Ethical Leadership and the Head of Centre Sign-Off

Ofqual’s guidance, published 3 April 2020, opens the door into a new relationship between teachers, school and college leaders and the qualifications system. This is not the time to rehearse the stresses and fault lines of previous years or map new vistas potentially opened up.  Suffice it to say that the change is nonetheless seismic and, to press the metaphor beyond endurance, requires navigation.

Ofqual’s wish is for the ‘fairest possible process’, but the thousands of colleagues involved in the Ethical Leadership project  over the last three years know fairness, justice and equality are really hard to achieve. In similar processes – recruitment shortlisting, for example, or the usual examination marking - candidate anonymity helps.  If we don’t know gender or ethnicity, for example, then we cannot be biased for or against.   When we set about generating the centre-assessed grades and the rank order in this context, however, we cannot shield ourselves this way. These markers rely on our detailed knowledge of the child, quite the opposite of the veil of ignorance. 

This requirement for fairness demands much of our judgement. We must be fair to the child, to the school or college and to the system.  We have to make realistic and holistic judgements based on our evidence and understanding accrued over professional years.  At all three levels, evidence becomes judgement when it is informed by likelihood: this is what this child has shown so far, therefore, this is their likely grade when examined against the specification we know so well. Teachers should imagine themselves reading the list of results in August and saying “yes, that’s fair”.  

That this serious task should be informed by the Principles of Public Life goes without saying.  Those values shape our daily work.  But we also need to pay attention to the virtues, our inner compasses which guide us to the right harbour.  I hope you find these thoughts, based on the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education useful. 
Selflessness: leaders should act solely in the interest of children and young people. Following this process painstakingly and to the letter in the best interest of every child.
Integrity: Leaders must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. Before acting and taking decisions, they must declare and resolve openly any perceived conflict of interest and relationships.  Centre-assessed grades (CAGs) must not be divulged to anyone so that no undue pressure may be brought by families. If you are awarding a grade to a member of your family, this is doubly hard so you must declare it. 
Objectivity: Leaders 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. Grades should rely on evidence and professional judgement without fear or favour.
Accountability: Leaders are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.  While formal accountability measures are suspended, act as if you had to defend every decision objectively in a court of your peers.  
Openness: Leaders 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. This requirement is partially lifted.  We must be open among professionals in school, but with no one outside.
Honesty: Leaders should be truthful. We must be honest.
Leadership: 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. Leaders include both those who are paid to lead schools and colleges and those who volunteer to govern them. We must be scrupulous and serious.

Schools and colleges serve children and young people and help them grow into fulfilled and valued citizens. As role models for the young, how we behave as leaders is as important as what we do. Leaders should show leadership through the following personal characteristics or virtues:  
Trust: leaders are trustworthy and reliable.  We hold trust on behalf of children and should be beyond reproach.  We are honest about our motivations.     The CAGs must be reliable; the integrity of the system rests upon them this year.
Wisdom: leaders use experience, knowledge and insight. We demonstrate moderation and self-awareness.  We act calmly and rationally. We serve our schools and colleges with propriety and good sense. The in-school collaborative process to arrive at the CAGs should be characterised by calmness and proper judgement. 
Kindness: leaders demonstrate respect, generosity of spirit, understanding and good temper.   We give difficult messages humanely where conflict is unavoidable. Teachers may find this difficult and some judgements may need revisiting.  Leaders need to respect teachers’ struggle while kindly insisting on evidence, probity and accuracy.  
Justice: leaders are fair and work for the good of all children.  We seek to enable all young people to lead useful, happy and fulfilling lives.  Every grade, every rank, must be fair. That’s how justice is served.  
Service: leaders are conscientious and dutiful.  We demonstrate humility and self-control, supporting the structures, conventions and rules which safeguard quality. Our actions should protect high-quality education. Leaders quality control the process behind the CAGs for the good of the whole qualifications system without any thought of what might advantage their own school or trust. 
Courage: leaders work courageously in the best interests of children and young people. We protect their safety and their right to a broad, effective and creative education. We hold one another to account courageously       Leaders make sure that the system works for all and courageously challenge any perceived threat. 
Optimistic: leaders are positive and encouraging. Despite difficulties and pressures, we are developing excellent education to change the world for the better. This could be the forced experiment that changes our system for the better.  Leaders should embrace it with enthusiasm as well as integrity!

Professionalism is making good judgments in situations of unavoidable ambiguity. An examination system skewed by performance measures has forced us to watch our schools and colleges’ backs obsessively for years. Let’s seize this opportunity to look forwards, with clarity and optimism, demonstrating our skill in navigating ambiguity for the common good.  

Carolyn Roberts, is Headteacher at Thomas Tallis School and Chair of the Ethical Leadership Commission

Posted: 08/04/2020 10:34:44