Emma Knights

Author: Emma Knights

06/10/2018 08:17:45

Today is #WomenEd’s national unconference. #WomenED is a grassroots movement which grew out of networks on Twitter to connect existing and aspiring leaders in education. Even though women dominate the workforce across all sectors of education there still remain gender inequalities, particularly at senior leadership level. Since its inception I’ve been wanting to join #WomenEd to listen to and learn from candidates’ experiences of being interviewed by governing boards, and if they’d have me to talk about women in school governance.  But as often now is the case on Saturdays in termtime, we clash: NGA is hosting our regional conference in the South West today. So instead this is my contribution to #Women Ed from afar, with thanks to Fay Holland for all the figures from our School Governance in 2018 survey. 

A majority of the 5,218 respondents to this year’s survey were female: 61%. The proportion of chairs overall who were female was slightly lower at 58%. This has grown a little from 55% last year: is this a blip or a trend?

In primary schools, if the survey is representative, two thirds of those governing are women. The survey reports that in secondary schools, women account for fewer than half the chairs, but only just at 48%. Only 45% of chairs responding in alternative provision were women, where on the other hand, 60% of chairs of special schools who responded were women.

When we look at the respondents across different types of schools and academies, women are governing in greater numbers, with the one exception of being a trustee of a multi-academy trust (MAT) where it is exactly half male and female!  However, it is notable that among chairs of the MATs, the proportion who were female dropped to 42%. And this is in direct contrast to academy committees (often called LGBs) where 61% of chairs responding were female: neatly, the exact same percentage as the overall female respondents. Federations, our smallest category in terms of respondents from a particular type of school, were the type of school which saw the highest proportion of female governors (69% ) with the same figure for chairs.

So women are making a huge contribution to the governance of state schools in England, but are slightly less likely to chair governing boards. We asked those respondents who are not currently chair whether they would consider becoming a chair in the future, and a slightly lower number of women would. This was in part due to not having enough time, 36% compared with 30% for men. 

Interestingly, when we dug a bit deeper, we discovered that female governors were more likely to be parents of children at the school they govern (32% compared to 27% of male respondents). This may well leave their time a little more pressed. And potentially a connected factor, women were a little more likely to be younger and less likely to be retired. When we say younger, this is against a background of a very low proportion of governors under the age of 40: hence our Young Governors' Network.

NGA is running a campaign called Everyone on Board to increase the diversity of volunteers on governing boards, but this has been concentrating on younger people and BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) volunteers who are very significantly underrepresented.

This is not to minimise the experience of some women, for example, on a few MATs. I have listened to a national leader of governance talking at a conference about the board of trustees he chairs, where he explained the lack of any diversity at all on the board (all white men over 40, possibly 50) was due to the fact they recruited to talent. I did restrain myself from walking out, and have just checked the trust’s website: over a year later, there is now a single woman on a board of eight. It is to those boards we say, consider you diversity: it will bring better decision making, better governance.

Just to cover all angles, here is the breakdown of professional background of male and female respondents to the survey:

To the women meeting today at #WomenEd, I say please do consider governing at another school from the one you work in. Time and time again I am told “it is the best CPD I ever had” and the best preparation for headship. Enjoy your day, and I hope there is one Saturday we do not clash!

Note: You are welcome to use these figures, please do credit NGA as the source.

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