Release date: 21/10/2020

A new policy report ‘Chairing a board: developing governance, sharing leadership’ from the National Governance Association (NGA) sets out several recommendations to policymakers on how they can continue to support the recruitment and development of chairs while ensuring the role is sustainable.

Approximately 5,000 new chairs are needed every year NGA has calculated, and as a whole chairs contribute the equivalent of about £145 million a year to the school system, which greatly outweighs the contribution the system makes to their development. However, the workload for the role is substantial with the time commitment a major contributing factor to others not being able to step up. In addition, the lack of recognition for the role and for school governorship more generally as a civic contribution adds to the difficulty of recruiting to boards from the general public, who are often unaware of the opportunity.

The report seeks to raise the issue of board leadership within the school system and also acts as a celebration of those who step forward to take on the considerable task of leading a governing board. It looks at the current landscape of chairing considering who leads boards, the experiences of board leaders and recruiting and developing board leaders. 

To increase recruitment to the role NGA is calling on policymakers to create a national recruitment campaign for volunteers with emphasis on attracting those with the skills and experience required for chairing, giving similar profile as to other public service roles such as magistrates. It also suggests building on the enthusiasm shown in particular by young governors and trustees and those from ethnic minorities who are much more likely to want to take on the chair in future.

NGA is calling for the introduction of a statutory maximum term of office for chairing roles of six years on any one board which has the added advantage of moving expertise and experience around the system. Given the importance of effective governance, lead by a good chair, to school improvement NGA also suggests creating an intervention that enables schools that need them to access a pool of experienced and effective chairs who are willing to chair at a weak school/trust on a long term basis, that such schools are proactively required to use.

The Department for Education is being asked to commission or conduct further research into the workload and manageability of the role and look at what changes can be made to ensure sustainability of the model. It is also being urged to continue to invest in training and development for current and aspiring chairs, ensuring equality of opportunity for all schools and trusts.

NGA will also continue to support, resources and representation to chairs, governors and trustees to help meet these aims.

Emma Knights, chief executive, National Governance Association said: “Although the chair has no individual power, they play an absolutely crucial role in setting the culture of the governing board. This is not a position of decision-making, but one of considerable influence and one harnessed often to achieve good governance. This report aims to raise the issues of leading school and trust boards once again in the discourse, to keep these absolutely crucial roles visible, without creating hero chairs. In all our dealings with chairs we are reminded just how engaged, informed and reflective they are, and this report bears this out. While the generosity of chairs – and of all governors and trustees – towards their schools and trusts, staff, parents, pupils and communities has shone through locally in recent months, it is NGA’s role to make this light visible nationally. We also need to recognise the strains on the role and act to reduce them which is why we are calling on policymakers to further support the recruitment and development of chairs and help ensure the substantial role that they are asked to undertake is sustainable.”

Read the report

Chairing a board

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