Governors for Schools CEO Louise Cooper explains why we decided to create a campaign to encourage diversity on school governing boards, and looks at the data to explore whether diverse boards have a positive impact on performance.
Diverse governing boards mean more robust debate, better decision making, and improved educational outcomes for children. With this in mind, we decided to make diversity the main theme of our new campaign, Governor Stories. The campaign celebrates the diversity of people who volunteer as school governors by featuring 32 current volunteers from across the country, sharing their governor stories through video, portraits and captions. We want to show that there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ governor. Volunteers come from all walks of life, and each bring their own unique skills and experiences to the board.
In the last five years, 49% of the governors placed by Governors for Schools were female. 68% were under 45 years old, and 21% were from BAME backgrounds. This sounds pretty diverse – so why are we dedicating an entire campaign to encouraging diversity? Surely these school governing boards reflect the communities they serve?
Prompted by these stories, and by ongoing debate in other sectors, we decided to delve deeper into the data. We compared schools to other sectors when it comes to diversity on boards to find out what effect diverse boards have on schools and volunteers.
Does diversity result in better performance?
First of all, we considered the evidence to suggest that more diverse boards result in better performance.
A 2018 McKinsey study of more than 1000 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 33% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. Those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 21% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. But why?
It was explained that “while not causal, we observe a real relationship between diversity and performance that has persisted over time and scale, and across geographies. There are clear and compelling hypotheses for why this relationship persists – including improved access to talent, enhanced decision making and depth of consumer insight, and strengthened employee engagement and license to operate.”
These are all reasons why school governing boards rely on a diverse group of people to make the right decisions. The aspects of enhanced decision making, depth of consumer insight and strengthened employee engagement apply in the context of schools.
Let’s look at three different aspects in more depth: gender, age, and ethnicity.
School governing boards are performing well in terms of female representation compared to other sectors. Governors for Schools data shows that placed governors are equal from a gender perspective. The NGA/TES 2018 survey shows a female governor population of 61%2. However, this drops to 42% when it comes to Chairs of MATs.
In the charitable sector, Green Park reported that only 42% of trustees from the top 100 charities were female3. The efforts to increase the numbers of female directors in the corporate world are well documented, with the FTSE 350 achieving 26.6% after years of efforts from individuals, companies and groups such as the 30% Club4.
Perhaps the most interesting angle is that governors can influence – and help rectify – the gender imbalance highly visible in certain professions and in positions of senior leadership, by tackling one of the roots of the problem before it has the chance to manifest. In their role, governors can make sure that girls have the same opportunities as boys to explore areas traditionally considered ‘male’ – thus tackling the gender imbalance from an early age.
Nadia from Newcastle told us that “Most people can’t believe I’m an engineer. I’m one of three girls in my office. We’ve battled through an education system that’s told us we’re female so we can’t be engineers. I became a governor because I wanted to make sure opportunities were there for everyone, no matter what their situation – especially when it comes to encouraging girls to take on STEM subjects.”
From an age perspective, we’ve been very successful at inspiring mid-career professionals to become governors. 68% of placed governors are under 45 and for many of these people, it’s their first experience of sitting on a board. However, this doesn’t reflect the governor population as a whole. The NGA/TES survey highlighted that approximately 10% of governors across England are under 40. Trustees in the charity sector are in a similar position, with a third being under 505.
Boards need to include young people to bring perspective – especially when it comes to issues that affect them.
Our young governors described the value they bring to their boards. Cecilia from London says “Most people think I’m quite young to be a governor. I’ve been able to provide a perspective on the board that has influenced decisions by making other governors aware of the specific challenges young people in Haringey face, in terms of their relationships not just with education, but with the local community too.”
Josh in Leeds confirms this view: “Often people look at me and they see my age and they might be a little bit judgemental about my inexperience. But I actually think that’s what governing bodies need. I’ve found that the more diverse the governing body, the better the conversations and arguments that take place.”
13% of the working population in England have a BAME background. Green Park found that 8.1% of the top 100 charity trustees are BAME, with 7% of the leadership in the FTSE 1003. The NGA/TES survey respondents showed 7% of governors are BAME, yet 21% of Governors for Schools’ placed governors have a BAME background. So the school sector is broadly on a par with other sectors, with much work needed to broaden the ethnic intake of governors. The Governors for Schools data is influenced by a weighting towards London.
Teresa, a governor at a school in Romford, spoke about her motivations for taking on the role. “When I was at school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I grew up. I didn’t have many role models that inspired me. There were big international figures like Nelson Mandela and Oprah, but none that I could relate to locally. Children and young adults need to be inspired early on in their lives. They need to see people from their backgrounds in all walks of life, and at all levels.”
Teresa’s first-hand account highlights the fact that diverse governing boards act as one way of giving children role models they can relate to – improving their confidence, and employability, and chances of success.
So how is the school sector doing when it comes to diversity?
While the school sector compares favourably to others on gender, we still have work to do to when it comes to age and ethnicity. Many governing boards don’t reflect the schools they serve. We want to ensure that every governing board has access to the right skills, and a broad range of perspectives and experiences. This will improve decision making, standards of performance and education for children across the country.
How can you get involved
You can see all the stories across our social channels and on our website, with new stories launching every week.
- School Governance in 2018 – an annual survey – NGA / TES
- Green Park Leadership 2000, 2018.
- A Breath of Fresh Air, Young People as Charity Trustees, Charity Commission, 2009.