FE Leadership and ethics in a time of precarity – an invite




Ethics and Leadership in FE

Research Presentation, Tuesday 10th May, 2.00pm – 4.00pm, Room G20, 55 Gordon Square, London


A good metaphor ‘makes us stop in our tracks and examine it. It offers us a new awareness’. In this sense metaphors are ‘category errors with a purpose, linguistic madness with a method’. Metaphors must be approached and understood as if they were true at the same time that we are aware that they are fictitious – created and artificial.

Alvesson & Spicer (2010)

In this seminar we aim to present initial and tentative conclusions based on research undertaken between June 2015 – March 2016 with FE college leadership teams.  This is an ongoing research project for which data is still being generated. What is presented here are some emerging themes and ideas.

The project has explored how FE managers retain ethical integrity – a frequently neglected area of leadership research and policy thinking that goes beyond narrow considerations of competence. We wanted to understand the practical strategies FE leadership teams deploy to enact their ethical values within the institutions they lead against a context of precarity when reductive policies appear to narrowly define the range of choices open to them.

While we did not start the project with a fixed sense of what ethics means – seeking instead to allow those conceptions to emerge from what people said, we broadly conceive of ethics as incorporating: Conduct – what actions are regarded as right and wrong?  The good society – in what kind of society do we want to live? Character – what moral qualities are regarded as good and bad?  Relationships – what responsibilities attach to people’s relationships with each other, individually and in groups?

Several interesting and unexpected ideas have emerged around this. Our preference it to frame the issues in terms of leadership metaphors. This is a well-rehearsed and accessible approach to understanding the complexities of organisational life.

A few of the metaphors we suggest include:

  • The Steward
  • The Banker
  • The Philanthropist and
  • The Entrepreneur

Each of these leadership metaphors suggest particular ethical approaches to FE.

During the Institute of Education seminar we would like to present some of the data that has led us in this direction and to invite a critical overview of our approach and tentative conclusions.

Further Education Trust for Leadership, Ethics and Leadership in FE Research Team

Dr Carol Azumah Dennis and Elizabeth Walker

If you would like to attend or require any further information, please contact

carol dot dennis at hull dot ac dot uk


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