Trust chairs should walk before they run, says commissioner

People who want to chair the company board of multi-academy trusts should consider taking a more junior position first, says the south-west regional schools commissioner.

Sir David Carter (pictured) believes that more succession-planning should be done for the role of chair in academy chains, in the way it is for headships.

But he makes it clear that there is room for some “really, really able” people to go straight into chairing a trust.

Legally, multi-academy trusts (MATs) are charitable companies, run by a board of directors. Frequently a non-executive chairperson heads the company’s board.

Speaking at the Capita SIMS multi-academy trust conference on Wednesday, Sir David said: “I think there’s a journey for people in the private and public sector, who are thinking of entering this territory.

“I’m not entirely sure that if we set our stall out – to go and recruit chairs of multi-academy trusts from people who’ve never done it before – we’re going to get very far.

“Part of our wider responsibility is to work with business leaders, private [and] public sector people who want to become directors initially and make them understand the journey, and then become part of the succession plan.”

After the conference, Sir David told Schools Week: “The best MAT boards that I’m aware of in my own region, and probably nationally, have a really good mix of private and public sector experience.

“Yet the governance structure that we’ve historically had has generally been a representative one, with able people, but they represent a school, or they represent a community, or their child possibly if they’re a parent…

“What we’re trying to do in the system now is to move the multi-academy trust model to a model where it’s more commercially thought about in terms of the rigour and the challenge that you would bring from the boardroom in the private sector.”

He added: “There are clearly some really, really able people who are going straight from that role into the chair of a trust – I want to make clear, there’s room for that.

“However, in a place like the south-west, where I don’t have the density of industry and business as you might have in London and the south-east, I won’t have as many people there. And I think there’s an element of growing people into that role.”

He said that after becoming a director of an academy trust, board members could then either be considered in succession planning at that trust, or go on to lead another chain.

Regional school commissioners are part of the government’s new “middle tier” of accountability, sitting between individual academies and academy chains, and the Education Secretary.

Sir David established the Cabot Learning Federation chain, which runs a number of academies in Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Weston-super-Mare and Bath, after the headship of one of the trust’s schools. He was knighted in 2013.



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