Forum Education currently runs four regional networks for Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of multi-academy trusts (MATs); in the East Midlands, the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the West Midlands; involving over 40 MATs across the country.
Our work with these MAT networks and with other MATs in all regions has consistently highlighted the challenges faced by many MATs in recruiting and retaining high calibre individuals (people with the necessary skills, experience, and competencies) to their Boards of Trustees.
This led Forum Education to hold a roundtable discussion during early July 2017 with representatives from across our MAT CEO networks and beyond, including a number of trustees, in order to discuss some of the issues and to propose a number of recommendations for the system. These will also be shared with the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, and the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter.
The report came to the following conclusions:
- MATs and national stakeholders must do far more to raise awareness of the role of trustees and the difference they can make to children and young people’s education and to society generally. However, MATs and national stakeholders must also be very clear and upfront in their communications and advertising about what it means to become a trustee in terms of responsibility, accountability, skills and time commitment involved. It is important that prospective and serving trustees appreciate this and can make an informed decision about whether they are ‘right for’ the role.
- In recruiting trustees, there must be appropriate balance given to assessing their awareness and understanding of the education and academy context, and the specific skills and experience they bring to the trust board. Colleagues generally felt that whilst the necessary level of educational knowledge could be acquired fairly swiftly through high quality induction and training, it is crucial that a prospective trustee has the required skills, ethics and sense of moral purpose to do their best for the trust and therefore for the children and young people in its care.
- Attracting and recruiting new trustees should be a core part of the role of existing trustees and the Chair, who should foster and draw upon their local connections, including with national and local businesses, the third and public sector, community leaders and other local groups and organisations, in order to do this.
- There was wide ranging recognition of the level of responsibility and expectations placed upon Chairs. Colleagues had mixed feelings regarding whether Chairs of trustees and/or trustees generally should be remunerated for their roles. Some expressed concern that this may have the potential to distort the ‘market’ of individuals interested in joining trust boards, whilst others questioned if it was reasonable to expect individuals to undertake such responsible, time consuming and accountable roles without any offer of remuneration. Overall, participants felt that the remuneration of trustees was an area that could be explored and debated further by the sector, with reference to how this issue is managed in other sectors (such as the NHS).
- There needs to be more clarity at a national level regarding the role of trust Members and more openness about who these individuals are, their motivations, and the experience that they bring to this, ultimately, rather powerful position. Colleagues suggested the DfE should undertake a national audit of trust Members and publish key and appropriate information on these individuals on an online database.
- Colleagues felt that further work should be undertaken to look at the position of members within the academy trust system and to establish a charter setting out the duty they have for ensuring the overall success of academy trusts and the children they serve and to avoid conflicts of interest.
- Colleagues welcomed the support made available for MAT trustees by Academy Ambassadors, although some raised concerns about accessibility and frequency of opportunities in some areas.
- What is clear is the value and importance of the learning that comes from engaging directly with other MATs. Colleagues felt there was great potential for local MATs to collectively commission or develop joint training for their trustees, in order to achieve economies of scale and share learning.
- The Chair of trustees has a vital role in identifying the training and development needs of trustees. This needs to be made even more explicit as trustees’ access to CPD is vital if MATs are to retain the best individuals on their trust boards.
- The provision of training opportunities for trustees should include key areas such as an overview of procurement law, reducing and addressing/managing conflicts of interest, and also executive pay (with associated guidance provided by government on benchmarking). This would help to develop better understanding in the system in relation to those areas where trust governance has failed on a number of occasions. We would suggest that attending such training would be strongly recommended (and possibly be made mandatory) by the DfE and should be accessed by trustees every two years, to ensure they keep up to date with the latest guidance and legislative requirements. It might also be that Ofsted review in their co-ordinated inspections of MATs (or MAT inspections, if a framework is developed at some point) whether trustees have attended such training and evidence of how it is supporting best practice across the trust.
- There needs to be a shift in language and tone in respect of MATs, at a national level, to counter the negative and all too often sensationalist press that inevitably follows high profile failures of leadership and governance. This shift in language needs to include more upfront and constructive discussion around these failings, together with more open discussions around how governance could be further improved – drawing on evidence and examples of best practice. The system also needs to develop greater understanding (through independent research) about how high performing trusts go about achieving both better outcomes for children and young people and strong corporate leadership.
- At a national and regional level, it was felt that some regional schools commissioners (RSCs) must do more promote the value and best practice examples of MATs of all sizes, rather than too often giving the impression that it is the largest MATs that have all the answers (bigger is not always better).
- At a local level, it is the responsibility of MATs to promote their vision, the many benefits of becoming a trustee, and the roles they have available on their trust boards. It should be a core responsibility of trustees to promote their trusts and to encourage other skilled and committed individuals to apply to join their boards.
- MAT trustees have a key role in developing the narrative and vision for children and young people in their areas and in their schools, and it is important that trustees are able and confident to work with their MATs’ communities (including other local schools) to develop visions and success criteria that go above and beyond narrow government targets. MAT boards should make the most of their freedoms to develop visions based on a range of factors including children’s health, wellbeing, literacy and preparedness for their lives ahead.
