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Ethical leadership programme enables school to rise above the data

Jo Owens, Director Ethical Leadership, Lichfield Cathedral School, explains their programme to make the best of the school’s strengths, and gives examples of its early benefits…

For all types of schools, it can seem like an impossible task to prioritise anything but academic progress when external judgements are being made based on this alone. But at Lichfield Cathedral School we believe teaching is a ‘superpower’, and we should wield it carefully and with integrity. The norms we establish and demonstrate to the children in our care have a massive impact in shaping their world view. We have a responsibility to hold ourselves and our youngsters to high ideals; to ‘be the light’, as our school chaplain reminded us during our recent Foundation Day service.

Some time ago, we began to recognise the need to lift our focus beyond academic progress and to look elsewhere for meaning in the education of our young people. The Ethical Leadership Programme (ELP) arose to formalise and make sense of what was already good about the school.

The key to rising above the data is in making the most of your school’s strengths and becoming the best at it; make that your thing, your superpower.

You will all know that when you are looking for that USP for your school, much of what is great, much of what creates the ‘magic’ in school, is somewhat intangible. As a faith school we are used to grappling with concepts that are spiritual and not concrete; but quantifying these things in school terms is difficult. As an Anglican cathedral school we have at the forefront of our mission the desire to promote Christian values and ethos in a way that is meaningful and valuable to people from all faiths and none. Our desire, therefore, was to create a programme that would allow our young people to leave with an accredited qualification that had real currency outside our walls and hopefully to imbue these future leaders with firm ethical foundations.

Sixth formers support younger pupils in lessons and mentor those who need it outside of lessons

What is ethical leadership?

Our first challenge in creating this programme was to define what we meant by ethical leadership.

The leadership bit is fairly straightforward; it’s fair to say there are a plethora of leadership courses for children. However, there was no leadership course which provided the ability to follow pupils from pre-reception to upper sixth. There was a clear gap in provision.

The definition of ethical was far harder. We felt we instinctively knew what it meant, but we needed a way to articulate it clearly. You can imagine that meetings discussing this, when a member of the clergy is on the team, tended to become wide-ranging and philosophical debates.

In the end we cut through all the whimsical detail and decided on our definition: ethical conduct is doing what is right because you know it to be so.

When we looked at pre-existing leadership programmes we realised that none of them provided exactly what we needed. We therefore spoke to SSAT who were very happy for us to combine their junior and senior leadership programmes and rewrite them with an ethical slant. Our ELP broadly follows the leadership model provided by SSAT, in order to maintain their accreditation.

The main difference is clearly the ethical aspect of the programme, and we begin a little earlier, with early years (age three), and build year-on-year until the end of the upper sixth. Obviously, we’ve adjusted the language to suit our youngest pupils, referring to ‘ethical leadership’ as ‘being a good person’.

All pupils have portfolios

Each child has an ethical leadership portfolio to help them collect evidence of having achieved each criterion. Once the child and form tutor agree that all the criteria at a level have been achieved, the portfolio goes through a peer review process. When that is successfully completed and all agree that the level has been achieved, the award is made, and the child moves onto working towards the next level.

We also place a heavy emphasis on the concept of ‘leading from the back’: not all of our leadership recognition takes the form of specific roles or responsibilities, and younger pupils can also show leadership. Our older pupils are expected to be ethical role models in their day to day conduct around school.

The house system and school council in particular create opportunities for older pupils to work with the younger ones, helping to demonstrate the behaviour and ethos we would like to perpetuate.

“As good leaders we must think about how our words and actions impact on other people.”
Josh, year 10

For example, year 8 pupils themselves set up a reading mentoring programme for struggling year 5s. And beyond this, we encourage our sixth formers to spend part of their non-contact time supporting younger pupils in lessons and mentoring those who need it outside of lessons.

All of our ELP materials have been created in-house – we acknowledge that we are in a privileged position in having this expertise in school. We are also lucky enough to be able to hold a presentation assembly in the Lichfield Cathedral once a week for years 5 to 13, when we share in and celebrate pupils’ achievements.

Our Junior site holds a similar inter-year weekly celebration assembly for pre-reception to year 4.

Early benefits

After some months in development, we launched ELP for all pupils simultaneously in October 2016, and it is already showing a wide range of tangible benefits.

  • We had long suspected that some of our quieter pupils were involved in great things outside school; now they are far more likely to share these with us.
  • Engagement now includes whole families, not just the pupils themselves.
  • Parents regularly email to tell us about opportunities for community involvement and we are building links with Support Staffordshire, a volunteering organisation, to facilitate this further.
  • Our pupils’ efforts to support our community in school and beyond are redoubled because they feel valued and can recognise for themselves the importance of ethical leadership.
  • Pupils have developed the ability to articulate their experience and leadership skills, and to link these to a shared ethical purpose.

Josh, one of our year 10 boys, recently told me: “For me, leadership is more than power or authority, because it is important to think about how we act as leaders. A leader should be inspirational and able to motivate people. In order to be a good leader, you need to understand your own strengths and weaknesses.

“I am quite a shy person so acting in a position of authority does not necessarily come easy to me. However, I have skills I can use in leadership such as encouraging and empowering others.”

He goes on to explain: “When I think of ethics or behaving ethically I think about doing the right thing. As good leaders we must think about how our words and actions impact on other people.

“I try to lead with the same principles as I act in everyday life – I am always kind to everyone, I always try to help out if I can and I always try my best.”

As well as the clear benefits for personal development and self-confidence, Josh’s ELP portfolio will be an excellent focus for his personal statement for university applications or a talking point during future job interviews, helping him to stand out and be remembered.

Josh’s understanding of ethical leadership is precisely the attitude that our programme seeks to recognise and encourage.

The world needs ethical leaders and we don’t want to keep this to ourselves.

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