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Meeting the challenge of governance volunteer recruitment

Finding and retaining governance volunteers has never been easy, but everywhere we go now, people are asking us for advice on this.


Both the number of vacancies and governing boards finding volunteer recruitment difficult is at an all-time high: over three quarters (77%) of governors and trustees now report it as a challenge compared with half in 2015.

This is affecting all types of schools, although the annual survey suggests MATs are finding it a little more difficult, which is borne out by our extensive day-to-day work with trusts:

In 2021, NGA published ‘Increasing participation in school and trust governance: a state of the nation report on recruiting and retaining volunteers’. It covered these issues in depth while also making the case for diverse boards - as we had been for many years with the Everyone on Board campaign developed with Inspiring Governance.

We returned to the topic in our recent report, “Taking stock of governance workload: ensuring school and trust governance is sustainable”.  This research underlined how, in practice, almost all of the work centred around raising awareness of the role and the need for volunteers is carried out by the very same hard-pressed volunteers, with the help of their governance professionals, adding to the pressure and time required by a diminishing number of dedicated people.   

“The lack of governors and everything falling to me. Hence I am considering resigning”.

“Lack of ability to recruit new governors as older members have left means that pressure to attend more exclusion panels and events to fill the gap”

“As we have governor vacancies, there is more time commitment needed by individual governors to ensure our duties are carried out effectively”

There is a lack of public awareness about the opportunity to volunteer in the governance of schools and trusts and this makes the job of boards recruiting more difficult. The government must be proactive in promoting this civic leadership opportunity. We have been trying to convince the DfE since the publication of our Increasing Participation report almost three years ago to run a national marketing campaign for school governors and trustees.

So, how has the DfE reacted? First, by not replacing the academy trustee recruitment service, Academy Ambassadors, and now by removing its funding from September for the governor recruitment service, Inspiring Governance. It beggars belief: as we set out in our letter to the Secretary of State this week, this leaves the government making absolutely no explicit contribution to the almost quarter of a million volunteers who have oversight of our state schools in England. Schools and trusts have to use their general funds to subscribe to NGA and other for support.

So, in the meantime, NGA is here to support you, and we do know that boards which actively review their practices find these efforts payoff:

Our guidance, 'the right people round the table' covers ways in which recruitment practice can be made more open and transparent, as well as proactively focused on the board’s skills and knowledge gaps, being clear about the time and commitment needed, but also the benefits that can be gained by the individual



Governing is not only something which can provide a real sense of accomplishment, knowing that you are helping ensure children get the best possible education, but also a pleasure being part of a school community. It is also tremendous CPD – that is said by Educators on Board, but also more generally with governance volunteers getting involved with strategy development, financial oversight and often experience as an employer.  


Just over half of volunteers are sixty years old or older, compared with only about 1% under the age of thirty.  Drawing attention to these positives is more likely to lead to younger people wanting to invest their time, alleviating workload from other experienced volunteers. Think about using your alumni and LinkedIn, both routes other boards are reporting successes with.

Our Visible governance campaign includes an information sheet for potential volunteers to explain the role to their employers and a short video to explain to the wider community what governors and trustees actually do.



Emma Knights OBE
Emma Knights OBE

Co-Chief Executive

As NGA’s Co-Chief Executive, Emma promotes the interests of the school governance community nationally with legislators, policy makers, education sector organisations and the media. Emma is an accomplished writer and speaker on a range of school governance policy and practice topics.

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