An ethical answer to the education crisis?

24 January 2018 by AMiE
Ethical leadership... hope… positivity... these words don’t often feature in the current national education debate, but they played a central role in the first AMiE leadership conference, held in central London last month.
Niamh Sweeney - joint president, National Education Union

AMiE president Josie Whiteley welcomed delegates to the event and then handed over to joint president of the National Education Union, Niamh Sweeney, who spoke about how the pressures faced by schools and colleges had created an acute need for ethical leadership:

We are in the midst of the biggest educational crisis in a generation.


She continued: “Half of all teachers leave the profession within 10 years and 26% go after three. There is a £2 billion hole in school funding. When Theresa May repeats her rhetoric that there is more money in education than ever before, she is correct, but there are more children and higher costs than ever before.

“Without critical intervention, further education will be funded at a rate similar to the 1980s by 2020. The proposed T-levels are behind schedule and are being developed without any input from those who are expected to provide or teach them. And continuous curriculum change drains resources and goodwill. Teachers, lecturers and education leaders are working more unpaid overtime than any other professionals.”

She said that school and college leaders always had to make difficult decisions but urged delegates to embrace an ethical leadership approach:

The best leaders are ethical leaders. They do not shy away from the difficult decisions but they have consideration for the welfare of their staff, children and young people. They treat their staff well.


She added: “When I am not being joint president of the NEU I am extremely fortunate to work in a fabulous sixth form college where staff are supported and valued. But I should not feel fortunate. Every school and college must be ethically led if we are to fulfil our privileged role of supporting and educating the next generation.”

The programme featured presentations from a range of inspirational speakers from the education leadership world on a range of themes, including the psychology of positive leadership, hopeful and resilient leadership, and authentic leadership, as well as a selection of workshops focusing on key challenges such as recruiting and retaining staff, managing change in difficult times and personal and organisational resilience.

AMiE director Mark Wright said that a teacher with clear leadership potential had told him that practices such as snapshot assessments and teaching to the test were among several reasons he was seriously looking to leave the sector:

These practices are endemic in the system and he said that these were the sorts of things he had been mentored to do.

Clearly this is not conducive to a healthy education system so we need leaders who are able to recognise right from wrong and push back.


He asked delegates to “call on their deeper selves” and address the issues that were forcing some colleagues out of the profession.

He added: “We need to see more growth mindsets rather than fixed ones. We see a lot of schools that are using this growth mindset approach with their pupils, yet not with their staff. A more inclusive approach to growth mindset thinking is what we need more than ever before in our sector.”

Reporting by Nick Bannister, education communications consultant. 

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