Chairs of multi academy trusts (MATs) are spending an average of 50 days per year carrying out the role, new research from the National Governance Association (NGA) reveals.

This equates to 31 hours a month or almost one day a week, which is well above the ‘10 to 20 days per year’ within which NGA suggests that school governance roles should be manageable. The time given has an estimated value of between £7.3 million and £9.8 million a year, according to the research, which aims to help make to role more sustainable and more effective.

The survey of 93 MAT chairs found that:

  • Half of trust chairs also govern at an academy committee level, adding an average of over 100 hours per years to the time they spend chairing.

  • Just under one third of respondents supported the idea of MAT chairs being paid, despite 63.4% of respondents agreeing that it is not possible to work full time whilst chairing a MAT.

  • Alongside being a chair, 40.9% of respondents reported being both a member of the trust and attending academy committees, which NGA argues is not best practice as it blurs the lines of accountability and introduces a conflict of interest.

The survey explored the employment experience of those who volunteer including their salary, how experience from their paid work helps them in their governing duties, and whether those that are currently working have paid time-off to support governance duties. 92.5% of respondents reported that a flexible working pattern was important in enabling them to carry out their chairing duties.

Examining how chairs are using the time they spend governing showed that 96% of respondents met with the trust's executive leader within the past year whilst just 18.3% of respondents were involved in pupil exclusions. The most time consuming task for chairs – clocking in an average of 100.6 hours over the course of a year – was participating in academy committee meetings, whilst extraordinary board meetings accounted for an average of 5.8 hours on average. Looking at individual tasks, appointing the chief executive was the most intense with an average of 16.6 hours needed to complete the task.

Questioned on whether they believe the role to be manageable, 66.7% of respondents said that they were aware of the time commitment before they became chair, and 54.9% said that they are happy with the amount of time that they spend doing the role. Common strategies used by respondents to manage the workload also emerged from the responses.

A second phase of the research, which is partially funded by the British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS), will take place during the summer term to explore the findings in detail through interviews. Further avenues to be explored include how chairs prioritise their time and how chairs use their time to build the team of trustees.

Tom Fellows, research manager, NGA said: “This research reveals that chairing a MAT is significantly different to chairing a standalone school, with many chairs taking more time in order to know their organisation well and hold executives to account. Yet, just like for chairing positions in standalone schools, it is a vital part of effective governance that the position of chair in a MAT is a sustainable and attractive role for volunteers from all walks of life. However, with those MAT chairs who took part in this study spending, on average, 50 days a year on governance duties, this will be less manageable for some depending on their personal circumstance. Understanding the time commitment associated with chairing a MAT, and how to make it more manageable for everyone who has the skills, experience and conviction to take on this vital role, will be a major part of phase two of this research. Nevertheless, what is already clear is that the contribution made by these volunteers needs wider recognition within the sector alongside a frank conversation around governance workload.”

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