Everyone on Board: increasing diversity in school governance
94% of school governors and trustees identify as white, 1% as Black, 2% as Asian, and 1% as mixed or being of multiple ethnic groups, which compares to a pupil population where 73% of school pupils are white, 6% Black, 12% Asian, 6% mixed or multiple groups and 2% another ethnic minority, accourding to the annual school governance survey 2020. The survey also found that young people (aged under 40) are underrepresented with a higher proportion of volunteers aged 70 and over (14%) than there are aged under 40 (11%).
There are however positive signs that with new volunteers, the diversity of boards is improving. Of those volunteers that have joined their board within the past year, 90% identify as white, 2% as Black, 3% as Asian, 3% from mixed/multiple groups and 1% from other ethnic backgrounds. A third (32%) of new volunteers recruited within the past year are aged under 40.
To address this historic underrepresentation, and to improve outcomes for all pupils, Inspiring Governance and the National Governance Association have announced the Everyone on Board campaign which aims to increase the participation of people from ethnic minorities and young people in school governance.
“Education is so powerful and one of the biggest tools for social mobility, so people making decisions about education need to be the best and the brightest and, by rights, should be diverse. In my experience, being a diverse board enables us to reach further in to our school community – they trust us more and know we have their best interests at heart because we consider a broader range of views.” Yinka Ewuola, Cobourg Primary School
Research from 1999 in to the composition of school governing boards, commissioned by the then Department for Education and Employment, found that 5% governors came from ethnic minorities. This stark statistic has endured over the course of two decades, despite the demographic of our society changing significantly. There have been a range of initiatives attempting to address the diversity of school governing boards, but these have been neither significant nor sustainable.
Why is it important to have a diverse governing board?
Adding new governors/trustees to the governing board who are reflective of (but not representatives of) the community the school serves can help it make better decisions in the interest of all pupils.
There are several benefits to creating a diverse governing board:
- It helps to avoid groupthink: where the people making decisions are similar, there can be a keenness to reach a consensus and therefore a lack of critique. When the people around the table come from different places and think different things there is sufficient challenge which helps to ensure robust decision making.
- Setting a culture for equality and diversity to thrive is a critical role of the governing board. By committing to diversifying itself, the governing board will set an example about inclusion from the top down and be a catalyst for achieving diversity at all levels of the organisation. A good starting point is for the board to adopt its own diversity policy.
- Seeing governors and trustees from ethnic minorities provides role models for young people and can give them confidence in what they can achieve. As an important part of the leadership of the school, a governing board is also an important role model for parents, staff and the wider community.
- Having a diverse governing board provides a connectedness between the school and its community, and ensures all stakeholders feel valued. It can increase the confidence of the community in the school because those making decisions understand the lives, context and aspirations of the community it serves.
“In my community, young people often have low aspirations. Seeing me, a young governor from an ethnic minority background can really inspire them and change their perceptions of what they can achieve. Volunteering with a group of experienced and passionate people is immensely rewarding – I learn so much while bringing different ideas and opinions from my recent experiences of being in education, and feel that I can closely relate to the pupils that our decisions impact on.” Jordan Holder, Copleston High School.
It is important to note that we say governing boards should reflect – not represent – the community. While bringing a range of perspectives makes for better decision-making, governors and trustees must understand that they are not on the board to represent anyone or a particular group but to use their own judgment to act in the best interests of all pupils at the school.
Recruiting diverse governors
Inspiring Governance, the school governance recruitment service, are using the film above to encourage people from ethnic minorities and young people to share their skills, experience and insights as school governors. Governing boards can register to access these volunteers.
Resources for governing boards