Ethics in Education



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By Ian White 14 Sep, 2016

Ethics in Education – A Weak Governing Body

Of the seven indicators that support an environment where ethics are more likely to be compromised in schools we have covered so far:

“An over obsession with the numbers”, “Fear and Silence”, and “Larger than Life Leaders”

Now we need to look at the fourth indicator, which is when the group giving oversight, challenge and strategy to the organisation is weak, the governing body.

At this point it is worth mentioning that most School or Academy Governors are genuine, honest, well-intentioned people who give up their free time to help. Most, but not all.

However, this does not prevent the governing body from being weak.

What makes them weak?

  • They don’t know what questions to ask?
  • They do not have the experience or expertise to dig deep
  • Collusion with the Headteacher
  • Fear of the Headteacher
  • Conflicts of interest

What a difference it might make if Governors had an ethics policy and went through an ethical process when they were making the big decisions. But even more than that, a governing body has to be strong or the chances of ethical compromise are high.

How many times had something been unearthed and come to light, only for the governing body to be unaware, or to have been compliant in the process? I am not talking about having a difficult governing body that over-steps the mark or tries and influence curriculum or intake, just a strong governing body doing its job.  And when its weak, ethical compromise is not be far away.


So what should you do to ensure a strong Governing body?

Here are some ideas that could be a good start:

Dig deep into conflict of interests and not allow people on the Governing body:

  • Who are friends with anyone on the leadership team
  • Who are related to other members of the Governing body
  • Who have shared business interests
  • Who are past employees of the School or Academy or MAT

Only have people who have the experience, time and integrity to be worthy of the role.

Ensure that there is a direct way for employees to communicate with Governors, anonymously if required, such as direct email link or website page, with no screening by management.  Encourage contact; publish to all staff any concerns raised and the actions that were taken.

Change the Chair and Vice-Chair every 3 years with no exceptions.

Challenge all results and predictions, investigate, dig down, and look under the numbers.   Especially when things are going well.

Pay attention to benefits given to Governors. Often this is very little, but this is increasingly not the case.  

All Governors walk around the school once a month, including over a break or dinner, without a member of the senior staff, at least once a month.


We will continue to ask the question: Do ethically sound schools achieve better outcomes in the medium to long term, and do ethically compromised schools fail in the medium to long term?

 

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Next blog: Ethics in education – Conflicts of Interest

www.ethicsineducation.co.uk

admin@ethicsineducation.co.uk

Much of this thinking and ideas stem from the book ‘The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse’ by Marianne Jennings as well as ’Good to Great’ by Jim Collins

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

By Ian White 06 Jul, 2016

Of the seven indicators that support an environment where ethics are more likely to be compromised in schools we have covered so far:

“An over obsession with the numbers” and “Fear and Silence”

Now we need to look at the third indicator, which is when the person leading the organisation is a larger than life, egotistical, and charismatic leader. In these circumstances, ethics are rarely considered by the organisation, often viewed as irrelevant and something that gets in the way. These leaders can promote the other indicators of ethical compromise as well as exerting their powerful personality to compromise others.


I sometimes wonder if this type of leader is recruited for the following reasons:

·      They over-promise and over-estimate their abilities and outcomes they can achieve

·      They are able, through their personality, to convince others that they are brilliant

·      They are tempting to employ because they are movers and shakers, quick turnaround, quick fix people

·      They have star quality and can raise the profile of the organisation; government is often wooed and enamoured by them


They have certain characteristics and strategies:

·      They usually add inexperienced and young people to their senior team in order to be able to more easily manipulate and influence – often highly motivated and ambitious, these young members of the senior team can become sycophants.

·      They tie people in with the benefits of success, perks and financial rewards

·      They encourage group-think and stop dissent

·      They often lie to their team and also to Governors

·      They enjoy being able to make decisions without the need for consultation or collaboration

·      They see the leadership style of ‘Pace-setter’ as a good thing

·      They display the characteristics of resilience, but far too much; they are over-confident, enjoy stupidly high levels of challenge, are too controlling and over-commit

·      For them, it is about power

·      They often come from humble beginnings

·      They consider themselves above the rules and often state that their conscience is clear


With this type of leader, employees know that what they are doing is wrong, they continue to do what they know is wrong and will cause pain, but they do it because the person in charge told them to.

These leaders tend to go unchecked and over a period of time they become immune to criticism and feedback, detached from reality.


