Ethics in Education

Taking Your Pulse

  • By Ian White
  • 25 Apr, 2016

Taking your pulse - how healthy are you?

As we all know, ethics can be a subjective thing, but now many organisations use ethics theory and research to make sure that they are making sound decisions that will help secure the future of the organisation.

Before we look at how educational organisations, schools, academies, or MATs can use ethics and ethical policy positively, including frameworks and specific practices, solutions and effects, it might be worth looking at ethical audits or performing an ethical health check.

Here’s an interesting question: What makes good people, well-educated people, often graduates, highly skilled and trained, do things that are unethical?  

Shredding documents in the early hours, hiding, spending or moving money they shouldn’t, altering examination scripts or coursework (when is too much help too much help?), opening examination papers beforehand, having extended perks, ‘special arrangements’ or lying – amongst other examples, are all things that good, honest, upright people have done. And they always end badly in the end. Tragic for the person, tragic for the organisation.

So, are there any signs that we can look out for, things that might hold up a ‘red flag’, sound the alarm, and alert us to the possibility that we might need to reinforce our ethical standards?

Of course there is, otherwise why write this blog? A book by Marianne Jennings, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse , is a good starting point as we examine how this can be applied to educational organisations, and what might lead to Ethical Compromise .


Signs that unethical compromise is likely:

1.    An over-obsession with pressure to meet and maintain the numbers

2.    A culture of fear and silence

3.    Larger than life, egotistical leadership

4.    Weak governance and a weak governing body

5.    Conflicts of interest

6.    Being innovative means that ‘normal’ rules do not apply to us

7.    The good atones for the bad


You don’t need all seven, though that is often very possible, but any one of these means that you could be open to ethical compromise. I will blog on each one individually over the coming weeks in a lot more detail.

Often it can be hard to see these in yourself or your own organisation, so it is very useful to have an external audit. But, if you were to take a long hard look at yourself, how do you measure up? Do any of these ring true?

If they do, are there things in place to prevent you, your team, or your employees, from coming under the pressure to ‘bend’ ethically, to be resilient to these pressures – and what are the possible consequences?

“Isn’t it just being pragmatic, sometimes the end justifies the means?” But where is the line? Though there might be outward improvement, rapid progress, and glowing reports, what if this is built on sand? Does something being legal make it okay to do? What happens in the medium to long term? Does it matter? Does it matter to children, parents, staff, governors, and the community?

How would it look if some of your decisions ended up in the press? That is a pretty hard question, but maybe one we need to ask ourselves. Ethical systems and policy can help us to avoid our own innate ability to delude ourselves and we will be looking at these over the coming weeks and months.


Here are a few examples that have hit the news:

£1.3m pounds of payments made to a ‘third party’ and additional payments to a CEOs own company? An Academy chain in trouble?

Head teacher in court accused of fraud:

Head teacher sacked for cheating in SATs:

Possible bullying by the Head teacher and senior team:

There are many other examples regarding the dismissing of Governing Bodies because they have not been able to hold the head teacher and school to account.

 We would really appreciate your views on this subject, we have a short survey, if you could complete it then we can include your views in our research:

‘Ethics in Education’ – A new research based project by David Howard, Clare Wolfenden and Ian White (Bradford College, England, UK).

Share by: