I have heard some school leadership stories in my time. Leaders who have hit out, marched out, cheated, lied, hurt, broke, swore, kicked, fiddled (financially and ethically) and in a nutshell given what is a very privileged role a very bad name. I have heard it from those that quite frankly did not surprise me and I have heard it from those that have pulled the rug from beneath my feet. This cut throat world of education seems to make us do things that question our very core…
Why would I feel the need to do unethical things in my role as head? This is a question I review from time to time. I believe that at every moment in school I am putting everyone else before and above my personal gains… But is this really true?
I get paid very well. I am in a privileged position and this can bring more privilege (if I play my cards right). I keep asking myself. What is the purpose of my headship? What is my leadership bringing to this setting? I think more of us should ask this question. We need to ask it with our eyes WIDE open. The number of times I have heard about ‘questionable practice’, hurt and upset followed by the immortals lines, “We are here for the children”. It is as if almost any action can be justified if we then bring in the children.
Leadership needs to be under the spotlight more than ever, yet I really could do with a break! As I write this I am constantly accused of NOT caring, CONDONING bullying and on one occasion I have even been accused of being complicit in an attempted murder. This spotlight on leaders seems to be making this role an impossible one. So, two issues here:
1. Leadership is vital and very influential – unethical leadership is something that should be in the spotlight, condemned and stopped.
2. Leaders are utterly vulnerable and open to thousands of unfair, damaging and unethical claims about their leadership.
I think these two issues are some of the biggest challenges facing school leadership today. Therefore, I think ethical practice needs to be brought to the front of education.
A point of note here. In my head when I say leadership I mean almost everyone working in a school today.
I believe ALL teachers and school leaders should HAVE to sign an ethics code. This code should be drawn up by the school and based on local and global principles. A good starting point should be the 7 principles of public life document published back in 1995:
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
Holders of public office should be truthful.
Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.
These are great but they also cause some of the problems I face as a head. I am open to criticism on many decisions because I am seen as accountable and very public. It is the GUILTY until proven innocent approach. These can be very stressful and very tiring.
Therefore writing a more personalised ETHICS code within the school could also address some of this pressure. For example (This is drafted and not any more than initial thoughts):
1. Leaders need to be selfless and act on behalf of the school community at all times.
2. Leaders need to have and show their integrity. They need to be transparent in the best interests of the school community. They need to display this through ensuring that there is fair equity of opportunity across the school.
3. Leaders need to be brave. They need to be objective within the best interests of children at all times. Though this can not be code for unethical leadership practice within the school.
4. Leaders need to be clear on their accountability to children and the wider school community. This accountability needs to be based upon a just and sustainable educational opportunity for all.
5. Leaders need to be open and transparent in the best interests of children. Though this can not be code for unethical leadership practice within the school.
6. Leaders MUST be honest. They should challenge dishonesty in an open and ethical way (within the code of practice set out by the school)
7. Leaders MUST hold review their own practice on a yearly basis. They need to seek out honest and fair comment and then share this with other colleagues. As leaders we MUST do this in the best interests of each other.
It’s the first thing that has come to mind and I am sure there is plenty out there that could develop something LIKE this within leadership teams. This should then be shared across the school community. IF Leadership is “a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task” then by reviewing the practice and process we take on in a systematic way I think we can develop the ‘social influence’ part through the integrity that leadership will then display. I believe that ETHICAL practice should be at the heart of ALL schools. I believe we should have a debate about what that means.
I will be developing this idea over the next year. And when I have that ETHICS code I will share it. Please share yours in the meantime.