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Equality, diversity & inclusion

Tackling the democratic deficit

Governing Matters

Director of Inspiring Governance Dominic Judge looks at why the recent relaunch of our joint Everyone on Board campaign to diversify school governing boards is more important than ever.

Our brilliant trustees and school governors are governing in exceptional times, facing pandemics, climate change, global conflicts and global competition. Our schools do everything in their power to steer their students through these global events but, boy, have they needed every ounce of their governors’ skills, commitment and experience to achieve this!

Yet the figures suggest governing boards today are lacking the skills and lived experiences that could be gained through having more young and more Black and global majority volunteers on their boards.

Why have we relaunched Everyone on Board?

Despite some green shoots showing an 8% rise in boards making more diverse appointments, recent NGA research shows that around one in 20 governors comes from an ethnic minority background and only one in 10 is under 40 years of age. The situation is worse for headteachers and, with a third of our schools’ pupils now coming from ethnic minority backgrounds, this is a worrying disparity between those making and implementing decisions in our schools and those on the receiving end.

Why are diverse governing boards important?

All would agree avoiding over/under-representation on boards is important for civic democracy, but the divergence between school decision-makers and young people matters for three equally important reasons.

  1. Governing boards have a strategic role for race.

The best governing boards ask questions about differences in their school’s achievement, exclusions and destination data by ethnic categories. They review policies to eliminate past discrimination and ensure staff are consistent around behaviour and equipped to robustly tackle racism, ensuring all pupils feel safe in our schools.

  1. Research from the corporate and charity sectors shows diverse boards make better decisions. If this under-representation continues, it is an unforgiveable loss of the available talent, professional skills, and informed perspectives that could help improve the work of our governing boards.
  2. We are in a very challenging period of governor recruitment. Two recent surveys show that 77% of governors and academy CEOs struggle with recruiting governors at a local level. To ensure our school system itself continues to work, diversifying school governing boards is as urgent as it is just.

“There is a worrying disparity between those making and implementing decisions in our schools and those on the receiving end”

The best case is made by Jasmin, Bola-Alysia, Meera and Justin who each give their views on governing in our new 2023 campaign video. As Jasmin, a teacher with more than 10 years’ experience from nursery to sixth form says:

“I wanted to become a school governor because I realised there were not many people who looked like me. People who were women of colour, people who were dyslexic, people who were young. I wanted to bring fresh energy, a good vibe, and a different perspective to help support and challenge schools about how they best deliver for their pupils.”


What more can be done to diversify our governing boards?

The Department for Education (DfE) recently encouraged schools to collect and publish their governing board members’ diversity data. Its advice on how to do this is available on its website. This is a start, but governing boards can and should be taking more pro-active action to diversify their boards; now is the time for bold action! You can access a fuller article on what we have learned about how to recruit diverse boards, but here are some top tips to consider for your own board.

  • Use the independent governor recruitment services Inspiring Governance and Governors for Schools. Both have over a third of their volunteers and matched governors coming from Black and global majority backgrounds.
  • Promote the new Everyone on Board campaign video widely through your personal and professional networks. It’s important to promote the role and let people hear the voices of people undertaking it.
  • Evaluate whether you are recruiting governors just through board members’ networks and word of mouth (the top method in the DfE’s 2020 governance research). If so, try approaching national organisations that might help your local diversity, and use the school’s staff, alumni and local community to promote your vacancies – and encourage them to apply!
  • Ensure your welcome for new governors encourages their contributions and aids retention. We need bold and brave voices around the table to make the right decisions.

Tackling this democratic deficit will take time – the figures are stark, even more so when we look at the data on chairs and academy trustees. However, at a time when global challenges are unprecedented, we must each do our utmost to get Everyone on Board to ensure we challenge our schools to enable all our students to play their part in meeting them.

See all the details of Everybody on Board, including the new video, at

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