Carys Ward

Author: Carys Ward

10/07/2019 12:14:25

As part of the on-going work of the Ethical Leadership Commission, pathfinders from schools, trusts and local authorities are testing a range of resources – which include professional development sessions, an ethical audit, and a series of case studies. This is aimed at helping education leaders put the values and virtues of the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education into working practices and leadership styles.

The pathfinders have been sharing experiences at the inaugural Ethics Exchange event at the University of Birmingham on Thursday 4 July. Over 70 schools and trusts took part in the event to tell other pathfinders how they are using the Framework and resources in their decision making.

In the morning, as well as receiving a presentation (and hard copy) on a draft report which evaluates the experiences of the pathfinders to date, a range of speakers showcased how the programme has worked in individual organisations and debated and considered the ethical dilemmas facing schools today:

  • Cath Kitchen, chief executive of the Skylark Partnership, and headteacher of Hospital and Outreach Education, discussed how she was able to use the framework to build ethical behaviour in the foundations of the new trust. Bringing the board along was made easier through the use of the resources, specifically the board activities, which the trust now firmly stand behind. The board has embraced these ethical principles to such an extent that, whilst discussing funding for a launch event for the new trust, trustees reminded each other of the framework and whether it was really ethical to spend money on a promotional endeavour – taking away from the real purpose of the trust. The trust now have their vision and values reflecting the framework for ethical leadership statement on their website and plan to continue this in the recruitment of new senior leaders.
  • Karen Cornell, deputy head teacher from Coleshill School, spoke of the work between herself and the local authority (Warwickshire) in creating an ethical culture around inclusion. Working on having difficult conversations between schools and creating trust between schools and local authorities, they have managed to reduce the amount of permanent exclusions and bring students back into education. The framework was hugely useful for all involved in developing the language of ethics that they now use.
  • Jonny Uttley, chief executive of The Education Alliance spoke about creating an ethical culture within their trust, particular around growth. This is only possible, he outlined, when trustees consider ethical leadership when they challenge and support their chief executive. Using the language of the ethical framework, Jonny also outlined that his MAT defines growth as “expanding the positive impact we have on more lives”. In this way, the trust see leadership as working for everyone – the teachers, the children, and the leaders.
  • Finally, Ela McSorely, trust director for learning & teaching at Nishkam School Trust, and Damien Kearns, principal at Nishkam High School, presented on the ethical developments at their schools and trust. As well as speaking about the development of an ethical curriculum for pupils, the trust has also developed an ethical leadership programme, through which modules specifically focus on ethical leadership and are underpinned by the framework.

All pathfinders have expressed that the resources have been useful in developing an ethical conversation around their schools and trusts, and conversation during the day focused on how schools involved can continue to work together to progress their ethical leadership, and we are continuing to work and develop this with pathfinders. Attendees commented that they “found the session very enlightening and look forward to being involved going forward”.

Following the Exchange, a session of the Ethics Forum took place which focused on the wider ethical debates occurring in education. Attendees split into small groups and were asked to answer a series of questions including: what ethical dilemmas are schools currently facing? What should the government could do to facilitate ethical leadership? And what do delegates want from the next ethical exchange?

A full write-up of the Ethics Forum will be made available in the near future and published on the NGA website. In terms of broad highlights however, some of the discussions emerging in the afternoon chimed with themes discussed in the morning, with delegates noting the ethical dilemmas which often come out of inclusion/exclusion and staffing issues; specifically around recruitment, retention and human resources conundrums. Some delegates also noted more personal dilemmas, such as what they should do if senior leaders within their organisation do not buy-in to ethical decision making and whether they should stay in that organisation or find another. Frustrations were also raised by attendees against government pressures and performance measures which encourage unethical behaviour, such as off-rolling, teaching to the test or entering pupils for unsuitable qualifications..

Schools  making ethical decisions is non-negotiable, and there is a desire to open up the group to be as public as possible, and if the  DfE  attend future events,  they too can  hear and engage with these important debates.

Any schools leaders and governors/trustees interested in becoming a pathfinder are encouraged to register, and continue to promote and develop the Framework for Ethical Leadership by emailing

Sam Henson, director of policy and information at the National Governance Association said:

For years, NGA has been saying that, for governance to be considered good, it must be accountable, effective and ethical. It is this final element of good governance which brought over 70 delegates to the first ethical exchange and forum on 4 July. While a fantastic start, ethical decision making effects governance and leadership in every school across the country and ethical decision making is a non-negotiable. NGA would like to see as many schools as possible engage with the next forum and sign-up as pathfinders”.

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