Release date: 31/01/2020

Schools shared the impact of ethical decision-making and experts explored ethical education issues at the second Ethical Leadership Summit (30 January 2020), which marked the one-year anniversary of the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education.

“Education is too important to leave alone and hope for the best” said Carolyn Roberts, chair of the Ethical Leadership Commission welcoming the 150-strong audience to the day. Carolyn explained how the purpose of the Framework is to help “colleagues bogged down by accountability, achievement, budgets and behaviour to think about the very fundamentals of their work”. Despite meeting some early resistance, Carolyn concludes that the Framework has been “instrumental in changing the way that people talk about education” and that the work of the commission has “demonstrated that the system can work independently and collaboratively to hold itself to account, reflect and improve”.

Five schools, which are amongst over 300 pathfinders using the Framework to embed ethical leadership in their settings, shared their experiences. Karen Cornell, assistant headteacher at Coleshill School, revealed how by using the language of the Framework and the ethical leadership resources, she had brought other schools and the county council on board with the goal of creating inclusive schools. Permanent exclusions across Warwickshire have now reduced by 50%. Cath Kitchen, CEO of the Skylark Partnership, explained how the Framework provides the ethos and system for leadership of the multi academy trust, and how the board use the Framework to ensure the decisions they make are ethically sound.

Further presentations on using the Framework to create a student leadership award and culture of reflecting on values (Justine Barlow, principal, Notre Dame Catholic Sixth Form); using the Framework to build collaboration between the school and its community (Tom Hutchinson, headteacher, St Edmunds Church of England Academy); and how the values of the Framework are embedded in a trust’s statement of intent (Ian Courtney, chair, Dartmoor MAT) were received.

Delegates also had the opportunity to discuss ethical challenges they are facing in their work and reflect on how the language and values of the Framework could help them overcome issues. Amongst the ethical dilemmas reported were having the courage to step away from high-stakes accountability to focus on a holistic education; how to introduce ethics to leaders who think that they are doing fine without it; and how you balance challenging children to learn with their mental wellbeing.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL and Sir John Dunford, chair of the Exam Malpractice Commission both addressed the summit. Geoff Barton called on the government to reform school performance tables to rid them of ‘perverse incentives’ which lead to unacceptable practices such as gaming and off-rolling in a minority of schools. Discussing ethics and exam malpractice, Sir John Dunford reinforced the role of governing boards in holding school leaders to account for the conduct of exams as well as results, and encouraging the avoidance of malpractice.  

At the Ethics Exchange in July 2019, pathfinders identified three ethical issues that they wanted the Ethical Leadership Commission to explore. Reporting back on the issues, Emma Knights, chief executive of NGA discussed whistleblowing, suggesting that the language of ‘speaking up’ – common in other sectors – is used instead. Governing boards were encouraged to ensure a culture where staff have both the freedom and confidence to speak up, and reminded that they should have a whistleblowing policy in place. Georgina Newton from the University of Warwick covered ethics and wellbeing whilst Pamela Finch, headteacher at Shefford Lower School explored the decision-making of inclusion.

‘Do they trust us?’ was the focus of the final panel discussion. Audience questions on whether the existence of Ofsted supports or undermines trust in schools; how parents can be helped to trust schools and not air grievances on social media; and whether Ofsted and the Department for Education should adopt the Framework were answered by Dame Professor Alison Peacock (chief executive, Chartered College of Teaching); Nick Brook (deputy general secretary, NAHT); Gareth Conyard (deputy director, Department for Education) and Daniel Owens (HMI, Ofsted).

Any school or trust wishing to join the final cohort of pathfinders testing out the Framework and accompanying practical resources can register by emailing by 5pm on Monday 3 February.

To see updates as they happened, view the #EthicalLeadership hashtag on Twitter.

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