Maggi Bull, chair of trustees, NGA

Author: Maggi Bull, chair of trustees, NGA

28/08/2020 13:14:32

Maggi Bull has been an NGA trustee since 2011, and chair of the board for the past three years. With six places on NGA’s board up for election this autumn, Maggi explains who would make a great potential trustee and gives an insight into the role as well as sharing personal reflections as her term comes to an end.

What are we looking for in potential trustees?

Someone who has experience of governing in more than one school and who has supported others in difficulty would be a great trustee as they can really understand what makes good schools and how governance contributes to it. Similarly, people with experience of turning around schools in areas of deprivation and who have seen the best and worst sides of education have important experience to add to the board’s discussions.

Of course NGA is not a school, but a charity, limited company and a national membership organisation. We're looking for trustees who want to actively contribute to the national conversation on school and trust governance, who want to ask questions at a high level and influence outcomes, and who are curious about how to improve the services NGA offers its members.

Ideally nominees will have served one full term as a governor/trustee or several years as a clerk as we need experienced people who understand effective governance and that this is not a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach. A great addition to the board’s current skillset would be someone with experience of national lobbying and influencing at a high level, who could support NGA to do this well.

The key thing to remember is the normality of boards. We are governors, trustees and clerks just like you, and we need others, who like us are ordinary NGA members with a different perspective to bring, to join us.

Why is diversity important in the context of NGA’s board?

NGA has a wide range of schools and organisations in membership that serve varying communities, and it is important that these are reflected on NGA’s board. That is why we make sure we have a trustee from each of nine regions. We especially want to hear experiences of governing in disadvantaged communities. We have a wide coverage of the different school and trust types, and trustees can speak from experience, bring their knowledge of the different ways of working and ensure that all types of schools are catered for by the NGA.

We are also acutely aware that the board does not currently reflect wider society and certainly not the pupil population who we are here to serve. So we particularly encourage nominations from groups that are currently underrepresented on the board including people from Black, Asian and other minority ethnicities (BAME), people with disabilities and young people. As we say to schools and academy trusts as part of our Everyone On Board campaign, diverse backgrounds and experiences prevent group think. The best governance happens when there are many perspectives and challenging questions.

Over the past couple of years, NGA has made a real effort to address its lack of diversity by co-opting a young trustee and a Black trustee. But it is also important that we attract a diverse range of nominees in our upcoming elections. Most school governors and trustees are white and over 40 years old, but if you have a colleague who is BAME and/or under 40, please do pass this on.

How are we making the board more inclusive?

With a regional model it means that in normal times some trustees do have to travel further to attend the board’s quarterly meetings which are held in NGA’s office in Birmingham. Travel and accommodation expenses are paid but we recognise that travelling long distances may be a barrier to potential trustees. To make the board more inclusive we are exploring the option of holding meetings regionally so that the travelling and time commitment is more evenly shared, but we need to balance that against the opportunity to meet the organisation’s growing staff group. Throughout the last few months, we have also noticed the benefits of using virtual meetings, and although it is not a total alternative to face-to-face meetings, we are also considering alternating meetings between the two formats.

All new trustees have an induction session with the chair and the chief executive to learn more about NGA and the role of the board, and we also provide buddies where experienced trustees mentor new trustees, which has worked well in the past.

What are the big issues that the board will be talking about over the next year?

Our discussions and decisions as a board focus on the national education policy landscape and how this impacts NGA’s membership offer and other services . We set a three year strategy, after  reviewing how well NGA is meeting the needs of our diverse membership of schools and trusts. Are we managing to improve school and trust governance?

Discussions over the coming year will of course include how schools and trusts have dealt with COVID-19, especially in different parts of the country, and ensuring that NGA is addressing the relevant issues in a way that best supports governing boards. We know that the disadvantage gap isl getting worse, so how NGA influences the ramping up of provision for disadvantaged pupils, and ensures schools are geared up to deal with this, will feature prominently in our discussions.

As your term comes to an end, what has your own experience been?

What is really rewarding is the opportunity to meet governors, trustees and clerks nationally across the country and realise that we all have the same agenda and are working for the same reason. There’s so many of us and it is really reassuring to see how committed and driven people are.

My proudest achievement was becoming chair; it has been an absolute privilege to help lead this organisation. I remember being quite star struck when I first met an NGA Chair but really you’re first among equals and a conduit for information to the board. Introducing the Secretary of State and the shadow education secretary at my first national conference as chair in 2018 was a baptism of fire and completely terrifying.

When I joined the board, NGA had five staff and now it has 40. We've had huge growth of the organisation but without huge growing pains and this has been managed so well by NGA led by Emma Knights. As a trustee it’s also great to be able to get to know the staff and learn from them. It's a fantastic organisation producing what those who are governing need, and I'd love to see more people use it and get the most out of it.

Attending and chairing the Outstanding Governance Awards was an amazing experience and it made me feel humbled. It was fantastic to see the teamwork on boards and people so evidently working as a unit to improve outcomes for pupils. I’m also particularly proud of NGA’s work on disadvantage – this has been second to none, and of our networking capability. Whatever the needs of our members, we know the best organisations and people with whom to take it forward.

With six of nine elected positions open to nominees this could signify a big refresh for the board and I encourage you to be part of it - just go for it.

More information:
We are holding a virtual information session for prospective candidates: 5pm on Monday 28 September where you can meet Maggi and some fellow NGA trustees. If you are interested, please contact our clerk: emma.myers@nga.org.uk

How to apply:
Nominations will open on Monday 7 September and close on Friday 9 October; and all the relevant information will then be available on our board elections web page. If you want to be sent this directly, you can request it from emma.myers@nga.org.uk.

Members in the East Midlands, East of England, London, South East, South West, and Yorkshire and the Humber are eligible to seek election to the board and to vote in the election.

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