Release date: 25/01/2019

A new set of principles to support school governors and trustees, as well as executive leaders, in navigating “the educational moral maze” are revealed in the Ethical Leadership Commission’s final report.

In the context of a highly diversified and increasingly autonomous landscape where accountability measures and their consequences are severe, the guiding principles – known as the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education – will support education leaders in their decision-making and in calling out unethical behaviour.

Building on the Nolan Principles of Public Life, it comprises a set of values and virtues, against which governors and trustees, and executive leaders can evaluate their decisions and actions. The semantics-driven framework is intended to act as a counterpoint to the language about measurement of schools and pupils that is commonly used.

Currently, guidance for governors and trustees in undertaking their role assumes but does not explain ethical behaviour, a gap that the framework seeks to fill. To embed the framework across the education system, NGA are leading a pathfinder project that invites school leaders to sign up to the framework and provides training and resources on how to build the values and virtues into working practices.

So far, over 100 pathfinders have committed to the framework and will use training resources to consider the overarching questions of how well they fulfil their roles as trusted educators and the kind of role models they are to the children in their care. Pathfinders will test out the resources – which include professional development sessions, an ethical audit and a set of case studies – to look at what underpins the decisions they make and to understand how the framework can make a real difference to working practices and leadership styles.

NGA are continuing to invite pathfinders for the framework until Easter 2019 and interested schools can get in touch by emailing

Other actions to establish the framework in to practice include it being embedded in leadership and governance programmes developed by the organisations involved in the commission, and the Chartered College of Teaching creating an ethics forum to discuss and disseminate thinking about ethical issues in education leadership.

The Ethical Leadership Commission was launched by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in 2017 and included senior representatives from across the education sector, including NGA’s chief executive Emma Knights.

Carolyn Roberts, chair of the Ethical Leadership Commission, said: “We all have a duty to behave ethically, but the bar for school and college leaders is particularly high because they are setting the standards for the young people in their care and in turn the sort of society that we become in the future. At a time when there are huge pressures and demands on school and college leaders, as well as stories in the media about unethical behaviour such as the off-rolling of pupils, it is even more important that we do something about that. The framework is formed by the profession and for the profession. It is an example of a school-led system in action and we are immensely grateful to everybody on the commission who has given up their time and has put so much thought into a task which was by its nature complex and sensitive.”

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, said “Good governance is ethical, accountable and effective. Governance is intrinsic to leadership and I am particularly pleased that the role of governors and trustees is considered front and centre of the framework. I urge governing boards to consider and apply the guiding principles in every decision they make and to focus on the culture and values they want for their school.”

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