Board diversity and governance for schools and trusts
The Black Lives Matter movement has made diversity a focus for schools and trusts. We look at the Charity Governance Code and how this can help you.
The death of George Floyd in America and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has brought diversity into sharp focus. School governing bodies and academy trust boards are looking at what this means for them. Having conquered the challenge of holding all their meetings by video conference within weeks of lockdown, something which had seemed impossible, they are wanting to apply their new-found confidence to the challenge of board diversity.
Charity Governance Code in overview
The Charity Governance Code provides a practical tool to help boards develop high standards of leadership and governance and was developed by the charity sector for charities and not-for-profit organisations. This applies to maintained school governing bodies and academy trust boards, both included in the references to a board below. While not a legal or regulatory requirement, the Code is founded on trustees’ basic legal and regulatory responsibilities and supports continuous improvement across the following 7 principles.
- Organisational purpose
- Decision making, risk and control
- Board effectiveness
- Openness and accountability
For each principle, the Code looks at
- the rationale (the reasons why it’s important)
- the expected outcomes (what you would expect to see if the principle was adopted) and
- the recommended practice (what might be done to implement the principle).
The Code recognises that recommended practice will vary between organisations and sectors. Boards are therefore encouraged to apply the recommended practice or explain what they have done instead or why they have not applied it.
Charity Governance Code and diversity
The Code considers that diversity supports the effectiveness, leadership and decision making of boards (the principle) by drawing on trustees with different backgrounds and experience to help encourage debate and make better decisions (the rationale). As you would expect, the Code confirms that diversity includes the following protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
However, the Code extends diversity to also include difference of background, life experience, career path and thought and identifies a variety of perspectives, experiences and skills and compliance with equality and diversity as key outcomes.
The recommended practice identified in the Code includes periodic training for the board and removing, reducing or preventing obstacles by adjusting the time, location and frequency of meetings (so those with other commitments can attend), sharing board papers electronically (which should be commonplace following lockdown), communicating using audio and Braille, paying reasonable expenses (which boards can do, for example to cover child-care and travel costs) and re-thinking the advertising of trustee vacancies. Boards make good use of Inspiring Governance, Academy Ambassadors, newsletters, social media and existing networks and contacts to advertise and fill vacancies and could engage with other schools and trusts in case they have governors and trustees who are coming to the end of their term and would fill a gap or senior leaders seeking personal development.
Recommended practice also includes: the chair taking regular feedback on how meetings can be made more accessible with constructive challenge and all voices equally heard; regular audits and reviews; plans to monitor and achieve its diversity objectives; and an annual report on what the board has achieved and its performance against those objectives.
The Charity Governance Code, while not a legal or statutory requirement, provides maintained school governing bodies and academy trust boards with a practical tool to evaluate and improve their effectiveness. In terms of diversity, this requires governing bodies and boards to reflect a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, skills and perspectives so that decisions are informed and considered and reflect the concerns of their students and communities. The recommended practice, while not exhaustive, provides clear actions for governing bodies and boards to take as they tackle the challenge of improving diversity.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Graham Shaw on 0113 244 6100.
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The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors