Demands on academy governors prompting growing recruitment crisis

Birmingham school investigations put governance in spotlight. The increased responsibilities placed on Governors at Academy Schools risk creating a recruitment crisis, with nearly a third of Academy Boards of Governors already finding it harder to secure suitably qualified Governors, says UHY Hacker Young, the national accountancy group.

UHY Hacker Young warns that the problem is likely to intensify as academy and free school governing boards come under greater scrutiny from local communities, the media and Ofsted following recent investigations into Academy schools in Birmingham.

27% of governing boards now find it harder to recruit new members than they did before the school took on Academy status, with recruiting ‘community’ governors with no existing affiliation to the school posing a particular problem.  

The survey found that governors at 20% of academy schools resigned before their four year term was up, or decided not to renew their term, after the school acquired Academy status.

UHY Hacker Young explains that academy schools, which have greater freedoms over staff appointments, pay, and other issues than local authority schools, also have a different legal status. This means that governors of academy schools take on more, and broader responsibilities, than for an equivalent role at a local authority run school.  

Allan Hickie, Partner at UHY Hacker Young, says:

"With talk of a tougher Ofsted inspection regime and an intense spotlight on school governance, the concern is that academies are going to find it harder and harder to recruit new Governors as existing Governors decide to step down."

UHY Hacker Young notes that one in ten academies would consider funding governors’ salaries if the rules barring non-staff remuneration were lifted. This suggests a growing view that remuneration may be needed to attract suitably qualified governors. Many boards of governors now believe that specialist skills are needed to fulfill both their financial responsibilities, and the requirement that they hold the head teacher to account over the school’s academic performance.

Allan Hickie adds:

"The vast majority of Academies we have worked with have already given their Governors training and support on their new financial responsibilities under charity law, but it is still an area that Governors find very challenging.

"Even the seemingly less technical part of the job – holding the Head to account over academic performance - is becoming more specialised.

"Ofsted is now very focused on ensuring that schools don’t ‘coast’.  If a school already has a high achieving intake, then good results alone will not guarantee a good Ofsted report.  That gives Governors complex new data to understand around what ‘value’ the school adds.

"One Chair of Governors told us that most Governors find it very difficult to query the vast amount of data they get, and that they really needed governors from an education background - even a retired Ofsted inspector - in order to be able to challenge the School Leadership Team on performance.

"If schools cannot find individuals that already have the expertise to take on these roles easily, then more support needs to be made available both to existing and prospective Governors. People will not willingly give up their time if they are concerned that they will find the responsibilities overwhelming.

"It is significant that such a large proportion of schools would now be prepared to contemplate breaking with tradition and offering some remuneration to get the right mix of skills on their Governing Boards."