July 2020 edition: The Importance of Ethical Leadership at a Time of National Crisis

The Importance of Ethical Leadership at a Time of National Crisis

I was both pleased and a bit embarrassed to be recognised in the last edition of Trust as someone that had shown ethical leadership during this time of crisis – as actually leadership is only effective when people work together, and I couldn’t have done this alone.

A Google search on ‘leadership’ highlights that it stems from social influence, not authority or power. The positivity created across my two Local Authority areas, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, has happened because discussions about status, structure, background, and roles were put aside. We’ve focussed on how best to traverse the daily changing face of education during the Covid-19 crisis together.

We have collaborated and the openness of challenge and support has been exceptional. Where guidance hasn’t existed, we have created our own.

Jonathan Lewis

The role of LAs in education has been hotly debated for many years. But I am clear – my role is to make sure that our children and young people have great outcomes but more than ever, it is about making sure schools and academy trusts are as good as they can be. The days of LAs leading from an ivory tower are long gone and our role is now to provide and support leadership so that the sector flourishes.

I’ve read many discussions over the years about the middle tier of education. I won’t get into that discussion now, as all our energy and brain power need to be focused on recovery. However, the middle tier has come together more than ever before and let’s not lose that in the haste to get back to some sort of normality. It would be easy to be critical of the DfE , but I think they have done what we have all done; survived, adapted and moved on. My time with the DfE showed me the challenges of working in a highly political environment. I have worked closely with the Department throughout this crisis and I am grateful for their support.

Throughout this period, I have had the pleasure of working with two Academy Trust CEO forums ably chaired in Peterborough by Julie Taylor (CEO of Thomas Deacon Education Trust) and in Cambridgeshire by Andrew Read (the Diocesan Director of Education for the Ely Diocese). We have collaborated and the openness of challenge and support has been exceptional. Where guidance hasn’t existed, we have created our own. Sharing has been a feature throughout and for the first time we have truly seen the school-led system flourish.

Contingency and recovery plans have been developed and shared at pace. We have sat alongside Ofsted colleagues and worked together to support all schools to get back on their feet and to shape a positive future. I’m not sure that such a common purpose has existed in all my time in education. We’ve learnt a whole new language – critical workers, bubbles, PPE, Edenred to name but a few. The strength of collaboration has meant that we’ve taken this in our stride.

More than ever, people have come together and supported each other. We have seen it nationally with the development of the Oak Academy which I believe will provide a legacy for many years to come. Alongside this we will need to ensure that we continue to support our school leaders’ well-being. This crisis still has a long way to go.

As we turn to in-school recovery, ethical leadership will be more important than ever. I was recently reminded by an HMI of the importance in the new Ofsted Framework, of personal development and behaviour and attitude as the first steps in education recovery.

In this important phase, the framework asks us some critical questions:

  • How do we support our pupils in their readiness for the next phase of education, training or employment?

  • How do we best restart pupils’ understanding of how to keep physically healthy, eat healthily and maintain an active lifestyle?

  • Can we get pupils’ confidence, resilience and knowledge back on track so that they can keep themselves mentally healthy?
  • How can we reinstate that calm and orderly environment in the school and the classroom, as this is essential for pupils to be able to learn?

  • What will it take to ensure our pupils are motivated and have positive attitudes?

The answer is not an instant return to the past. We will have to support our pupils in different ways but still provide a full and exciting curriculum. It’s time to re-examine our accountability system. I hope sense prevails and whilst I fully endorse the undertaking of primary and secondary assessments next year (says a parent of a current year 10 child), let’s judge our leaders on recovering from this crisis and not on data that cannot be comparable until we have fully caught up. If this period has told us nothing else, it is that collaboration and focus on children is key. The rest needs to wait.

As we move into the next phase of this crisis, there is one thing I am totally sure of – I am proud to be working in education.