This month, our CEO Louise Cooper talks about our recent MAT survey, what we’ve learnt about the skills needed for both trustee boards and LGBs, and how the results will affect our work going forwards.

Understanding how we can best support schools in finding effective governors has always been our priority. In the 20 years since Governors for Schools was established, the education landscape has changed significantly, particularly with the transition to a mixed system of maintained schools and multi-academy trusts (MATs). In school trusts, the Trustee Board is the single legal accountable entity, while the role of an individual school’s local governing board varies greatly.

With this in mind, we wanted to learn more about the skills needed at trust and local school board levels, and where decisions are made, to build up our evidence base and to target our work more effectively. Anecdotally, there has been a lot of change in requirements at school level. As an organisation who responds to schools’ needs, we decided to survey trusts to find out exactly what those needs are. We also aimed to find out which decisions trustees are responsible for making, and which lie with the LGBs (or equivalent). The mandatory scheme of delegation can only tell us so much!

51 MATs, comprising 520 schools, responded to an online survey. Thank you to our partners Irwin Mitchell and The Key for supporting us to carry this out in a number of ways. The results show the skills that are needed on the Trustee Board and LGBs, and their relative importance, which means we’re more able to cater to trusts needs in finding suitable people for these roles.  It’s important to say that while the sample size is small, the trusts represent a good cross-section of geography and size.  It is worth noting that we are offering a perspective on one aspect which contributes to governance, rather than drawing conclusions on the overall effectiveness of governance in these trusts.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about our MAT survey at the Festival of Education, sharing our insights with others in the field who are passionate about education and governance in particular.

What did we learn?

There are several takeaways from the report, which you can read in full on our website, but I’ve outlined five key findings:

  • The size of the MAT has no relationship to the extent of centralised decision making

This was an interesting find for us – we expected to see a trend towards larger MATs making decisions more centrally. Instead, we found that while one of the largest MATs had the highest centralisation, those with the six next-highest only had five or fewer schools.

  • 88% had school level boards, and the remainder had a regional board.
    The vast majority of Trusts have decided to keep their boards at school level, which will help to ensure that these schools are embedded in their communities, as well as having a role in the governance structure.
  • The school’s ethos isn’t directed entirely by trustees

We were surprised by this finding – we expected that the trustees would set the ethos for most MATs. While 17 MATs said the trustees set the ethos, 12 said setting the ethos was a joint role for the LGB and the trustees, with a further 15 tending towards the LGB making this decision.


  • The most important skills are the same for both trustees and LGB governors

The top skills (ranked by importance) needed for both trust boards and LGBs are Education, Safeguarding and Finance.  The area which showed the greatest disparity in importance between trust boards and LGBs were Legal, HR, Procurement and also Finance skills.


  • It’s hard to find both local governors and trustees

The majority of respondents thought that it is difficult to find volunteers for both types of role. Within this, a greater number said that finding school governors was hard.


So what does this mean for us?

The main takeaway from this survey is that we must continue offering a bespoke service to each school trust. We can’t assume requirements based on number of schools or whether the vacancy is a trustee or local governor. Understanding the exact nature of each vacancy is really important.

We have seen there will be continue to be high demand for people to volunteer as local governors since the vast majority of school trusts have these boards and plan to keep them.

Finally, the results also validate our approach of partnerships with businesses and universities. Governors need to be highly skilled at both trustee and LGB level. Our partnerships mean that we’re able to find and place these skilled people on boards across the country.