The principles of public life

Accompanying the documents I signed in January 2016, as I became Headteacher of the Academy, was a copy of The Seven Principles of Public Life, sometimes known as the Nolan Principles. The principles:

“apply to anyone who works as a public office-holder. This includes all those who are elected or appointed to public office, nationally and locally, and all people appointed to work in the Civil Service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), and in the health, education, social and care services. All public office-holders are both servants of the public and stewards of public resources.”

From The Seven Principles of Public Life, published 31st May 1995.

As a Headteacher, I am a public office-holder. I am a servant of the public, and a steward of public resources. I signed those principles, and I remember them. I take them very seriously and do everything I can to uphold them in every aspect of my work, and the work of the wider Academy. The principles are:

  1. Selflessness: Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
  2. Integrity: Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
  3. Objectivity: Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
  4. Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
  5. Openness: Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
  6. Honesty: Holders of public office should be truthful.
  7. Leadership: Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour and treat others with respect. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs

I find these principles inspiring and helpful. They genuinely guide my work. I know that upholding them will give people faith in me as a leader. Their widespread adoption gives people faith in the wider public services, because there are good people working there, behaving ethically, honestly, openly, selflessly, and conducting themselves with integrity. If ever I fall short, I work hard to put it right.

If public servants are dishonest; if they are selfish; if they are biased; if they dodge or avoid the scrutiny and accountability that they should submit themselves to; if they conceal the truth, our faith in them is shaken. And not just in them: failure to adhere to the seven principles of public life undermines our faith in the wider system, not just in the individuals who fall short.

That is why I take the principles so seriously, and do all I can to demonstrate selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership in all that I do. And I would expect all servants of the public to do the same.