Academies Benchmark – academies struggling to find trustees

Published by Kimberley Foulkes on 4 April 2024

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Academy trusts continue to struggle to recruit to their Trust Boards. It is a challenge that is likely to deepen and one that trusts need to work hard to address.

The 12th annual Academies Benchmark reports that 80% of the 300 trusts surveyed have governance vacancies at a Board or local level – a sharp increase from just 68% in 2022. One-fifth of trusts surveyed say that the Chair of their Boards have been in place for less than 12 months, with almost half saying they took the role because no one else would.

The recruitment challenge is made that much harder by an ageing population and an increasing reluctance of people to volunteer.

A report and campaign from the Charity Commission that ran between September and November 2023 recognised and acknowledged the contributions made by the 700,000 people who currently act as trustees to charities and the additional 70,000 trustees that support academy schools.

That report found just 9% of trustees aged under 40 and with some 25% reporting they will step down from that role. This is supported by Data from the GovernorHub with 90% of their members being aged over 40. Boards should also be balanced to represent the communities that they serve. Data from the GovernorHub shows that 90% of their members describe their ethnicity as white. With that in mind, it is vital that academies work hard to attract the range of trustees with the skills and backgrounds required.

Another challenge for Trusts, noted by the National Governance Association in their recent open letter to Gillian Keegan MP, is the Department of Education (DFE) has announced the end of funding for Inspiring Governance, a governor and trustee recruitment service, effectively marking the end of any government funding for school and trust governance. You can read more of the letter here.

Those trusts that do not have the necessary number of trustees can find themselves rebrokered, forced to merge or taken over by a larger trust.

Taking on the role of trustee to a school is not always an easy decision to make. Whilst it is an entirely voluntary role it does come with serious responsibilities and a statutory duty, namely to provide strategic direction to the trust, to hold the executive headteacher to account and to ensure public money is spent appropriately.

Many potential trustees might find that off-putting, perhaps believing it will be an overly time-consuming role.

I am a trustee of a primary school in Kent and the time commitment is more than manageable. Trustees are typically required to attend six two-hour meetings over the course of a year, and always in term time. That is just a 12-hour commitment a year.

There is for new trustees, the need to attend an induction course and trustees are expected to keep up to date with activity at the school and changes to regulation.

But this is not something trustees need do alone. Schools will often arrange trustee training workshops that are delivered by accountants and specialist training providers.

We provide regular trustee training workshops throughout the year providing practical advice and guidance for new and existing trustees, if you’d like to learn more please contact us.

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