The government is planning to spend £1.2 million in a bid to recruit trustees to parachute into failing academy trusts.
Schools Week revealed earlier this year how the Department for Education was considering effectively reviving the academy ambassadors’ scheme, but with a focus on trusts in the greatest difficulty.
The previous trustee recruitment programme, run by the New Schools Network (NSN), allowed any trust to apply for free support to find business leaders to join its board.
But the programme was derailed when the network closed last year after losing its separate free school support contract.
A tender published by the DfE this week states that the new scheme will be open to trusts “the department is working with to drive improvement”.
Trustees joining such boards “will need to be able to deliver support effectively and at pace”. The government is therefore looking for a provider “who will be able to offer a high-quality onboarding support to candidates”.
It comes after a survey by the National Governance Association found the proportion of governors and trustees having difficulty recruiting new colleagues soared in the past year from 63 to 77 per cent.
Emma Knights, the association’s chief executive, said England more widely had “seen a falling-off of volunteering during and since the pandemic as people reconsider the priorities in their life. We think this is applying to school governors and academy trustees too.
“Many people also simply don’t know this is an opportunity available to them.”
In the tender, which is for a two-year contract with an option to extend to three, said the “vast majority” of trusts were “well-governed by their boards whose responsibility it is, with their members, to recruit a sufficient cadre of high-quality trustees”.
DfE wants ‘contingency’ recruitment service
They were “supported by a vibrant market of organisations that offer various recruitment services”.
With this support, most were able to operate effectively.
But “as a contingency, the department…requires a bespoke service to seek to ensure that, where this has not happened, high-calibre trustees, with the required skills, can be sourced for the boards concerned to appoint.
“We expect this to be a bespoke recruitment service which places the right people in the right roles, with a real focus on high-quality matches. We expect the vacancies to be filled through this service to have characteristics that make them challenging for the board to recruit to without support.”
For example, the provider “may need to find trustees for trusts with challenging geography or religious characteristics, or be asked to source candidates with very specific skillsets”.
Key performance indicators for the contract do not include a numerical target for recruitment, but state the successful bidder will be expected to match 80 per cent of vacancies with an “appropriate” trustee or chair within 12 weeks. This will rise to 85 per cent in year two.
Knights welcomed the tender to support certain trusts, but said the “volunteer workforce is approximately 250,000 and therefore a much wider approach is required”.
She repeated previous calls for a “national marketing campaign to raise the profile of roles in the general public domain.
“This has happened for other voluntary roles of national importance – but not this one. The current RAAC crisis is underlining just how important sound governance is.”