This work by Laura McInerney , Editor of Schools Week , has produced some great research and editorial pieces on these issues. This one, among many, is worth a look, “Superheads – the true cost to schools.” - bit.ly/1QmG2pG


If we come back again to the DFE and Ofsted, our ‘bosses’, who may increase the likelihood of ethical compromise in schools, even if not intentionally, how does their role impact on this particular indicator?

I think that you may already have noted the extreme short-termism of current policy and practice, the high stakes inspections and insistence on quick-fix fast turnaround - who can save us?  Step forward the larger than life egotistical leader, who will deliver short-term success and build in medium and long term failure.


So how do we avoid this indicator and the ethical compromise that is likely to follow, how do we avoid these leaders?

·      Don’t employ them in the first place or look to offer them a way out of the organisation if you already have (easier said than done I hear you say). Build this into your recruitment process – don’t snog, don’t marry, avoid!

·      Question them, and then after you have questioned them (with the inevitable reaction), question them again. Take me through how these hard to believe predictions are reached? Take me through the cash, how much cash is in the bank? Why do we have a high turnover of staff?

·      Insist on a list of all members of staff who leave or join the organisation, and who changes role, pay or position in the organisation.

·      Develop your young ambitious and capable members of staff, don’t promote them too early but educate them in ethics and what can go wrong in organisations like yours.

 

We will continue to ask the question: Do ethically sound schools achieve better outcomes in the medium to long term, and do ethically compromised schools fail in the medium to long term?

 

Sign up to our newsletter and updates: http://eepurl.com/b5GbTX

Next blog: Ethics in education – A weak governing body

www.ethicsineducation.co.uk

admin@ethicsineducation.co.uk

Much of this thinking and ideas stem from the book ‘The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse’ by Marianne Jennings as well as ’Good to Great’ by Jim Collins

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

By Ian White 15 Jun, 2016

This blog follows the seven indicators of ethical compromise, which give us warnings, indicators, and red flags, that we should look at, reflect on, because if these signs are present, then there is a greater chance of being ethically compromised.

The first indicator is when there is a pressure and over-obsession to maintain the numbers (see the previous blog).

This second indicator is; Fear and Silence . These are enemies of an ethical culture.

If we think about our organisation, our school or academy, how easy is it to dissent? Now I know that it may be easy to say that people can speak their mind, openly express views and concerns, but how easy is it really? What happens when they do?

One thing that is certain, in organisations where things have gone wrong there were always employees who knew what was going on and often they wanted to or tried to speak up. Who will be the first to step into the firing line? How mean is the boss and how ruthless are they prepared to be?


Reasons for staying silent :

  • Careers might be damaged, references might be poor, people overlooked for promotions, possibly sacked or forced out
  • No-one else is speaking up, there is a need to fit in, there is a culture of silence, a need to be seen as loyal to the team
  • People are indebted in some way to the organisation or leader, possibly financially tied in
  • Perks, bonus or a pay rise might be put at risk
  • Public humiliation or being shouted down, belittled, insulted, other reprisals, line managers who become annoyed
  • Hiding the facts now in the hope that things will be better next month, next term or next year

We may have worked in an organisation where fear and silence are enforced and rewards for compliance are given. We may know how hard it is to function in these organisations and how hard it is to speak out.

The most important person in this whole culture is of course the Headteacher, Head of School or Executive Headteacher, though others in leadership also have a big influence. Their actions speak more than words and can establish a culture where ethics are compromised and the resulting consequences, personal and organisational, can be severe.

It is interesting at this point to think again about our bosses at the DFE and also OFSTED. There can be little doubt, whether intended or not, both organisations have instilled a culture of fear and silence in schools and there is no doubt that this has in turn led to a culture where ethical compromise is more likely. How do leaders become resilient to this? How would we act differently if that pressure was not there?

This brings the point, that it can be leadership who are subject to fear and silence, including the Headteacher, but primarily Deputy Headteacher and Assistant Headteachers – where there should be challenge and holding to account there can be none. This can also apply to Governors.

 

What can we do to encourage a culture where people can speak out?

Tell your staff that they need to speak out about concerns, that the organisations needs them to, and provide ways for them to do so, anonymously if they chose


  • Provide a way for staff to report directly to Governors and anonymously if they chose
  • Do not conduct reprisals for any staff who do speak out; this must be clearly seen by all staff
  • State clearly how staff are protected when they do speak out
  • Have a annual reward for staff who behaved ethically
  • In performance management reviews have an ethical component to a target
  • Communicate to staff that bad news happens and you do not need to only hear good news stories
  • Do not employ leaders who instil fear and silence and challenge this behaviour robustly

 

We will continue to ask the question: Do ethically sound schools achieve better outcomes in the medium to long term, and do ethically compromised schools fail in the medium to long term?


