways and opportunities to progress up the ladder.

I mean, it’s always nice going into somewhere that’s already fantastic, but actually somewhere where it isn’t perfect but has good foundations and scope for you as an individual to really feel you are making an impact and moving things forward is a good combination. It’s an exciting professional challenge.

What is the morale of social workers in Norfolk like?
I have been really pleasantly surprised by how good morale is, and that has been recognised by Ofsted.

It’s not perfect and not everything is going right everywhere, but I’ve found people – and we have tested this through our feedback mechanisms with staff – people say they like what senior management has been doing. They liked the way we went about consulting with them about changes and they think the changes we’ve brought in are the right thing to do.

Ofsted rated East Sussex County Council outstanding during your time there. What did East Sussex do right that Norfolk didn’t?
When we established the Children’s Service in East Sussex in 2005 we built very good foundations. We brought together education and social care and early help in a way that built on the strengths of all of them and didn’t create new problems.

Feedback from staff who were in Norfolk at the time is that they missed a few tricks in the way they implemented the 2004 Children’s Act. I think it was a surprise to Norfolk in 2013 when they went into intervention.

But it’s a very different place now and people do now know what good looks like. They have acknowledged the failures of the past, owned up to those and owned them. They have put in this determined effort to improve and change. So it’s a very different scenario here now where everyone knows what good looks like and what they need to do and where we need to be.

How have you found the experience of moving to Norfolk?
It was a place I didn’t know well. I now live during the week in the centre of Norwich and I did not know Norwich at all. But Norwich is an absolutely delightful city – a hidden gem with fantastic architecture, museums and restaurants. It’s a nice sized city you can walk around it, there’s lots of history and interesting things to see and do.

Then you’ve got these amazing coastlines and beaches. You can kind of lose yourself in the county – it’s a big place, big wide open places. You can very be quickly out of the city and into the country. It’s a place with a good standard of living on the kind of salaries we are offering social workers.

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