Reporting the diversity of your governing board
Making your setting more inclusive requires wholesale change; individual areas cannot be reviewed in isolation.
Making your setting more inclusive requires wholesale change; individual areas cannot be reviewed in isolation. The governing board needs to set the culture from the top to change the whole organisation – this will influence the vision the organisation sets, the policies they approve and its approach to scrutiny.
When promoting equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), it is essential that governors and trustees have a diverse set of skills and experiences. However, our research consistently shows boards lack diversity, with a disproportionate representation of white individuals and those aged over 40. More details on governing board composition can be found NGA’s report on Governance volunteers and board practice.
For several years, we have made the case for governing boards to be more diverse and to better reflect the communities they serve. To help with this, we have produced a number of resources, including our governing board diversity indicators form and our guide, The right people around the table, which includes advice on recruiting and retaining governors and trustees.
There is now a move towards external accountability too. As many of you would have seen, The Department for Education ( DfE ) has released guidance encouraging schools and academies to collect and publish governing board members’ diversity data. We cautiously welcome the requirement: as well as highlighting once again the issue of diversity; it draws on experience from other sectors.
Board reporting is not new in other sectors and in fact, in April 2022, the Financial Conduct Authority finalised rules that require listed companies to report information and disclose against targets on the representation of women and ethnic minorities on their boards and executive management. Any firms that do not meet the targets must be prepared to explain why. Unfortunately, analysis of compliance with these rules is not yet possible – reporting is due to take place from April 2023. The UK Corporate Governance Code 2018 also states that ‘Both appointments and succession plans should be based on merit and objective criteria and, within this context, should promote diversity of gender, social and ethnic backgrounds, cognitive and personal strengths.'
However, there can be some practical difficulties with implementing this DfE recommendation, particularly in relation to the need for anonymity. Although we appreciate the rationale behind ensuring that individuals are not identifiable, this may be difficult to achieve for some governing boards. Our annual governance survey found that nearly half of governing boards (47%) had 10 or fewer members – anonymity within group sizes this small will be difficult to achieve. Remember, the DfE is only encouraging you to publish; however, it is the board’s decision – you can decide what is right given your context and the volunteers on your board.
There is also little official guidance on what diversity data must be included. As a starting point, we recommend boards report on the age, gender and ethnicity of their membership although other data may be relevant depending on the characteristics of your local community.
Access to a wider pool of talent will inform decision making, help avoid group think and ensure that communities feel connected to the board of their local school or academy. The board’s diversity is only one step in ensuring the board’s responsibilities on EDI across the whole organisation. For those of you that have not already done so, please do check out our freely available EDI Learning Link modules on creating an inclusive culture through practice and going beyond compliance.
If governors and trustees haven’t yet had a conversation on EDI within your setting, these modules should help to start these conversations and be honest about what steps you need to take.
Head of Advice
Rani oversees NGA’s Advice team and GOLDline service. She leads on the SEND and premises management policy areas and manages NGA’s work on equality, diversity and inclusion. She is co-chair of an infant and nursery school in Solihull.