Diversity concerns as governing bodies find it difficult to recruit

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The revelation that 96 per cent of school governors in England are White has sparked concern that many governing bodies do not reflect the ethnicity of the communities they serve.

The finding is among the results of the largest ever survey of governing bodies in England, carried out by the University of Bath and the National Governors’ Association and involving more than 7,700 school governors.

However, at the same time, the study has found that a vast majority of governors report problems in finding volunteers from their school’s communities who are willing to do the job.

In fact the study reveals a range of recruitment problems, with 66 per cent of governors reporting that recruitment is generally very difficult – this figure has remained unchanged since a similar survey in 2008.

There are around 350,000 school governors volunteering in schools across England, with the majority spending between four and 16 hours a month on the job (the average being 17.29 hours a month). 

Between them, they are responsible for a budget of £46 billion and the value of the work done by governors in the education system is now valued at £1 billion a year. The report – The State of School Governing in England 2014 – finds that governing in England is “functioning well and moving in the right direction”.

However, it points out that the proportion of governors who are White is notably higher than the proportion within the overall population (84 per cent). In rural areas, the figure rises to 97 per cent of governors who are White, while in city or urban areas it drops to 94 per cent.

The report states: “Compared with the English population, and more importantly with the local population in many settings, governing bodies do not tend to reflect the diversity of the ethnicity in their school’s community. 

“Moreover, it would appear that governing bodies tend not to appoint headteachers who reflect the diversity in the ethnicity in their school’s community.

“There is a very strong case for increasing the participation of different ethnic groups on governing bodies, especially in those communities where pupils are from a range of ethnic groups.”

However, the study admits that one of the main recruitment challenges is finding volunteers in the local community, with 89 per cent of governors reporting problems recruiting in their school’s wider communities.

At the same time, a further 85 per cent say recruiting staff governors is difficult, while 74 per cent struggle to find parents to serve on governing bodies.

The picture is more positive for secondary schools, with just 43 per cent of secondary school governors saying they have problems recruiting compared to 65 per cent for primaries. However, notably, 78 per cent of governors at schools judged to be requiring improvement said they struggle to recruit, compared to 51 per cent at outstanding schools.

The report recommends that more should be done to organise governing bodies so that they operate in “both family-friendly and work-friendly ways”, which would allow people in paid employment to participate more easily.

It also says that more must be done to show governing in a positive light in terms of the contribution it makes to society.

The report adds: “Respondents say that more recognition of what governors do, that is, being responsible for the conduct of their schools, and a stronger appreciation of what they do, would help with recruitment. Injecting some positive feedback of this kind into the school governing system would help with recruitment.”

Lead author, Professor Chris James of the University of Bath, said: “The recruitment of governors would be helped by greater recognition and valuing the contribution that school governors make. Central government has a role here in acknowledging and appreciating the responsibility governors undertake on its behalf.

“Employers have a role too in making it easier for their employees to be involved. What is very clear from our research is that recruiting governors can be very difficult and we need more volunteers with the right qualities.”

The study was released alongside the launch of a new body – the Inspiring Governors Alliance – which will work to encourage skilled people to take up governing roles and convince employers to support staff who volunteer.

It also came as the Department for Education issued changes to statutory rules for governing bodies of local authority maintained schools

Download The State of School Governing in England 2014 by going to http://bit.ly/1n1sHXe


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