It’s been a week to reflect on the important role that trustees play in education, and for our Trustee Recruitment Service team, it has been an opportunity to talk to colleagues in the sector about the challenges finding the right people brings. 

We know that, as the academies sector continues to develop, trusts merge and more capacity is delivered, there is an evolution of the challenges felt ‘on the ground’ and around the Board table. The role of the Trustee is vital and getting the Board right – in skills, perspective, experience and personality – is one of the key challenges, and opportunities, facing Trusts. 

David Ardill oversees GfS’ targeted Trustee Recruitment Service and has seen a growing demand from across the sector since the service launched in 2022. He recognises that people undertake the Trustee role for a variety of personal and professional reasons: 

In my role I’ve been privileged to work with volunteers from every conceivable background – each brings something different to the role and the new perspectives; that independence and diversity of thought is something that is invaluable around a board table and we’re pleased to help Trusts of all sizes, phases and nature to identify the right people to bring challenge and accountability.  

We know the importance of the Trustee role; we know what a positive, lasting and impactful difference it can make to have the right people in the right roles. Many of the trusts we’ve worked with have come back for more support and we’re seeing demand for all manner of skills: from core examples such as finance, strategic leadership and HR to areas like environmental sustainability, change management and data analysis. 

GfS recently published a blog with the Confederation of School Trusts about the role of the trustee in the education sector, and David says that senior education leader are in growing demand from trusts who have current, upcoming and ongoing need around their Board tables: 

Increasingly, trusts want and need those with education leadership experience to step up. Ofsted inspectors, MAT leaders, school improvement specialists and others with extensive expertise in asking the right questions to hold executive leadership to account. As trusts grow, having a mindset that can challenge and question with robustness is vital.

David has been speaking to Sunita Yardley-Patel, Head of Governance at Ormiston Academies Trust, about the many facets of the role of Trustee, and how trusts can support volunteers to balance these aspects and have the impact they are looking for. 

The trustee role involves walking many fine lines; be supportive but be constructively critical, be strategic but don’t be operational, analyse performance but don’t create more work for staff…. 

We expect a lot from trustees, particularly given that the majority are volunteers; we expect regular meeting attendance, stakeholder visits, training and development. Yet we’re also always looking for ways to ease the burden and to make the role as easy, appealing and rewarding as possible so that’s enjoyable and worthwhile for those people to be involved in our organisations.  

Contributing to the success of an organisation is hugely rewarding, that’s why so many people do it

It’s clear that the role is vital to school trusts and their performance. We’ve been working with the Confederation of School Trusts on developing an eLearning course to support people to know more about the role before they begin, and then to support them in their first 100 days. Samira Sadeghi, Director of Trust Governance at CST explains:  

Trustees are ‘guardians of purpose’. They act as a compass to ensure the ship is on course. They provide leaders with the space to reflect on their plans and actions, think strategically, consider options and take a more expansive view.

They bring their skills and expertise to bear in testing assumptions, interrogating decisions, but also supporting leaders once decisions are made. They hold leaders accountable and provide that counter-balance in thinking that’s sometimes required to ensure decisions are the right ones. Probably most importantly, they insist on meaningful engagement with pupils, parents and staff to ensure their voices are heard and incorporated into decision-making. And they do all this voluntarily, because they are driven by a transcendent purpose to improve the life chances of our children and young people. Success in the education sector simply isn’t possible without our trustees.

Having the right support and information as they take the first steps in their role is key to their success. 

Sunita told us:

Trustee recruitment is becoming more challenging; but having regular conversations about governance, particularly around skills required to be an effective board and how to go about recruiting new members can be instrumental to effective succession planning.

In the words of our own Chair of Trustees, Dominic McGonigal:

It’s because of these needs that we created our Trustee Recruitment Service. We want to ensure the sector has the right people round the board table with the right skills and the diversity of thought that is vital to success.

We look forward to serving more trusts in the future by finding the skilled volunteers that fit their requirements. 

Hannah Stolton,

Governors for Schools CEO