Let's get ethical - Culture, Ethos and Ethical Leadership

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?” Carolyn Roberts, Commission Chair, April 2017 (1)

Yesterday on Twitter a governor colleague was praised for her actions using the phrase 'ethically means DOING the right thing not just SAYING the right thing'.  I felt myself wanting to shout out loud 'YES!'  In all of our work as governors, creating policy, leading the strategy, establishing the culture and ethos in our schools, it is not just about the words on the documents but about how we put them to use; how we live them.  For our school, being a Pathfinder for the Ethical Leadership Project is right up our street - it will enable us to examine our own rhetoric and see if we measure up to the DOING!(2) 

Last week we held the first meeting of our working party and a wise governor in our team (ex Headteacher) asked 'What are we doing this for?'.  My answer to that question, my reading and my reflections from that challenge spurred me on to write this blog.  We are doing it for the DOING - we are doing it to ensure that all our grand talk about culture and ethos and 'Church School Values' really makes a difference to the lives of the children, staff, governors and wider school community.  As my wise governor said 'this project must have impact'.

We quickly realised that being a pathfinder means just that, there is no 'path' set out for us but we must go about this in our own way.  We started out by mapping our values against those of the project and against the Nolan Principles.  The ensuing discussion was interesting, challenging and thoughtful. We quickly recognised that language does matter so we can't get away from the SAYING but we need to be sure that we follow up with the DOING.  The twin questions examined by the Ethical Leadership Commission (3) are 
  •  How well do we fulfil our roles as trusted educators?
  •  What kind of role models are we to the children in our care? 
Both require us to reflect ,examine and evaluate; both require us to attend to the DOING.

During the discussion several of us referred to Cpd, reading and research.  One concept that we kept returning to was that of 'working the soil' (4) I love this analogy by Tom Rees - we live and work in an agricultural area it seems to speak so clearly of what we hope to do.  If the soil is right then everything will flourish so our ethical leadership project will enable us to scrutinise the 'soil' and we quickly realised this reaches into everything that we do and say.  

We want our work to spread widely too - we talked about how we might reach out beyond the school gates to our community to encourage the DOING all around us.  My next job?  A communication to parents and carers to tell them about the project and perhaps this can be a future topic for the Parent Forum. 

We developed a list of next steps - one of the first for me is to rethink Headteacher Performance Management - for us it is more about getting the SAYING aligned with the DOING.  We will rename the process to better reflect the dialogic, developmental, professional conversation that happens in our school.  Words do matter and can set the tone for the actions that follow - so maybe something like 'Leadership Development Meeting' will work better for us.  The obvious result of this is to move that on to look again at our staff performance management and I have read some brilliant thinking on this online (don't we learn some great stuff on Twitter!)  Chris Moyes' work, where he talks of the process focussing on ‘Improving not proving’, is especially thought provoking.(5) An element of our vision is to be a 'learning organisation' so this seems wholly appropriate. 

Other ideas that came from this initial meeting? 
  • How can we ensure we have woven these values throughout our curriculum
  • Thinking about 'the soil' in all our policy writing
  • Changing our governor school visit protocol to include a feedback point on seeing the DOING of our values in school
  • The link between this work and the Prevent strategy and combating extremism
  • Strengthening induction training of both staff and governors to ensure sufficient emphasis placed on our values.   
This last point came from the commission report where the statement 'ethical behaviour and practice is assumed but not explained' (6) 

So! From an initial 'what are we doing this for?' to a stimulating discussion and a list of ways in which we can begin to put these ideas into practice in the school - we can work the soil we can get on with the DOING! 

(1) https://www.ascl.org.uk/policy/ascl-ethical-leadership-commission.html
(2) National Governance Association Ethical Leadership Pathfinder Project
(3) Navigating the Educational Moral Maze, (2019) Final report of the Ethical Leadership Commission p4
(4) Tom Rees, (2018) Wholesome Leadership,p58
(5) Chris Moyes, (Jan 2019) https://chrismoyse.wordpress.com/ 
(6) Navigating the Educational Moral Maze, (2019) Final report of the Ethical Leadership Commission p13

Other influences

All my wise governor colleagues
Mary Myatt, (2016) Hopeful Schools
Andy Buck, (2018) Leadership Matters 3.0


  1. Leadership is very important. Leaders have a major role in setting the vision to move toward the organization's goals, and then creating a motivating environment for people so those goals can be reached.

    Leadership expert in the UK


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