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The Board You Need: Some Challenges For The Academies Sector

Board Room

Is your Board at the front of the Trust’s strategy or still catching up? Robust and effective trust governance is ever more important and more complex. Trusts need to have the right people with the right skills around the board table to provide challenge and scrutiny, guidance and support. But how do you get a Board that shoulders that task?


Academy Ambassadors provides a free, bespoke recruitment service to multi-academy trusts looking to strengthen their boards. Since 2013 the not-for-profit programme funded by the Department for Education has helped trusts to fill over 900 board roles. At our Academies Show session I will share some of the lessons that we have learnt along the way and we want to hear from trusts about what works for them.


When we ask established trusts what they would do differently a common response from is “well, I wouldn’t start from here”. Many boards grew the MAT board from that of a ‘lead school’, passing up through the system governors recruited on the basis of representation or long-service, rather than skills.


We specialise in recruiting high-calibre board members from business and the professions who are motivated by a desire to use their skills for good. The key to recruiting these people starts early – in evaluating the Board you have got and defining the Board you need.


Often trusts come to us to ‘vacancy-fill’. In very few cases is replacing a ‘like-for-like’ Board member the right thing to do. Much more successful are the trusts that look ahead and understand what their Board needs for the next three to five years.


Can you articulate the challenges? High-calibre people walk towards a challenge and it is better to be frank about the accountability and breadth of the role. Trusts are often very good at articulating the vision and values of the trust. Sometimes missed is articulating the role of the board in numbers – the performance, financial, growth and people challenges the trust board must lead on.


When we are called upon to help in cases of governance failure we very often see a trust that narrowly defined risk. It’s a mistake made in the corporate and charities sectors more widely. Could your board recruitment strategy help redress the balance by taking a broader approach to risk? Collectively, can the Board cover estates, finances, safeguarding, standards, the operating model: everything in fact as everything is what the Board is accountable for.  The Department for Education has set high expectations: their 2017 Framework for Governance lists 16 competencies required for good governance.


The role is of course more than compliance. Earlier this week Sir David Carter said he wanted to see governance that is ‘socially effective and ethically sound’. We continue to seek and to find board members who want to be part of a system that has the highest expectations for the disadvantaged. In a survey of our own last year those board members we introduced to trusts cited a desire to “give something back” as their main motivation. We know the Board role is critical but there are few examples to share. 


Kirsty Watt, Head of Academy Ambassadors spoke at the Academies Show on the 25th April. Find out more about the work Academy Ambassadors do at their website here.

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