MAT chairs work more than double recommended hours, study finds

Chairs of trustees work the equivalent of a fifth of a full-time job running academy trusts, a new study has found, raising concerns over whether the workload is sustainable.

A survey by the National Governance Association found the average trust chair works 49.6 days a year – the equivalent to 21.4 per cent of what a full-time job would demand. In extreme cases, some work up to 24 hours per week.

We’re really trying to say here is some quantitative evidence that absolutely shows you the commitment that people are making, and we need to have an initial discussion about how sustainable this is

According to the research, the first of its kind carried out in the academies sector, the average trust chair is working almost two-and-a-half-times the 20 days per year recommended as a maximum for volunteer governors by the NGA.

Furthermore, the majority of chairs report clashes between their school roles and other elements of their lives. More than 63 per cent said it was impossible to chair a MAT and work full-time, while more than 66 per cent said their role impacts on the time they can spend with family or friends.

Academies minister Lord Agnew has previously said ensuring strong governance across the sector is one of his “top priorities”.

But Emma Knights, the NGA’s chief executive, said she hoped the research would kick-start a conversation with the government about how trustees can be better-supported.

“We’re really trying to say here is some quantitative evidence that absolutely shows you the commitment that people are making, and we need to have an initial discussion about how sustainable this is,” she told Schools Week.

Based on analysis of the hours worked and average earnings of chairs in their day jobs, the NGA estimates that they contribute between £7,344,720 and £9,792,640 to the sector in unpaid hours worked.

Furthermore, almost three quarters of MAT board chairs are also members of their trusts, spending on average 17 hours a year on that function alone, which the NGA says is “unlikely to be good practice”.

Chairs who also govern at academy level take on extra work of on average 100 hours a year.

The report also lays bare the challenge faced by the government in diversifying the school governor workforce.

Damian Hinds, the education secretary, recently backed calls for an increase in the number of ethnic minority governors, saying it was “vital that what [boards] say and do reflects their communities”.

Of the respondents to the NGA’s survey, all but one were white.

The mean age of respondents was 60.7, and 66.7 per cent identified as male.

“It might be that we have this discussion and say it’s fine to have mostly retired or semi-retired people in these roles, but we have to have that informed discussion,” said Knights. “We don’t want it swept under the carpet.”

The research, based on a survey of 93 chairs, shows support for trust chairs to be paid for their time has increased slightly, but still remains low, despite just 15 per cent being given paid time off by their employers to work for their trusts.

A survey last year found 29.7 per cent of chairs agreed there should be an option for them to be paid. The latest survey found 31.2 per cent supported the idea.

Knights added: “The evidence we have got from the sector is that those doing it don’t want it, and we can’t afford it anyway.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are hugely grateful for the significant time and commitment that chairs, governors and trustees give to their role.

“Chairing an academy trust can be one of the most stimulating ways to be involved in education. We engage regularly with the organisations like the National Governance Association to ensure that the role of governors and trustees continues to be sustainable, including for those with full time jobs and other responsibilities.

“The recently published workload reduction toolkit includes information to help governors review and reduce workload across their school/trust, including considering their own workload.”