ASCL Ethical Leadership Commission: Accountability and service

Half-term had just about started when that Friday afternoon ‘thing’ happened. You know how it is, at 5.10pm, we discovered a data leak that took days to put right.  I was already in the Eurostar's byzantine security zone, en route to Berlin. It wasn't me who put it right, but a crack team of Business Manager, Assistant Head and Deputy, on the spot.  Calls were made, data retrieved, letters planned, apologies offered in many, many forms.

The breach was an error on our part compounded by circumstance.  We did all of the above and turned ourselves in to the local authority and the Office of the Information Commissioner.  I spent some long train journeys over the next few days emailing and fretting.

Why the fretting? Well, I don't like to make mistakes. I don't like us to suddenly discover holes in our systems.  I don't like us to confuse people or upset them.  I don't like us to do the wrong thing, even if absolutely unwittingly. I don't like to seem unreliable and I don't like a flap.

I don't mind being accountable.  We are public servants and bound to service.  Accountability in the Standards for Public Life means that:

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

Our virtue of service means that:

Leaders should be conscientious and dutiful, demonstrating humility and self-control.  

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. We shouldn't make many mistakes, but when we do, we should admit them and welcome the light that shines into our darker quarters, painful or embarrassing as it may be. 

In our draft framework, we go a little further, and the second part of our definition of service is: 

Leaders' actions should ensure that a high-quality education is sustainable into the future.  

When we drafted that we were thinking about the responsibility of professional and volunteer leaders alike to look into the future and make sustainable decisions, not trading short-term gain or quick fixes for proper solutions in any area of our lives. 

Last week’s experience has made me see it another way too: accountability is there precisely because some things are really hard to do thoroughly and well, and we all need external eyes turned on us from time to time.  ‘Service’ is working very hard to be diligent, capable and selfless, but also knowing when to admit an error, invite the scrutineers in, put it right and try very hard to avoid doing it again.   

Humility and self-control doesn't just mean we avoid blowing our own trumpets and telling the world how great we are, but admitting to mistakes quietly and decently, and learning form the experience.  We expect it of children all the time. 

Do you think our proposed principles focus on the right things?  

Do you think school leadership in the UK lives up to this vision?  

What are the key issues that school leaders face?  

Are there barriers to school leaders behaving ethically? 

How might we support school leaders to be good ethical leaders? 

Pplease email with your thoughts.

You can also read Carolyn’s series of blogs on ethical leadership in education, and the origins of the ASCL Ethical Leadership Commission.

ASCL Past President Peter Kent has also written Doing the right thing which looks at ethical leadership in education from an international perspective.
Posted: 09/03/2018 16:13:51