Moral Purpose and Accompanying Dilemas

Why did we choose to teach? What made us want to enter the profession? Some say their school days were great, or they had inspirational teachers. Some say they want to change the system and do things differently. Are the reasons we chose this career as strong now as they were when we entered the profession?

I’ve been toying with these questions recently. Every now and then something happens to test our moral purpose, to make us take a stance for what we believe. I give you a couple of my own examples:

The tuck shop saga

In my first headship I was faced with a dilema over the very popular and pretty lucrative tuck shop. You see the problem was it sold absolute rubbish to the children. Unhealthy and probably downright harmful, cheap excuses for crisps, sweets and sugary drinks. Parents didn’t seem to mind, pupils loved it and it paid for a lot of school stationary so some staff thought it a good thing. As head do you:

A) Run with things as they are? Everyone’s happy and the tuck shop serves a purpose.

B) Shut it down? It is obviously completely unhealthy and not doing the kids any good

Despite protests from most quarters, and ongoing requests from the children to keep it we closed it down and re launched it as a less successful but healthier fruit tuck shop.

Early Doors

School had traditionally opened to children at 9.00am but many arrived earlier. Staff would make their way to their classes about 8.50 with a warm drink while looking out on children and parents freezing in the cold. We opening the doors at 8.50 was suggested it was met with hostility from staff who valued this time and felt parents should not turn up till 9.00am. Changing the routine was going to cause a lot of ill feeling for little apparent gain. The children played outside, they would lose this social time and parents would just drop off and not have the chance to speak and socialise with other parents and children as they had in the past. Do you:

A) Keep the status quo? A lot of people were happy and those who weren’t accepted it anyway.

B) Allow children and parents to come in from 8.50? Then no one has to hang around on a cold playground, shivering, waiting for doors to be opened.

Opening up 10 minutes earlier meant we could stagger children coming in which made the start of the day less chaotic. Children came in and got themselves settled in for a prompt start. Music played, they could read or attempt a short morning challenge to get them going.

Both these changes took some time to ‘bed in’ but eventually became part of the culture of the school. Both could have been left as no one expected any changes. However, the changes were right, morally. There have been many other times when I know my own beliefs and morals have been tested in this way. It happens regularly, more than we know. If we were to film ourselves for a few weeks, watch our interactions, the decisions we make, the way we address others, it would help us see our values and beliefs in action.

Education is driven by moral purpose, sometimes we have to be brave and stick our neck out for what we know is right. Our moral purpose was there on the day we entered the profession. We just need to remind ourselves of it now and again.


About smichael920

Headteacher of a large primary school in North West England. Helping me to blur the distinction between work and home, I am also father of five, covering most phases of education thus giving me the lowdown from within and without. Education is about enjoying today and preparing for tomorrow. This can't be done using the tools of the past. View all posts by smichael920

4 responses to “Moral Purpose and Accompanying Dilemas

  • Andy Mellor

    Sometimes moral purpose is all we have. There are many times that decisions need to be made which go beyond policy and which frighten administrators as they allow for moral compass and professional intuition. This moral purpose which drives professional intuition is vital if we are to be effective leaders.

  • Gerald Haigh

    Tuckshop! Tell me about it. I fell out big time with just about everybody when I closed ours. For me, it wasn’t just health, it was dealing with the cash. More trouble than it was worth. I grew to dislike any school transaction that involved handling and accounting for cash, and I tried to keep it all to an absolute minimum. How I would have liked today’s “ParentPay” system for dinners and trips. A godsend. As to early doors, our first kids used to arrive a 7.30, dumped by families going to work. We’d let them in at eight. Again, today we’d have a breakfast club I suppose, with proper funding and paid staff.

  • smichael920

    Thanks Gerald, great to get your feedback as always. We’re using a new payment system which will make things easier but I’m also blessed to have a business manager who takes a lot of this sort of thing off me. I don’t think he’s overly keen on frequently running to Asda for the kids, to stock up their fruit tuck shop though!

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