Mary-Jo Hill

12 Apr 2022
The moral code of public service includes some key principles; selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. These are the ethical standards those working in the public sector are expected to adhere to. These apply to all government and elected members of parliament. With today's final announcement of these standards clearly and deliberately NOT adhered to; how do we as the general public react to this? The intention for Joe Public is media fatigue and the distraction of war in Ukraine.

The key principles of public service are clear. We need to hold dear today, of all days, our Headteachers, and school staff that work relentlessly as ethical leaders upholding the moral code of public service.

What moral code?

A reminder that all those in public service are expected to adhere to some key principles. So what do we do now in the face of those in government that pay little heed to these? As a mother, I have spent over 15 years instilling the importance of these values of integrity and honesty and selflessness as much as possible with my three children. As a headteacher, I would be fuming again today. What is it really all for? The assemblies, the structures, the learning, the way in which every school functions under a strong set of values seems lost again in a vacuum. Have headteachers become the last bastion of public service?

The argument of relativity

The plentiful arguments of comparing this to the atrocities around the globe and the fact that nobody can see a better leader right now is rather baseless. It is an excuse for inaction. It reminds me of the notion that the poor behaviour of colleagues is oft dismissed as personality. This is about behaviour. Ask any teacher in the land how behaviour and the child/ student is demarcated and there is a clear path forward. There is a fine line between collusion and challenge but really when we choose collusion, it is hard to know where we all stand. Shifting sands, half truths and narratives changing at break-neck speed.

The honourable thing

Honour: the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right. What would you do if you were prime minister today? The integrity of office is surely paramount? Considering the concept of honour, it is worth reading further on this ‘honour is so important that we educate our children to care about honesty from a very young age. A cross-cultural study in Spain and the Netherlands asked hundreds of children (7- and 12-year-olds), adolescents (17-year-olds) and adults (23-year-olds) to describe the meaning of honour (Rodriguez Mosquera, Manstead, & Fischer, 2002b). Across cultural groups and sexes, integrity was referred to as one of the most important bases of honour. Even the 7-year-olds mentioned it. Indeed, they told their interviewers that honour is about keeping your word and telling the truth.’

So what next?

The ministerial conduct code states that ‘ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation’. That’s it, surely.

Wishing all headteachers and school staff a well-deserved Easter holiday break.