Two-thirds of school or trust governing boards have at least one vacancy as the number of empty posts hits a six-year high, a survey suggests.
The National Governance Association estimates there are now 20,000 vacancies for trustees, governors and academy committee members nationwide.
The sector body warns it may leave some boards struggling to drive improvement or sufficiently challenge leaders.
Its latest annual poll of more than 4,000 members in April and May highlights “major challenges” in recruitment.
Some 67 per cent of trusts are said to have at least one vacancy, up from 59 per cent last year, and 38 per cent of boards this year reported two or more vacancies, up four percentage points on 2021.
Most respondents in last year’s poll said Covid disruption had made recruitment harder, with greater challenges at multi-academy trusts and particularly their school-level committees than both standalone trusts and maintained schools.
Peers and experts recently warned the government against complacency over trustee recruitment. Some have predicted many more skilled trustees could be needed as its drive for all schools to join multi-academy trusts gathers pace.
Just 1 in 100 governors under 30
The NGA also warned schools are “missing the input from volunteers who have recently experienced school”. Its poll suggests just 1 per cent of governors are under 30 years old.
The number under 40 years old has also fallen from 10 per cent last year to just 6 per cent this year, the lowest on record since 2015, according to the analysis. Some 51 per cent are over 60.
Anju Dhir, an NGA member who became a governor in her 30s, said young people “simply don’t know what we do – or that we even exist”, noting there are “more governors 80 years and over than under 30”.
She called being a governor an “incredible” career opportunity, as well as a way to “give back to my local community”.
Emma Knights, NGA chief executive, said volunteers were owed “huge thanks” for carrying out their roles “without a song and a dance”, but added: “These findings make for sobering reading: schools need more good people and we need to get the message out far and wide to engage the thousands we need to fill governance roles.”
The body has created a new video explaining what governors’ and trustees’ roles involve, aimed at “demystifying” governance and making it more visible.
A Department for Education spokesperson highlighted the Inspiring Governance recruitment programme, and said it was “considering next steps to support the recruitment of academy trustees”. The Inspiring Governance contract contains gender, ethnicity and age targets.
“We encourage boards to regularly reflect on their recruitment practices, including whether they have the right overall balance of people from different backgrounds and skillsets, so they can take proactive action where necessary to address any challenges.”