Release date: 19/11/2021

The latest picture of school and trust governance volunteering and governing board practice has been revealed in the latest report from the National Governance Association (NGA), the third in the series of results from the Annual School and Trust Governance Survey 2021.

Recruitment of volunteers is an increasing challenge for governing boards. 64% of respondents said their board found it difficult to recruit volunteers, up from 50% saying the same in 2015. Just one in ten volunteers find out about the opportunity to govern through a route (such as national and local recruitment campaigns) other than an existing connection to their school or trust. Over 90% of respondents got into governance because they had a child at the school (40%), worked in education (25%), were approached by the school or trust (18%), or by a personal or professional connection already involved in the organisation (12%).

Combining the difficulty of recruitment with the lack of a significant proportion of volunteers being recruited from outside the existing community of schools and trusts bolsters NGA’s call for a national Department for Education funded volunteer recruitment campaign. First made in NGA’s Increasing Participation report (June 2021), this large-scale campaign would set out the role, commitments and benefits, boosting awareness of the role and the number of volunteers coming forward. In the report, NGA said “given the significance and responsibility attached to the role, there is a duty to match the investment provided by volunteers with investment to persuade a wide range of talented, skilled individuals to join school and trust boards”.

The survey also showed that education is the sector supplying the largest number of volunteers, with 35% respondents now working in the education sector.  The effect of NGA’s Educators on Board campaign, encouraging teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders to join the governing board of another school or trust, has had a positive impact since its launch in 2019.

The survey also clearly demonstrates that, once on the board, the experience of governing is an overwhelmingly positive one. 95% of respondents felt that their opinion was valued by their board, 90% felt they ‘belong’ on their board and 74% said that being a governor or trustee is important to how they think of themselves as a person.

In addition, the survey found that people are remaining in governance for longer but changing their role more often. Just over a third of respondents said they had now been governing for more than a decade, the highest proportion since the survey started, while there has been a 20% decrease in those governing more than eight years in the same role. In the report NGA said, “It is a positive finding that volunteers are remaining in governance for a longer period… By moving to a new post this allows for sharing knowledge and experience and keeps view and perspectives on the board dynamic and challenging.”

The impact of the pandemic on board practice was also highlighted in the report. The disruption faced by boards over the past 18 months has made the challenge of recruitment harder for some with just over a third of respondents saying that recruitment was made more difficult by COVID-19. However 22% of respondents said governing virtually has made it easier to recruit to the board.

Other board practice affected by the pandemic included stakeholder engagement, which NGA recognises as the fourth core function of governance. Exploring the strategies used by respondent’s boards to engage with parents, pupils, staff and the community, the survey found that around 23% of planned stakeholder engagement activity was prevented by the pandemic. Most engagement had been with parents, and the least engagement with the wider community, while unsurprisingly, face-to-face communication was the most impacted by restrictions.

Governance volunteers and board practice’ is the final of three reports of the results of NGA’s annual school and trust governance survey 2021. 3,848 governors and trustees responded to the survey, which has been running for more than a decade.

Sam Henson, Director of Policy and Information, National Governance Association said, “This report shows how important having a direct connection with a school or trust or the wider field of education has become to getting people on board. It shows that there clearly remains some big challenges both for individual schools and trusts and for the sector as a whole in ensuring the crucial supply of volunteers so integral to the school education system.  That said, once those individuals arrive at the table, the experience had by the vast majority is an overwhelmingly positive one. The message is clear – more people need to hear about the vital role that good governance plays in our schools and trusts. NGA will continue to get this message out there as we raise the profile of school governance through the Visible Governance campaign.” 

Emma Knights, Chief Executive, National Governance, National Governance Association said, “The year being reported in the NGA’s Annual School & Trust Governance Survey is one when governing boards, with the support of their governance professionals, had to transform their own practice in the light of the COVID pandemic – and hats off to them for doing it so well, sometimes with a few initial glitches, but largely without a lot of fuss and bother, concentrating on instead on the needs of their schools, pupils and staff.  A few governing activities were affected by being unable to visit schools for many months, but that so much continued underlines the commitment, resilience and flexibility of the both the voluntary and paid workforce. NGA salutes you.”

Read the report

The other 2 reports from the 2021 survey are:

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