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Everyone on Board: increasing diversity in school governance

The Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP, Secretary of State for Education, at NGA’s annual conference 2021

“Just as our schools are incredibly diverse and culturally rich places, it is vital that our governing boards reflect that diversity and that richness too. This means we need to do more to encourage those who may not ever have considered volunteering as a governor or trustee, but who still have so much to offer, who could bring a fresh perspective or a specific skill that a board really needs. We especially need more young people and more people from multi ethnic backgrounds to come forward. So I urge you to look at the way you advertise vacancies and use your networks to encourage others to consider becoming a governor or trustee.”

All ethnic minorities remain significantly and consistently underrepresented at a national level on governing boards. According to NGA's annual governance survey 2021, 93% of respondents to the survey are white, 1% are from mixed or multiple ethnic groups, 3% are Asian, 1% are Black with the reminder other or ‘rather not say’. This 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 2021.

By age, 9% of governance volunteers are aged under 40, including 1% aged under 30. Around three in four volunteers are aged between 40 and 70. There are more volunteers aged over 80 than under 30.

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, 88% are white, 3% from mixed groups, 5% are Asian, and 3% are Black. Of those volunteers that have joined their board within the past year, 31% are aged under 40.

To address this historic underrepresentation, and to improve outcomes for all pupils, the Everyone on Board campaign aims to increase the participation of people from ethnic minorities and young people in school governance.

Yinka Ewuola, Cobourg Primary School

“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.”

Research from 1999, 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. 

Increasing participation in school and trust governance

Our state of the nation report explores volunteer recruitment and retention through the lens of the experiences and views of governors and trustees from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds and young volunteers (aged under 40) alongside data from NGA’s annual survey 2021 and a review of research from other sectors. 

Read the report for an in-depth look at the importance of a diversity of thought and representation to increase governance’s positive impact for children and young people and how boards can best make it possible for people to join by taking a different approach to recruitment and practice.

Read NGA's increasing participation report

Why is it important to have a diverse governing board?

Adding new governors or 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.
Jordan Holder, Copleston High School

“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.”

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.

Evaluating board diversity 

NGA has worked in collaboration with its members to produce a diversity indicators form, which can be adapted and used by boards in all types of school structure to gather diversity data on their membership and identify actions, such as:

  • targeted recruitment to address gaps in experience and diversity
  • developing and adapting board practices to ensure full participation
  • prioritising training and awareness-raising in identified areas
  • addressing potential ‘blind spots’ through seeking wider advice and perspectives on current and upcoming opportunities, challenges and risks

The form can be adapted easily to fit the specific circumstances of the school or trust. It is designed in such a way that maintains the confidentiality of individuals and lends itself to a high level evaluation and conversations that are solution focused.

Recruiting diverse governors

You can sign up with any of the following free recruitment services. These services work with schools and trusts to help them find volunteers.

Resources for governing boards