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Ethical Leadership for a better education system


Update 2023: In January 2023, The Committee on Standards in Public Life published its report, which references the Ethical Leadership in Education Framework and the pathfinders.

Ethical Leadership in practice: another two years on

Emma Knights explores the Framework on Ethical Leadership in Education in a follow up blog another two years since its inception in 2017

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Carolyn Roberts, Commission Chair (April 2017)

“The nation trusts us to form young people into the best that they can be. The public expects us to know what kind of example we should set them, but do we? How do we know what’s right or wrong?”

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) announced a commission on ethical leadership in education at their annual conference in March 2017. The commission included senior representatives across the education sector and its final report, Navigating the educational moral maze, was launched at a summit in London in January 2019. The Commission developed the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education, which builds on the Nolan Principles of Public Service. Further information about the commission is available by visiting ASCL online.

The Pathfinder Project 

NGA has supported the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education through the pathfinder project. Since 2019, pathfinders engaged in a review and reflection programme, examining ethical decision making and helping school leaders to look at the principles underpinning the decisions they make. NGA views ethical leadership as a cornerstone of good governance, and therefore good school leadership. Pathfinders tested out the resource and created the paths for other schools to follow to enable ethical leadership to flourish. The aims of the pathfinders were to answer two fundamental questions:

  • How well do we fulfil our roles as trusted educators?
  • What kind of role models are we to the children in our care

We have now closed our applications for pathfinders after registering over 300 pathfinders. The response and feedback from the pathfinder project has informed the second and final report: 'Paving the way for Ethical Leadership: the pathfinder schools and trusts'.  This report explores how the Framework for Ethical Leadership for Education has been used in practice over the course of two years. Nine pathfinder stories outline how the framework has been embedded in schools and trusts and evaluates the impact that framework has made to ethical leadership. 

As the pathfinder project has now closed, the resources and materials that have been developed to support pathfinders use the framework in practice, are now free and available to all.

Board development activities - This can be done as part of one or more governor and trustee training sessions, or as add-ons to and between scheduled meetings.

Ethical Dilemmas - These case studies can help governing boards and leadership teams to think about how they would behave ethically in various scenarios.

In NGA's podcast, 'Governing Chatters', we are delighted to be joined by some of the key figures involved in the development of the Ethical Leadership framework and the Pathfinder project. 

NGA's Nina Sharma talks to Carolyn Roberts, former chair of the Ethical Commission and three pathfinders - Karen Cornell, Cath Kitchen and Rosemary Hoyle about how they have used the pathfinder project in their school(s) and the impact the work has had. Listen here.

Ethical leadership: A planning tool 

At a time when ethical considerations have never been more important in education, we are pleased to introduce our brand new Learning Link module – Ethical Leadership: A planning tool. Perfect for completing together as a board, or as chair alongside your senior executive leader, this learning link module provides a brief introduction to the framework for ethical leadership in education and contains an audit that will allow you to analyse your practices against the framework.

Blogs for Ethical Leadership

In their own words, a number of pathfinders and others have published blogs about the experience of being a pathfinder, which you can read here: 

Michelle Kilburn-Bond, of The Athelstan Trust shares how she created CPD opportunities using ethical leadership. 

Amanda Gledhill, of South Otterington CE Primary School shares her ethical leadership journey during the coronavirus pandemic.

Karen Cornell, of The Coleshill School writes about the experience of using ethical leadership to create inclusive schools.

Mark Wilson, The Wellspring Trust writes about living the values within The Wellspring Trust.

Victoria Wells, reflects on the Second Annual Ethical Leadership Summit (January 2020) and wrote her blog about the role of ethical leadership within the Multi Academy Company where she is Chair of Trustees, and finding her way through the moral maze.

Pathfinder schools and trusts

In June 2019 we asked pathfinders to confirm that the were involved and engaging with the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education and had 208 pathfinders registered in cohort 1 (January 2019 – June 2019 and into school year 2019/20) with a further 133 pathfinder registrations in cohort 2 (July 2019- January 2020).

A total of 314 pathfinders from different contexts, organisation types and phases engaged with the ethical framework testing it in practice.

This map represents all those who have currently registered and agreed to share their details. 

Please be aware that due to GDPR we will not be able to share email address for schools and trusts registered. If you are interested in working collaboratively, or hearing from other schools about their experience as a pathfinder, then do contact the school directly, or contact

" Using the principles alongside questions adapted from the case studies provided, we sought to consider solutions to the funding pressures we are currently facing in school."

Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education

Pathfinder impact

We have developed the resources and support on feedback we have recieved from the pathfinder project.

A number of schools and trusts have already made commitments to ethical leadership. This was showcased at our first Ethic Exchange in July 2019.

Ian Courtney MBE, Chair of Trustees at Dartmoor MAT writes about how the trust determined its ethical leadership model from its inception to ensure the trusts ethos and values were maintained with growth.

Rosemary Hoyle, Chair of Governors at Chair of Governors at Wrawby St Mary's Church of England School explores the role of ethical leadership from all levels is important, and that the language of leadership should always be considered.

Jonny Uttley, CEO of The Education Alliance explained how he supports ethical leadership and how this is modelled at the Education Alliance

If you would like to be on this list do get in touch with us at

Benefits of using the ethical framework

Engaging with the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education means you join over 250 schools and trusts testing out the framework either through the resource pack provided, or through resources you develop yourself to engage your school community in the framework.

Great reasons to engage in the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education:

  • Improve school/trust’s ethical foundation
  • CPD for school leaders and governing boards
  • Opportunity for further development, i.e. public speaking and writing articles and blogs for ethical leadership
  • Networking with similar-thinking schools/trusts
  • Lead the way as an exemplar of ethical leadership and inspire other schools with good practice
  • Engage in the ethical leadership debate

Pathfinder Annual Summit 

A second annual summit was held on 30 January 2020, and the third is being planned for January 2021: for further information, please contact

The Ethics Forum

The Ethics Forum will be the home of ethical debate for the profession, hosted by The Chartered College of Teaching. This will help us reflect not only on our own actions and diligent public servants and trusted educators, but also consider the example we set to our young people, so we can really be confident in our development of future citizens. For information on how to join the forum, please visit The Chartered Institute.


Carolyn Roberts, Commission Chair (April 2017)

“The nation trusts us to form young people into the best that they can be. The public expects us to know what kind of example we should set them, but do we? How do we know what’s right or wrong?”

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