Ethics and values: Ensuring that your vision, ethos and strategic direction are clear

Date Published


Reading time

5 minutes


Fee Stagg, National Leader of Governance

How many times do we stop and think about how we, as a board or individual governor or trustee, are effectively discharging the first core function of governance? We’re all under additional pressures now, with the Covid-19 pandemic changing the way that we work and govern, and perhaps this is the right time to reassess our values and the things that fundamentally matter.

In this short article, I pose some questions for you to consider – either individually or a whole board. You’ll have many other questions, I’m sure, but these are just some ‘serving suggestions’.

Ethics and values: some key questions

Can you list your school’s or trust’s values without checking? What do the words mean to you? Does everyone around the board table share the same values? Does it matter if they don’t?

Was the school community involved in agreeing on these values? When were they last reviewed?

Do pupils and students understand what these values mean? How do you know?

Do you refer to the school’s values at meetings or during governor visits?

Are you confident that all your decisions are taken in the spirit of the school’s values? What evidence do you have that they are?

Thinking about your board:

  • What values do you attribute to your board’s effectiveness?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring that you effectively live your values?
  • Where do you record the evidence?

Quick activity 1 – features of effective governance

Look at each of the six key features or effective governance and think about the behaviours that you and the governors need to demonstrate to show effectiveness:

  • Strategic leadership that sets and champions vision, ethos and strategy
  • Accountability that drives up educational standards and financial performance
  • People with the right skills, experience, qualities and capacity
  • Structures that reinforce clearly-defined roles and responsibilities
  • Compliance with statutory and contractual requirements
  • Evaluation to monitor and improve the quality and impact of governance

Quick activity 2 – ethical leadership

Look at the following seven definitions and think about where you would expect to see these in action:

Trust - Leaders are trustworthy and reliable. We hold trust on behalf of children and should be beyond reproach. We’re honest about our motivations

Wisdom - Leaders use experience, knowledge and insight. We demonstrate moderation and self-awareness. We act calmly and rationally. We serve our schools and colleges with propriety and good sense

Kindness - Leaders demonstrate respect, generosity of spirit, understanding and good temper. We give difficult messages humanely where conflict is unavoidable

Justice - Leaders are fair and work for the good of all children. We seek to enable all young people to lead useful, happy and fulfilling lives

Service - Leaders are conscientious and dutiful. We demonstrate humility and self-control, supporting the structures, conventions and rules that safeguard quality. Our actions protect high-quality education

Courage - Leaders work courageously in the best interests of children and young people. We protect their safety and their right to a broad, effective and creative education. We hold one another to account courageously

Optimism - Leaders are positive and encouraging. Despite difficulties and pressures, we are developing excellent education to change the world for the better.

Think about…

  • Have you a plan to review these principles as part of your school improvement and governance self-reviews?
  • What do each of the words mean to you?
  • Does your agenda or work planning cycle reflect your school values?
  • What items do you think fall under the first core function?

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