ASCL calls for education ethics committee to guide government decision making

The government needs a committee on the ethical implications of changes to education policy, the ASCL’s ethical leadership commission has concluded.

This ethics committee would consider the “emerging system-wide issues” in education – including the “unintended consequences and perverse incentives” created by recent changes in policy.

While it wouldn’t operate as a regulator, a body like this would be “beneficial to the stability of our system”, the commission concluded in its first report. Firm proposals will be presented to the government and the wider teaching profession in September.

The purpose of this exercise is not to point fingers but to support one another in standing up for what is right

ASCL has also written an “ethical framework” for school leaders, a draft of which will be presented to the union’s annual conference today.

This is based on the seven principles of public life, set out by Lord Nolan for holders of public office: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

It also sets out what the commission expects from school leaders, with emphasis on trust, wisdom, kindness, justice, service, courage and optimism.

The ethical leadership commission counts among its members industry leaders like Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman, the Chartered College of Teaching’s chief executive Dame Alison Peacock, and Professor Becky Francis, the director of the UCL Institute of Education.

Carolyn Roberts, ASCL’s honorary secretary and headteacher of Thomas Tallis School in Greenwich, chaired the commission, and said the framework is designed to work as a “clear set of ethical principles to help guide our own decision-making and support us in challenging poor behaviour”.

“The purpose of this exercise is not to point fingers but to support one another in standing up for what is right, whatever the circumstances,” she added.

“Our commitment as school leaders is to serve the best interests of young people and our communities first, foremost and always, and these considerations are inviolable regardless of accountability pressures.”

The commission insists that the framework is not a code of conduct, checklist or set of performance indicators, but that it should rather be seen as guidelines worth continuous discussion. The ASCL said it will adopt the framework once it is completed, as will the International Confederation of Principals.

Ethical principles: the draft framework for educational leadership

Selflessness: School leaders should act solely in the interest of children and young people.

Integrity: Leaders must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work.

Objectivity: They must act and take decisions impartially and fairly, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias. Leaders should be dispassionate, exercising judgement and analysis for the good of children and young people

Accountability: School leaders are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

Openness: They should expect to act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from scrutiny unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

Honesty: Leaders should be truthful.

Leadership: Heads, governors and other leaders 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.

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