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Pupils & learning

Doing the best for pupils - reflections on two years of ethical leadership in education


Today marks two years since the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education was published. NGA has since been working with schools and trusts that wanted to adopt and use the framework, helping them to share experiences and develop resources. In our new report ‘Paving the way for Ethical Leadership in Education’ we explore the common experiences and personal stories of some of those pathfinders who volunteered to be the early adopters and test how this new Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education could be used.

So rare are good news stories at present, that I want to shout this one from the rooftops.

It is wonderful that 341 pathfinders – schools and trusts – of all sorts of shapes and sizes signed up from all over England. Thank you to those pathfinders who decided that ethical leadership was something they wanted to explore and invest in. For some it provided more structure or a language for work they were already doing. For others it was the first time they had considered what they were doing through this ethical lens.

The pathfinders reported that the framework did provide a common language and shared focus for conversations about ethical dilemmas, and those complex issues that leaders and governing boards have to get their heads round at all times and in all contexts. Doing the best for pupils could be interrogated against the framework without relying on untested assumptions. It gave people confidence that they were doing the right things for the right reasons. It helped leaders to articulate that, first when making decisions and then when communicating the decisions well to a range of people, including parents. It helped governing boards and senior leaders make decisions that previously might have seemed tricky to defend.

The framework did not create more work for hard pressed staff. It informed decision-making that would have had to happen anyway. As the Ethical Leadership Commission had hoped, pathfinders were able to embed it in a way that worked for their school and trust. As the stories and blogs illustrate, it was used in all sorts of ways, including helping to bring schools into one multi academy trust together with one set of values, and in one county secondary schools working together to ensure places for the most challenging pupils. Having a commonly held set of principles and virtues gave a solid basis for collaboration and innovation.

As well as shaping or reinforcing the culture of whole institutions, the framework proved valuable when reviewing the curriculum. Some teachers reported embedding the values into classroom practice, so that pupils were using them in discussion and testing arguments against them.

A really significant area for pathfinders was in managing human resources (HR), ensuring that they are an ethical employer. There were examples where HR processes were improved by considerations of the framework, including when having to restructure or make redundancies. It played a positive part in recruitment, especially of senior leaders, and in developing a real emphasis on staff CPD.

How well have we collectively responded to the commission’s requests of the sector and in particular the organisations that adopted the framework?

  • To use and embed the language of the principles and virtues of the framework;
  • To use the framework in training and development;
  • To establish a forum where ethical dilemmas can be discussed.

At a meeting of the ethics committee of the Chartered College of Teaching last summer there were many examples of the framework being used in training and development. At NGA we have integrated the framework into our guidance and professional development, and will continue to do so: next month we will publish a new e-learning module on the framework as part of our Learning Link suite, capturing the learning from pathfinders and incorporating the ethical audit. We remain keen to hear from any schools and trusts making use of the framework and the related resources:

The pathfinders have played an important part in embedding the language. It was rewarding to hear the passion shining through from pathfinders who absolutely took the framework to their school’s and trust’s heart. To repeat the words of one: “I think it’s a hugely positive step forward and should become the standard for leadership in the education sector”. Ethics and professional conduct are at the centre of the Headteacher Standards published by the Department for Education last October, but the framework takes that additional step to unpack ethical virtues relevant to education. Furthermore, it has not been handed down to the sector from on high with an instruction to comply; right from the beginning it was determined by leaders of sector organisations and then consulted widely on by the commission and the Association of School and College Leaders.

Kindness, courage and optimism were three of the virtues frequently mentioned, and this piece of work leaves me feeling optimistic for the future of the framework, but more importantly for ethics and their discussion within school life. One of the early and often repeated comments was that the framework didn’t just apply to leaders: pathfinders had used them with everyone. Perhaps it should be renamed more simply as the framework for ethics in education.

It is therefore appropriate that shortly the baton of custodianship of the framework will be handed to the Chartered College of Teachers.

Read the report

Visit the ethical leadership information page

Emma Knights OBE
Emma Knights OBE

Co-Chief Executive

As NGA’s Co-Chief Executive, Emma promotes the interests of the school governance community nationally with legislators, policy makers, education sector organisations and the media. Emma is an accomplished writer and speaker on a range of school governance policy and practice topics.