Sign up to our newsletter and updates: http://eepurl.com/b5GbTX

Next blog: Ethics in education – Larger than life leaders

 

Much of this thinking and ideas stem from the book ‘The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse’ by Marianne Jennings as well as ’Good to Great’ by Jim Collins

 

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

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By Ian White 10 May, 2016

An over obsession with the numbers is an important sign, or indicator, within the seven signs, that ethical compromise is on the cards, as reviewed in my last blog. Just being aware of the seven signs can help in itself, and once we recognise the issue, we can then take steps to do something about it.

If you missed our introduction to ethics in education, then take a look so that you have the context of what this blog is about — http://ethicsineducation.co.uk/

An over obsession with the numbers can lead to ethical compromise because leaders and senior leaders move their focus to meeting the numbers at all and any cost. Numbers are important. We want to improve and gain better and higher standards as well as measure ourselves against other educational establishments, but it is when the numbers are unrealistic and everything becomes about the meeting those numbers, that we can find ourselves ethically compromising.

Ethical compromise may not lead to problems today or tomorrow, but it builds up problems and disaster for the future. The important thing to realise is that none of us are immune, and we could all succumb to an over obsession with meeting the numbers.

“Numbers pressure impairs judgement and robs dignity.” – Marianne Jennings

So what might those numbers be? Results, outcomes, attainment, achievement, progress, attendance, value added, pupil premium, SEND, boys, NEET to name a few and with them unrealistic timescales to be achieved.

Well there are plenty of ‘numbers’ to go at in terms of the accountability measures that are imposed, as well as the high stakes that go along with not meeting them. So, our Chief Executive Officer, the Government, displays the type of behaviour that can lead to ethical collapse and compromise in the education system alongside Ofsted, who are able to police those numbers (some school leaders would do this anyway, without the DfE setting accountability targets). The scene if you like, is set. This may very well be unintentional, but intent is not a requirement in order to see the process unfold and apply ethical pressure to our education system.

There is a “Meet your numbers or you are out of a job” narrative, alongside “Meet the numbers but don’t do anything stupid” and “If we don’t hit the numbers, we are all in trouble”.

There are two strategic alternatives to bringing about improvement and building a great educational institution.

 

1.   Look at the targets, what needs to be achieved, work back from those numbers and make what you have work in order to meet the numbers.

 

2.   Look at the brutal truth of where you are, project forward from that truth to see where you are heading and what outcome you are likely to get.

 


The First Alternative – Likely to produce ethical compromise

Now the main difference is this, with the first approach you are likely to put your energies into manipulating the here and now in order to meet the numbers. You work your strategies on the superficial rather than the substantial.  

What happens when you realise you are unlikely to deliver on the outcomes? How far are you willing to go? How far are you willing to justifying your actions and strategies to yourself and others?

Remember that it is the pressure to ethically compromise that causes good people, well-educated people, people who have a moral compass and honest intent, to do things that they never thought they would do.   Or, to put it another way, to be pragmatic. This blog aims to explore building a framework to resist and become resilient to that pressure.

So what sort of things might you do that could be deemed ethically questionable? Well here are a few examples;


•    Change courses mid-year in order to increase grades, maybe from GCSE to Vocational (or vice versa), or drop some courses, change examination boards, force all students to study Ebacc subjects (career guidance becomes career directed), put lower ability students on triple science, don’t enter certain students for examinations (gaming the system).

•    Expel students who will miss their targets, or move them to an alternative provision or a studio school, pay other schools to take students or persuade parents to home school.

•    Change the timetable to reduce a broad and balanced curriculum and over focus on Maths and English.

•    Blur the lines of what ‘supporting’ students means; turn a blind eye.

•    Pressurise staff by linking the unrealistic outcomes to their performance management and pay, or even project a veiled (or not so veiled) threat of capability concerns if the numbers are not met.

•    Manipulate current data to show more progress or attainment than there actually is.

•    Move your best teachers to Year 11 or Year 6, focus all of your resources there, provide more time and money for those year groups, and stop investing in the future.

   

Laura McInerney, Editor of Schools Week , has produced some great research and editorial pieces on these issues. This one, among many, is worth a look, “Superheads – the true cost to schools.” - bit.ly/1QmG2pG

What is wrong with these actions, why should we be concerned? One serious reason is that they are fake, they are not true improvement, and they are quick fixes. Short term success followed by medium term failure. Importantly, though many are legal, they are not ethical, and it would be difficult to argue that they are in the best interest of students and parents.

