What it means to be an ethical leader


Courage, risk taking and professional identity – are these the key components of ethical leadership?

During the second GTC Scotland Ethics Roundtable, attendees heard provocations from headteachers Alan Horberry, Lyndsay McRoberts, Annette Alexander and Catherine Kucia, and from Professor Emeritus Rowena Arshad.

The provocateurs shared their ethical leadership journeys and insights gained along the way. After hearing from them, attendees broke into smaller groups for a roundtable discussion on the issues raised.

The event was designed to facilitate discussion and increase understanding of ethical reasoning in action as we begin a process to review the Code of Professionalism and Conduct. You can catch up on the action, watch the provocations and sign up to the next roundtable.

The provocations

Alan: “We need courageous school leadership and for the role and responsibility of teachers to change”

Three years ago, Alan became increasingly aware of the levels of anxiety, the lack of resilience and confidence of youngsters, as well as the increasing amount of time they spent online and how this manifests itself in further ill health.

He set about transforming his school to have more of a focus on health and wellbeing. This involved changing the role of teachers and other school staff in the way young peoples’ wellbeing is prioritised. Find out more about the changes Alan made.

Lyndsay and Annette: “Are we really delivering empowered secondary curriculums?”

Over the last three years, Lyndsay and Annette have been reflecting on this question, drawing on their professional knowledge and ethical professional reasoning.

They asked themselves: why do we teach what we teach, and if we could, what would we do differently? They reflected on how they spent their time – was it on thinking or has it been consumed by tick box approaches and compliance to expectations set through inspection and national guidance?

When they looked at learner journeys, they realised that a lot of what they were doing was add-ons rather than being part of an inclusive curriculum.

They engaged staff in big thinking around CfE to begin to challenge assumptions around what they offered within the curriculum. They convened a school improvement group, which looked at truly knowing their learners, and they took the attributes and capabilities of the four capacities and started to reflect on how successful their school would be when measured against this, rather than attainment.

Catherine: “We need to ignite a passion for learning”

Since opening a new primary school in Wales in 2017, Catherine has seen rapid growth in pupils and staff numbers. From the start, she has focused on process not product – with learning at the heart of everything they collectively do.

Catherine and school staff have worked collaboratively to develop their vision principles, with an ongoing focus on learning to bring to life policies that support the new Welsh curriculum. In terms of the school’s learning culture, she draws inspiration from John Hattie, who said: “Every pupil deserves a great teacher, not by chance but by design.”

Rowena: “A sense of fairness, intuition and common sense is not enough”

Rowena has three points:

  • Simply being a good person or with the best intentions is not enough. Teachers need to know who they are and their ‘positionality’ i.e. their own history and how this shapes their thinking.
  • Secondly, teachers need to be political – not party political, but politically savvy to understand issues like power equality and social justice. For Rowena, social justice is political work as it involves constant questioning. It also means not having an aversion to the concepts that teachers may find difficult like anti-racism or class oppression.
  • Finally, culturally responsive pedagogy requires homework and places the teacher as a learner alongside their pupils. It recognises that everyone brings something to the table.

Roundtable reactions

“It’s refreshing to hear from schools doing this differently, not solely focusing on attainment (although that’s part of the picture) – being trailblazers.”
"It’s about being brave enough to take a different perspective and look at what’s in front of you rather than what you ‘should do’. It’s about the impact on learners and the choices we make. I agree with Cat’s provocation – it comes down to our personal and professional identity."
"I totally agree with Rowena that having political nous and understanding of positionality is critical for developing critical consciousness. This must be key for transformative pedagogies and seeing beyond the quantitative data."
"It feels like we have a corporate-driven culture in teaching – it’s product driven, what we value is what we measure. There is a massive disconnect between local authority culture and professional academia. We have a quantitative data obsession and it’s squeezing out qualitative data. It’s a proper tension.”

Ethics and the Teaching Profession Roundtable - 14 June 2022

Courageous School Leadership and the Changing Role and Responsibility of the Teacher: Alan Horberry