Schools and trusts slow to publish governors diversity data

Government wants diversity details of boards to be 'widely available', but data protection a barrier, report trusts

Government wants diversity details of boards to be 'widely available', but data protection a barrier, report trusts

Fears over data protection and a lack of responses are preventing schools and trusts from publishing information on the diversity of their governors and trustees.

Last year, the government encouraged leaders to collect information on governing boards and make the figures “widely accessible” to make boards “increasingly reflective of the communities they serve”.

New governance guides tailored separately for maintained schools and academy trusts and released this week re-emphasised the push.

A National Governance Association survey in 2021 found 93 per cent of respondents were white. Just 1 per cent were from mixed or multi-ethnic groups, 3 per cent were Asian and 1 per cent were Black.

But analysis by Schools Week of the websites of the largest trusts, as well as a random sample of smaller chains and local authority maintained schools, found very few have published data so far.

‘Lack of clarity’

Sam Henson

Sam Henson, deputy chief executive of the NGA, warned there was a “lack of clarity on what data should be published and how to avoid identifying specific board members”.

“Given these challenges and the already heavy workload that boards are grappling with, it’s not a total surprise that many have chosen not to engage,” he said.

Samira Sadeghi, director of trust governance at the Confederation of School Trusts, added that, while the principle behind the idea was “a good one”, there are “practical challenges in doing this and meeting data protection requirements.

Samira Sadeghi
Samira Sadeghi

“Boards and committees will usually be quite small, and trusts need to avoid inadvertently disclosing individuals’ personal data,” she said.

Of the 10 largest trusts, none have published data. The Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust’s website states that it has asked – but so far only received data from 5 per cent of governors.

Chief executive Nick Hurn said he did not know why the response rate was low, but this was “maybe apathy rather than anything else”.

Trusts face diversity challenge

Some trusts also struggle more than others to recruit ethnically diverse governors because of their location.

In the North-East, where his trust operates, 90.6 per cent of the population is white British, compared to 81.2 per cent in the North-West and 71.8 per cent in the East Midlands.

Being a Catholic trust “adds another complication”, as governing bodies have to be made up mainly of “practising Catholics”, he added.

“Schools could do with professional people helping on boards, and we do have a good range, but there’s probably more people who could provide skills and expertise which schools would benefit from,” Hurn added.

“It’s very difficult to get people to do these jobs because it’s a hell of a lot of time and commitment for people who have busy jobs themselves.”

Collating data takes time

A spokesperson for the Acorn Education Trust said they were “confident that our governors and trustees reflect the communities they serve”, adding that collating the information while respecting privacy was a “lengthy process”.

REAch2 said it was in the “process of finalising details of this data as it will cover all those who volunteer across our schools to support our governance and not just trustees, and we will publish this in due course”.

The Academies Enterprise Trust said it was in the “final stages of concluding a recruitment process for additional trustees to join our board and, once completed, we will review what we are able to publish, while being mindful of GDPR requirements”.

Concerns over data protection are a common theme. United Learning said it did not currently publish data “as this would lead to identifying individuals and protected characteristics in data protection terms”.

Data protection issues

Oasis Community Learning said data protection law restricted the “processing of special category data, such as ethnicity, without appropriate grounds”.

“While we are unable to provide specific ethnicity details due to these legal constraints, we remain committed and continuously strive to ensure that our trustee selection process prioritises diversity and representation.”

GLF Schools does not publish diversity “as it is not a statutory requirement, but the trust recognises and celebrates the diversity of our schools and our communities”.

Ormiston said diversity and broad representation was “very important to us” and that trustees were profiled on its website, but it did not address the lack of data.

The DfE acknowledged that in some cases individuals may be identifiable, even when data is anonymised. “We would not expect schools or trusts to publish information when doing so could bring the risk of harm to an individual,” it added.

However boards that choose not to publish their diversity information “are still expected to reflect on their membership and take action to address any diversity gaps that they identify”.

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