To increase the number of ethnic minority and young school governors, Inspiring Governance and the National Governance Association (NGA) have launched a joint campaign, Everyone on Board. The campaign features six serving governors sharing insight from their personal experiences on why the volunteers leading schools need to be diverse so that they are successful for everyone. This aims to encourage ethnic minority and young people to volunteer, tackling an issue of under-representation that has persisted for two decades.
According to the annual school governance survey 2017 just 4% school governors and trustees are from an ethnic minority. This compares to around a third of pupils being from an ethnic minority, and 13.5% teachers being from an ethnic minority . The annual school governance survey 2017 also shows that 10% school governors and trustees are aged under 40, with 1% aged under 30 – though ethnic diversity does increase in younger age groups. There are an estimated quarter of a million school governors and trustees volunteering in state-funded schools in England, with 1 in 10 school governing positions vacant. Research from 1999 commissioned by the then Department for Education and Employment on the composition of school governing boards revealed that 5% of those governing came from an ethnic minority, indicating that there has been no significant progress in almost two decades.
The governors explain that having volunteers that ‘come from different places and think different things’ share their skills, time and experience will bring diverse perspectives and a balance of views to conversations so that ‘barriers, biases and stereotypes do not go unchallenged’ and decisions will help children from all backgrounds to succeed and thrive. They also emphasise how having a diverse governing boards will create ‘a culture of inclusion, starting at the top’ providing role models for pupils to ‘give them confidence in what they can achieve’ and demonstrate the school’s commitment to diversity at all levels.
People interested in becoming a school governor or trustee are encouraged to register with Inspiring Governance – a free, online service that connects volunteers who are interested in becoming governors and trustees with schools that need them. Those who are appointed through Inspiring Governance will receive 12 months of free support from NGA to enable them to feel effective and confident in their role.
Through its work with governing boards, the NGA will support and encourage school governing boards to consider whether they reflect the community they serve and provide guidance and exemplars to help them address this.
The campaign has received the support of organisations across the education sphere, with the Association of School and College Leaders, National Association of Head Teachers and Academy Ambassadors amongst those supporting the campaign. The Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds MP is expected to welcome the campaign, saying that having a range of voices around the table leads to good governance, in his address to governors, trustees and clerks at NGA’s annual conference on 9 June.
Yinka Ewoula, chair of governors at Cobourg Primary School, who takes part in the campaign, said: “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. I strongly believe that everyone should do their bit to make things better and that people that want to see change in education should roll up their sleeves and be part of making that change happen.”
Jordan Holder, governor at Copleston High School, who takes part in the campaign, said: “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 I can closely relate to the pupils that our decisions impact on.”
Omar Mirza, governor at Wanborough Primary School, who takes part in the campaign, said: “I spend a lot of time coaching and developing black, Asian and minority ethnic people to help them achieve their career and life goals through my employer’s ethnicity network. I consistently find that doing well in education is incredibly important in many cultures, so I was genuinely surprised that the number of BAME governors is so low. I want to show people from different backgrounds that governance is for them and to encourage them to get involved in shaping how children are educated.”
Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, said: “Our Everyone on Board campaign is encouraging people from ethnic minorities and younger age groups to volunteer in school governance and counter the stark underrepresentation that has persisted for two decades. Governors and trustees donate their skills, time and expertise to ensure all children can achieve their full potential; having diverse and balanced governing boards avoids groupthink and results in better decision-making. NGA is encouraging the quarter of a million people already governing to consider whether their own governing board reflects the community it serves and acts on this. Inspiring Governance – the free governor recruitment and support service - is one route to achieving this.”
Dominic Judge, director of governance programmes at Education and Employers which runs Inspiring Governance, said: “By sharing their personal experiences, we hope that the governors at the heart of Inspiring Governance’s campaign will help people from all backgrounds to understand the importance of having diverse governing boards, the difference they can make and inspire them to share their own valuable skills, experiences and time. School communities and the pupils within them are vibrant and diverse, and we need governors of all ages, cultures and backgrounds to strengthen decision-making to ensure communities trust schools and all children can thrive. If we can tap into the skills and talents of a new generation of governors, I know they can improve education for the next generation.”
Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education said: "I also want to do everything I can to help boost governor recruitment and retention – because simply we need more great people like you. So today I’m issuing a call to arms, appealing to people up and down the country to join you in this vital role. As Emma Knights has said previously, good governance needs a range of voices. And that was powerfully on display in the video we have just seen – and I champion the work NGA are doing, through your Everyone on Board campaign, to encourage more diversity – and for more women in leadership roles. Governing and trust boards should reflect the communities they serve. So, I want to urge people from different backgrounds, different professions, to come forward – to offer up their time, energy, skills, and expertise."
Anna Cole, parliamentary and inclusion specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “ASCL is delighted to support Everyone on Board. This excellent campaign is a positive and welcome step forwards in encouraging wider participation in governing boards and strengthening them through greater diversity. We need to make them more representative of the communities they serve and doing so will also help to create a climate which encourages greater diversity in school leadership.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Governors and trustees are an absolutely vital part of school leadership and it’s important that they are fully representative of all the people in their communities. Diversity is important at all levels, but especially in leadership, to ensure that the decisions and direction taken by schools is inclusive, understanding, and works for all its families. It’s also so important that children from all backgrounds are able to see themselves reflected in positions of importance, so that they feel they can aim high for themselves and know that school will help them achieve their goals.”
Kirsty Watt, Head of Academy Ambassadors, said: “The business case for diverse boards is clear: variety of view is vital in providing the range of perspectives and challenge required for good decision-making. Academy Ambassadors supports the NGA’s campaign to improve diversity at board level and improve outcomes for children across the country. I hope this campaign encourages many more high-calibre people to step forward and we are keen to meet talent from all quarters.”