What am I on about?
Older readers will remember that this commission was a thing I chaired on behalf of a load of people way more important than I. It was a group of 18 leads of all sorts of organisations, from Ofsted to the National Governance Association, the professional associations, the C of E, academics and suchlike. We even had a resident philosopher. After what felt like aeons of deliberation – but which was actually only 6 meetings – we devised the Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education which was then enthusiastically adopted by hundreds of schools. It challenged school leaders to know and follow the Principles for Public Life (selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership) and adopt seven professional virtues (trust, wisdom, kindness, justice, service, courage and optimism). It even featured in the year’s annual report of the national Committee for Standards in Public Life, as a good example of a sector getting to grips with responsible behaviour.
The original commissioners (it sounds as though we had gold braid and bag-carriers) hoped it would make a difference to schools. We hoped the values and virtues would help leaders in times of trouble - but so much of the world has changed since we launched our report in 2019. Retrospectively, we were clueless about the full range of actual troubles that were about to fall upon us.
So we may well have some meaty questions to ask. Here’s a few that spring to mind:
- Did closing schools during Covid demonstrate holding trust for children?
- Did honesty stand up to the pressures of Centre-Assessed and Teacher Assessed Grades?
- What is the balance between accountability and wisdom in the current furore about OFSTED, its grades and its approach?
- Why didn’t we include equity, or anything about diversity? How diverse was the commission? (not at all, is the answer).
- How does justice help Heads make choices without funding?
- Do we have the courage to defend our broad curricula when the shouty orthodoxy is to retreat into a narrow range of courses?
- What does it say for the national understanding of the Standards for Public Life when the most vulnerable children – with SEND – are served by such inadequate funding and services?
- What use is a commitment to kindness alongside year-long waits for CAMHS assessments?
- Does the adoption of such airy principles help teachers stay in teaching?
- What might the framework say about teacher strikes?
And so on. You might have questions yourself: I’d be glad to hear them.
Unlike my co-meeting-ites in Woolwich this morning who were too kind to tell me how sick they were of hearing me going on about stuff. In the end I apologised after my fourth gloom-laden intervention. If I’d had my diary with me I’d have quoted a brilliant assessment of the state of the world that I cut out of the London Review of Books magazine in March. Philosopher and art historian Lorna Finlayson wrote:
If the educational costs of all this are great, the human ones are greater……What is needed is something quite unlike both past and present. But you don’t have to be a nostalgic to see that the present is worse than the recent past, and that for many it is scarcely bearable. Whatever success looks like, this is failure.
I’m watching them go home at the end of the week. They’re rushing to see their friends: some charging backwards through crowds to embrace a long lost (since lunchtime) mate. Some walk backwards hazardously to declaim the exigencies of the day to their group. A beanpole-type grasps a chum half his height. Two more gallop like elephants. One is entirely enveloped in a hood, another laden with a vast birthday badge. Every year is different to them, but some things stay the same for us. Despite difficulties we try to make it all fresh, living and breathing the optimism we treasure.
Friday is usually worth celebrating. The dramas of our lives need attention, and institutional troubles can wait until Monday. We handed out tiny bits of chocolate on beautiful strings this week to recognise good deeds in the holy month. Eid Mubarak!