The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Tiffany Beck

Multi-academy trust governance: your questions answered

Governance was a hot topic at our annual MATs Summit. Tiffany Beck, chair of trustees at Maritime Academy Trust, answers some popular questions from the event.

1. We have a shortage of governors and trustees and require more skilled professionals. Can you share any tips on recruitment?

Ask your current clerk, governors and trustees. Personal networks can be very effective so try asking. Sometimes people are happy to volunteer once the idea is put to them directly, or they might have someone else to suggest. I’ve placed several people who were colleagues or a friend of a friend.

Walking into local businesses can work as well. Sending an email to a general address might occasionally yield results but walking in the door and asking who to speak to might get you more traction as it’s more personal. Several businesses encourage employees to take up school governance posts, so if there are any banks or large corporations in the area, ask there.

Check with local community organisations, charities, and residents’ associations. It’s good to have particular skills on the board, but the ability to apply those in an education setting is crucial. It will likely come down to the mindset of the person and their willingness to learn.

Think about how the person’s personality will fit into the board dynamic. It’s not about being cosy, it’s about the ability for conversation to flow and the right balance of support and challenge. One wrong person can really change the tone of the entire board.

There can be a lot of overlap between the central executive and local governance

2. What makes effective local governance in a MAT?

People who know the school, its strengths and weaknesses, strategies for addressing them, what the local families and community are like. People who can raise concerns that the MAT may not be aware of and are able to effectively communicate those issues to the right people to be addressed quickly. MAT governance is still evolving and a lot of what exists is a holdover from a maintained structure.

But in a local authority you don’t have what many MATs have in terms of central executive support providing you with a level of support and challenge that didn’t previously exist. You don’t have the wide expertise of HR, finance, education, estates, safeguarding, SEND, IT and so on on hand to assist when you need them, providing you with personalised, in-depth support because they know you and your school. This means there can be a lot of overlap between the central executive and local governance. We will have to see how it will develop as MATs mature; it is constantly evolving.

3. How can we encourage people to join local boards in advisory roles? If they have no authority, how influential can they be?

Stakeholder engagement is so important, and some trusts are looking at the community engagement aspects of a local board.

Pupil voice, staff voice, parent voice, links with local businesses and organisations and the wider community are all crucial for the development of the school and important intelligence for the MAT to understand their schools.

There is an important role to play there and if that’s communicated effectively people could really be keen to take ownership of that.

4. How can we encourage more diversity among local governors and trustees?

There are several organisations out there now trying to increase diversity. The National Governance Association (NGA) is focusing on both ethnic diversity and age diversity, and there is Sharon Warmington’s National Black Governors Network (NBGN).

We know diversity is an issue and many boards are looking to address it. As with recruiting generally, tapping into local networks or just asking people might be an effective way of tackling it. There is something about being asked face-to-face that inspires people to get involved.

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