These discussions with MAT CEOs and trustees attending Forum’s roundtable event, and subsequent input from others, have informed the following core recommendations (The full report can be accessed here: FINAL Forum Education Policy Roundtable Full Report ) :
- The DfE (and MATs themselves) should do much more to promote the role of trustee and the positive difference trustees can make to children and young people and to society generally. There is little general understanding in society of what MATs are, how they operate, and the role that trustees can play in making a positive difference to children and young people’s lives.
- The DfE must clarify and clearly communicate the responsibilities of the role of Chair of trustees for MATs, so that MATs themselves can make this clear when recruiting to the role and when succession planning. The DfE should emphasise the important role that Chairs should play in recruiting and retaining high calibre trustees to the board and in ensuring trustees have access to high quality training and development.
- The DfE should consider undertaking a national audit of trust Members to determine who they are, what they do, what their expertise is – and ensure this is made publicly available. The DfE should look to create a charter for Members of academy trusts (which all Members must sign) and all Members should publish a personal statement outlining their motivations for being a member on their trust’s website. A pro-forma questionnaire could be developed by the DfE for these purposes, so that this information is presented consistently and to a sufficient level of detail across all MATs’ websites.
- In light of the need to encourage employers to promote the role of trustee among their staff, the DfE should consider introducing an incentive scheme that requires organisations of an appropriately large size to demonstrate that they have supported a proportion of staff (as far as possible) to become MAT trustees. This could also help in terms of widening participation and improving the diversity of MAT trust boards
- The DfE must ensure that training for MAT trustees is accessible for MATs in all regions.
- The DfE should strongly recommend (and potentially make mandatory) the provision of training opportunities for trustees on key areas such as procurement law, reducing and addressing conflicts of interest, and also executive pay (with some associated guidance on benchmarking). Our view is that this training should be accessed by trustees every two years, to ensure they keep up to date with the latest guidance and legislative requirements. It might also be that Ofsted review in their batched inspections (or MAT inspections, if a framework is developed at some point) whether trustees have attended such training and evidence of how it is supporting best practice across the trust.
- The DfE and NSC should consider whether evidence of appropriate and impactful collaborative activity with other MATs should be a prerequisite for MAT growth; and Ofsted should look at collaboration as part of their focused reviews of MAT schools. Whilst there is great value in engaging directly with other MATs at a local and regional level (including through joint commissioning of some services or engaging in peer review, for example), attitudes to collaboration and willingness to share identified strengths and weaknesses between MATs remains mixed.
- At a national and regional level, the regional schools commissioners (RSCs) must promote the value and best practice examples of MATs of all sizes, rather than giving the (current) impression that it is the largest MATs that have all the answers. This will help to promote and raise awareness of the work of a wide range and diversity of MATs.
- The DfE should make it clear that it is a core responsibility of MAT trustees and Chairs of trust boards to promote the vision and work of their MATs and the benefits of joining a trust board in order to improve outcomes for children and young people.
- Further work should be undertaken to seek views of a wide range of stakeholders on whether Chairs of trustees/trustees should be remunerated, with reference to how this is managed in other sectors and the impact it may or may not have had in those sectors.
- MATs and other national stakeholders should actively engage in raising awareness of what it means to become a trustee – not least in terms of responsibility, accountability, skills and time commitment. However, these conversations and communications must also speak to the sense of purpose and chance to ‘make a difference’ inherent with serving as a trustee.
- Attracting, recruiting and developing trustees should be a core part of the role of the Chair, and this should be made more clear at central government and regional level (by the DfE and RSCs) and at a local level by MATs themselves through the Chair’s job description and as part of that recruitment process. Providing training for Chairs on recruitment and retention is essential. Likewise, Chairs must ensure that trustees receive appropriate training and development, including high quality induction.
- Serving trustees can play an important role in working with other local MATs and their trustees to develop a strong and engaging vision for educational improvement and children and young people’s success in their local areas – going above and beyond government targets and performance measures. In doing so, they can engage people of all backgrounds in the work of their trusts and in the opportunities that governance provides to make a difference.
- Indeed, MATs should play a much more active role in promoting themselves and the difference they make, and the Chair of trustee’s role should have responsibility for driving this activity as a core element of their role. At a local level, MATs should do much more to promote and market themselves as organisations and groups of organisations, including the roles they have available on their trust boards and the many benefits of becoming a trustee. Developing strong and ongoing relationships with local businesses, third and public sector organisations, community groups and charities is key.
- MATs must be prepared to spend appropriate resources (time, funding, etc.) on the recruitment of trustees given that it is such a crucial role. This must include a well-crafted information pack (which clearly sets out the expectations of the trust board); a robust application, shortlisting and interviewing process; a high-quality and engaging induction package; and ongoing investment in training and professional development (which is equally as important as the commitment to CPD for teachers and leaders).
- Groups of local MATs should consider collectively commissioning or jointly developing training for their trustees, in order to achieve economies of scale and share learning. This was particularly important for the smaller MATs (which remain the vast majority in the system).
- MAT boards should regularly engage in both external review and ‘skills audits’ of their existing trust board membership, in order to determine where there are gaps in the skills and expertise of their trust boards and also to support succession planning so that there are no gaps in skills sets when trustees leave the board following cessation of their tenure.
The full report can be accessed here: FINAL Forum Education Policy Roundtable Full Report
Learn more about our support for multi-academy trusts: Support, training and resources for multi-academy trusts
Learn more about our training and review for trustees and trust boards: Training & Development for MAT Trustees & Trust Board 2017-18-4