Trust boards told to ‘nurture’ new leaders

The academies minister has urged trust boards to “nurture” members who could step up to replace chairs.

Speaking at a governance conference on Tuesday, Baroness Berridge (pictured) said succession planning was “essential to ensuring continuity of leadership”.

A government-commissioned report published earlier this month found “succession planning was not commonly happening, with individuals generally being asked to fill the role following a resignation, rather than volunteering”.

Berridge said this needed to change. People should not be “coerced” into the role because there was a vacancy,

“There’s a difference between coercing and nurturing. As current chairs, I look to you to help nurture board members who may be interested in stepping up.”

Figures provided by the National Governance Association (NGA) suggest about 5,000 new school and trust chairs are needed each year.

The School and Trust Governance Investigative Report found that while trusts found the role of chair “difficult to fill”, there were few vacancies. Just 1 per cent of multi-academy trusts that took part in the study had a vacancy for a chair.

However, “most” of the respondents did not have any formal succession planning in place. “For most of these interviewees, it was an area of concern, particularly if they did not have a natural successor in place for the chair.”

The report said succession planning was “essential to ensure changes in leadership do not impede the governing body’s effectiveness”.

Many board members said workload put them off becoming a chair.

Berridge told governors most chairs would be “very active, and those witnessing this feel not able to provide the same level of commitment.

“But chairing doesn’t have to be done in the same ways as the previous postholder. This is the message that needs to go out into the sector.”

She also warned that boards should “not be cut from the same cloth. It doesn’t help boards with their business and isn’t always conducive to effective challenge.

“Diversity is critical to maintain this effective challenge and ensure boards better reflect the communities they serve.”

Just 3.5 per cent of governors are black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME). There was “still a lot of work to be done”, Berridge said.

Emma Knights, the chief executive of the NGA, called for a national campaign to recruit governors. The highly skilled leadership roles [of chair] requireed “nurturing and investment”, she said.