Exploring the time it takes to chair a Multi Academy Trust (MAT)

Download the interim research report.

About the research

Part-funded by the British Educational Leadership and Management Association (BELMAS), the National Governance Association (NGA) is carrying out research to explore the time commitment associated with being the chair of trustees in a multi-academy trust (MAT). The first phase of this research explores the findings of a survey of 93 MAT chairs. The aim of this research is to provide evidence of time it takes to chair a group of schools and, if possible, identify strategies which chairs can employ to carry out their role more efficiently.

About the project

Previous studies exploring the time it takes to chair school governing boards have shown it to be a time-consuming activity. A 2014 survey of 7,713 school governors highlighted that 65% of chairs spent more than 17 hours a month on governance responsibilities (James et al., 2014) and a recent study by Cotgrave (2016) found that they are undertaking a considerable number of necessary activities. While the evidence therefore suggests that governing in a standalone school is a big time commitment, these studies focus almost exclusively on the time it takes to chair a standalone school.

Of some concern, it is becoming increasingly apparent that those governing in schools are being asked to do even more and, in particular, “there is a big difference … between being a member of a school governing body and being a trustee of a MAT” (Pain, 2017: 10). While MAT trustees still carry out the same core functions of governance as those in other settings (NCTL, 2015: 4), a MAT board is responsible for strategic oversight of more than one school and for holding to account executive leaders positioned within complex management structures. Although MAT trustees can and do delegate responsibilities to those governing at a local level (see NCTL and NGA research), emerging evidence suggests that this additional work often translates into an even larger time commitment for the chair of the board. In this context, vital research is needed to ensure that there is an “open and honest [dialogue] about the time commitment and level of responsibility associated with becoming a MAT trustee” (Pain, 2017: 10). In particular, not only does the emerging evidence suggests that chairs of MAT boards need urgent support to help them manage their time more effectively, but the education sector has an ethical obligation to be clear and transparent about the time commitment associated with the role for those thinking about chairing a MAT board in the future.

Research questions and approach

This project seeks to answer two distinct research questions to achieve the objectives outlined above:

  1. What are the time commitments and responsibilities associated with chairing a MAT?
  2. What practical steps can chairs of MAT boards put in place to make their role more manageable?

A mixed-method approach will be used to answer these questions, combining a survey of chairs of trustees (phase one) with in-depth follow-up interviews (phase two). Both phases will be carried out in line with robust ethical guidelines and data held in line with General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Further information

If you have been approached to take part in this project, or are interested in finding out more, please read the information sheet here. If you have any questions about the project please email NGA’s senior research lead, and project manager of the MAT time to chair research, tom.fellows@nga.org.uk.


Cotgrave, E. (2016) ‘Time to Chair’, Governing Matters: September/October. Birmingham: National Governors’ Association.

James, C., Goodall, J., Howarth, E. and Knights, E. (2014) ‘The State of School Governing in England 2014’. Available at: http://bit.do/School_Governance_2014 (accessed 25.05.2018).

National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL, 2015) ‘Governance in a multi-academy trust’. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/governance-in-multi-academy-trusts (accessed 25.05.2018).

Pain, M. (2017) ‘Five key development areas for MAT sector in 2017/18’. Available at: http://www.forumstrategy.org/some-key-challenges-and-opportunities-for-the-mat-sector/ (accessed 25.05.2018).

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