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Equality, diversity & inclusion

Race diversity on boards: our commitments to action


Read the latest updates on our equality, diversity and inclusion project

Two years ago the National Governance Association launched the Everyone-on-Board campaign at our summer conference in 2018 with the endorsement of the then Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds. It aims to improve the diversity of governing boards, with a focus on increasing the participation of people from ethnic minorities and younger people, who are underrepresented in school governance. The percentage of volunteers who identified as Black, Asian or another Minority Ethnicity (BAME) in the annual governance survey 2017 was four per cent and only ten per cent were aged under 40. The six champions of the Everyone on Board campaign were BAME and young (in governance terms).

Our members and partners welcomed the initiative, which has also been supported by grassroots campaigners, in particular the BAMEed Network. It was certainly different from four years earlier when I had first tried to find others willing and able to help front such a diversity campaign.

The argument we had been making about the importance of diversity of experience and background on a board in addition to diverse skills is now mainstream. I am not claiming credit for original thought here – I drew on evidence, research and commentary from other sectors and other countries. The last edition of the Governance Handbook from the Department for Education (DfE) is really rather expansive about diversity, even featuring in the foreword by Lord Agnew, Parliamentary, then Under Secretary of State for Schools: "As an ex-trustee, I recognise that the foundation of effective governance is based on the commitment, skills, knowledge and behaviours of a  group of volunteers. However, I also believe that for a board to be effective it will need to consist of a diverse group of volunteers, from a variety of backgrounds, who each bring with them different perspectives and experience but who are there for the same purpose, to ensure they can provide the best education to their students." 

In January I wrote an optimistic blog suggesting we might be moving in the right direction: in the 2019 survey the percentage of volunteers recruited in the last two years who were BAME was 9.7%, and even better, 20% of both the registered volunteers and appointed governors on Inspiring Governance, the DfE funded school governance recruitment service, are from an ethnic minority.

Today we publish the 2020 figures. And yet here we are again, looking across all its 6,864 respondents, the 2020 governance survey shows no further progress at all. Although 9% of the people recruited in the last year were BAME, there was no impact on the overall figure.

There is a large regional variation in respondents’ reported ethnicity, with London the most ethnically diverse by a significant amount (17% of respondents identified as BAME), with the West Midlands next at 5% and the North East, the least  at 1%. Even though there is a similar problem with charity trustees, I was shocked when I arrived at NGA to find this situation, but it is even more shocking that with all this good intention ten years later, we have not been able to make a difference.

So we need to do something different, and NGA doesn’t have all the answers. We have set up an equality and diversity group to advise us on the role of governing boards in ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion. With many thanks to the volunteers who have joined the advisory group and are sharing their knowledge and experiences with us: it is invaluable.

Our initial meeting focused on race: this has become urgent. The Black Lives Matters protests that have crossed the Atlantic highlight the need to address racism in this country too. We are listening to Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues and are committed to learning. One of NGA’s values is to listen to the voices of all. We heard there are of course lots of different individual experiences and community experiences. We know there has been much talk, particularly over the last few months, and actions are needed. To be passionate and moreover, credible, as white allies we must help create the conditions for change. NGA is committed to this work for the long haul: we are determined to see change.

Over this coming year, we will look at every relevant aspect of the role of the board in encouraging diversity and ensuring equality: in determining ethos and culture; the role of recruiting senior leaders; as employers of all staff; finishing with the direct impact on pupils; the oversight of the curriculum; monitoring of behaviour and exclusions, and of course outcomes. But it is not too late to contribute: far from it. We are keen to have any thoughts and ideas on what can be done to help bring about change.

We are beginning with the recruitment to governing boards and inclusive practice on boards. Once you have the seat at the table as a Black, Asian or minority ethnic governor, are you listened to and valued? Saying we value different perspectives is a lot easier than living it when the traditional policies, practices or assumptions are challenged.

Thank you to all those hundreds - most probably thousands - of people who have supported NGA in getting the message out about improving the diversity of governing boards over the last two years. Please don’t lose heart. Our plans will be taking shape thoughtfully but energetically over the coming year.  Today I can commit to the following action:

  1. NGA will conduct research in two areas to understand how we can make progress:
    • Firstly with people from Black, Asian and other minority ethnicities who do not currently govern to understand the barriers to doing so and how these may be overcome;
    • Secondly with current Black, Asian and other minority ethnic governors and trustees to understand their experiences once on a board.
  2. NGA is supporting the creation of a BAMEed Network governors hub: it will meet virtually later this term.
  3. NGA will be improving our information, guidance and e-learning for governing boards on equalities and diversity, beginning later this next month. We will also be ensuring equalities, diversity and inclusion is threaded through our suite of information and guidance, for example, in our imminent headteacher recruitment e-learning and guidance. We have begun in the September edition of our magazine Governing Matters with an interview with Professor Paul Miller on racial inequity and Adelaide Chitanda, senior advice officer, on championing diversity.
  4. NGA will re-energise Everyone on Board, working with Inspiring Governance and others to promote the role to BAME and younger volunteers, making clear that it is open to everyone. We will make use of all channels open to us and seek more out, including the use of webinars, work with employer networks and other third sector organisations who are tackling diversity and equalities issues. Of course the voices of the campaign will continue to be BAME and younger governors and trustees. Today three members of our advisory group will be sharing their experiences on BBC radio 4.
  5. NGA will continue to work with seven other national representative organisations brought together by Institute of School Business Leaders including the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Chartered College of Teaching, Confederation of School Trusts, Independent Schools Council and the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) to ensure as an education sector we are making progress and coordinating activity to maximise impact.
  6. NGA will support governing boards and trustees to learn and develop their own understanding of racial inequity across the sector, including within their own governance practice.  As part of this, we will summarise and promote to governing boards the range of race charters and audit tools that have been created for schools where there is an element that includes the governing board’s role.
  7. NGA will continue to report on the diversity of our own board: NGA’s trustees recognise that while reflecting the governance community, the board does not reflect wider society and the community schools serve.  The board intends to keep taking active steps to improve diversity, including co-options to fill gaps. We are promoting the six positions that are up for election now through a wide range of channels, including with the support of The BAMEed Network and Diverse Educators. Our chair Maggi Bull had made the case for increased representation from BAME and young governors. People are always more likely to put themselves forward if it is suggested directly to them – that tap on the shoulder - or someone else offers to nominate them.
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.