It is worth asking: are those latest school results realistic and possible? Are year on year improvements of a high order likely, realistic, or possible? Could they be fake? When the numbers are very good and improvement rapid, often fewer questions are asked, schools are lorded, honours are bestowed, press releases made, whereas from an ethical point of view, maybe more questions should be asked. If it doesn’t seem possible, it probably isn’t real. There are examples of schools once lorded by ministers, now causing some embarrassment further down the road.

It is also worth asking: what does this approach do to people? What toll does it take on senior leaders, staff, students and parents? What dignity has been lost?

We believe that ethical compromise leads to ethical collapse, leads to poor outcomes for the school and for people – that is one reason why ethics are so important. The truth will out at some point, and when it does occur, Government and Ofsted seem oblivious to the point that they have, to a large extent, created the right conditions for ethical compromise, with this first sign—an over obsession with the numbers.

 

The Second Alternative – Unlikely to produce ethical compromise

With this second approach, you are likely to put your energy and strategies into solving problems and working out how to actually improve things over time, which will improve results, make them sustainable, and real.

When the school and senior team are no longer spending all their time trying to make things look better, they can spend their time working hard to actually improve the business, coach, mentor, strategise, and get their hands dirty.

Momentum takes time to build—it is hard work at the beginning with little movement to show for it, but when it builds, it has an energy all of its own.

With courageous goals firmly fixed in the brutal and harsh realities of the weaknesses of the school and leadership, there can be strategies suggested that are based on that reality and from these, actions will become obvious and meaningful.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t happen quick enough for some, and gratification for success has to wait a little longer. Through the medium and long-term possibilities are a world-class education system, great institutions, great learning and great outcomes.

 

How to be resilient to an over obsession with the numbers:

 

•    Determine to follow the second approach.

•    Set out your values about meeting the numbers and set all your goals in line with your values. Publish and live by these values.

•    Set higher standards than ‘it is legal or doable’, ask yourself, is it ethical?

•    Get to know what unethical practices are around in education, identify them, list them, publish them, avoid them.

•    Discipline those who achieve results via unethical practices.

•    Watch your non-verbal communications, what you don’t say, what you might imply.

•    Find ways for staff, students and parents, to hold up a red flag, take these seriously, meet about them, publish your findings and the actions  that you take.

•    Have an ethical policy and stick to it, without exceptions.

 

We will continue to ask the question: Do ethically sound schools achieve better outcomes in the medium to long term, and do ethically compromised schools fail in the medium to long term?

 

Next blog: Ethics in education – Fear and Silence

(A blog on the type of leader who champions these two approaches is also on the way!)

 

We would really appreciate your views on this subject. We have a short survey, and if you could complete it then we can include your views in our research: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/8F6QM7R

Much of this thinking and ideas stem from the book ‘The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse’ by Marianne Jennings as well as ’Good to Great’ by Jim Collins

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

By Ian White 25 Apr, 2016

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?

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/mar/28/perry-beeches-academy-chain-stripped-schools-critical-finance-report

Head teacher in court accused of fraud:

http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/12883001.Free_school_trio_in_court_to_face_fraud_charges/

Head teacher sacked for cheating in SATs:

http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/solihull-st-patricks-primary-sacked-9522843

Possible bullying by the Head teacher and senior team:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/12064102/Head-and-26-teachers-quit-school-after-allegations-of-bullying.html

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:  https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/8F6QM7R


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


By Ian White 12 Apr, 2016

What is ethics in education? Is there a need to discuss ethical aspects of decision-making in educational settings?  We think there is - What links are there between ethically sound schools and long-term success?  Are there also links with morale, well-being, and resilience, attitude to learning, vision and engagement? How do leaders become resilient to pressure from the DFE and Ofsted?  How do staff become resilient to pressure from senior leaders?  What do we mean by ethical schools? What type of leaders do they have?  What things do they have in common?  Can an excellent teacher/leader be unethical? Can an unethical person be an excellent teacher/leader? 

These are some of the questions we are exploring in different arenas including this blog.  Some of our current thinking is around ethical governance; ethical leadership at every level in schools and ethical teaching. 

What also, for example, has ethics and ethical principles got to do with the ethos and values of a school/setting?  Are the ethical aspects of provision/strategy and decision-making for an Early Years Unit different from a Primary, Secondary or Special School? 

If the answers to these questions are that ethical considerations are important, what are our next steps?  What do we do with the belief that ethics is a significant factor that SHOULD inform educational management and leadership?

Watch this space.  Please feel free to contribute to this discussion.

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