Why an ex-student as trustee will push Ark to new heights

Former students have been invited to apply for a unique new role on Ark Schools’ board of trustees. Director of governance Liz Dawson explains the trust’s reasoning

Former students have been invited to apply for a unique new role on Ark Schools’ board of trustees. Director of governance Liz Dawson explains the trust’s reasoning

13 Sep 2021, 4:00

Like many organisations, Ark Schools continuously reviews its governance structure to ensure it remains fit for its purpose and provides maximum benefit for the trust. We’re fortunate to have a dedicated team of volunteer trustees and governors who support our schools, and over recent years we have expanded our board to broaden the range of skills and experience further.

In July 2021, trustees decided to specifically recruit from among our student alumni community -someone who could offer a unique perspective on the wide range of issues our board handles. While many of our current trustees are involved in our local school governance, we strongly believe that having someone who studied in one of our schools will be invaluable to our board discussions.

We have seen this approach work well at a local level, with a small but growing number of alumni joining a local governing body (LGB). They offer a genuine insight into the real experience of being a student at one of our schools and a young person living in the diverse communities we serve. We plan to increase the number of alumni on our LGBs, and we will be drawing on those signed up to our alumni platform, which now has over 7,500 members.

Yes, there are risks. The pandemic has highlighted the enormous responsibility of being an academy trustee, and Ark Schools now has 39 schools, so every decision made by our board has a huge impact. The idea of being a trustee and having ‘a seat at the table’ will no doubt feel exciting for the successful candidate, but we have given a lot of thought to how we are approaching recruitment and how we will support our new trustee.

Our mission to transform lives doesn’t end when a student leaves school

When talking to candidates, we have aimed to give them the right balance of risk and reward. Ark Schools has an income of about £200m, nearly 29,000 pupils and almost 6,000 staff. Very few young people have to consider the responsibilities that come with that or understand the statutory frameworks that academy trusts must operate within and the consequences if something were to go awry. Our existing trustees have been working at a senior level for many years, so as welcoming as they will be, we’ve also given a lot of thought to how daunting joining the conversation will be initially.

As with any plan, risk and mitigation go hand-in-hand. Ark Schools has a strong executive team that provides advice and guidance to the board, underpinned byclear policies and embedded practices. Although we can’t foresee every eventuality, we work hard to reduce any risks to the trust and its schools, which minimises the risks held by trustees. Alongside the detailed induction that all new board members receive, one of our trustees will act as a mentor offering support and advice. There will also be a member of the governance team meeting with them regularly.

Why have we chosen to do this? We see the rewards for us that will come by having an alumnus as trustee, and we hope the rewards for them will be even greater. Along with the alumni on our LGBs, we also have some of our alumni as interns at our parent charity Ark, as venture partners supporting the projects we incubate and support. We know how these opportunities increase their skills and confidence, how they expose them to a wide range of experiences, opportunities and networks they might not otherwise have and how it helps them to build their CV and consider where they want their future to take them.

The experience of the past 18 months demonstrates the need to further involve and engage students and the wider communities we serve in everything we do.

Our mission to transform lives through education doesn’t end when a student leaves school, and our relationship with alumni is two-way, so we know that their insight will strengthen our decision making.

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