Over the past ten years, academies have become central to the educational landscape. The Academies Act of 2010 decreed that all schools were able to become academies. Over time, the majority of academies elected to become part of a multi academy trust who have responsibility for the governance of its schools. The principle behind the multi academy trust is sound. It builds a strong board of trustees who have wide ranging business experience and expertise, allowing teaching staff within the academies to get on with their area of expertise- teaching. But how does a multi academy trust go about encouraging businesspeople, who already have busy professional lives, to become voluntary trustees?
This is a question that Dr. Harry Ziman, trustee of Cheshire based multi academy trust and not-for-profit charity, The Samara Trust, has pondered extensively. With a science and engineering background, Dr. Ziman took his first steps into the education sector as a parent governor at his child’s school. This developed into other school governance roles, including chair of Upton Heath Church of England Primary School, a school which became a founding academy of The Samara Trust.
15 years since his first taste of school governance, Dr. Ziman has chaired schools with every OFSTED grade, and is a national leader of governance. In addition to his role with The Samara Trust, based in Cheshire, Dr. Ziman has undertaken governance roles in schools further afield, investing many hours into these non-paid governance roles alongside his own demanding career. When asked what the appeal is of governance, Dr. Ziman is clear:
“The motivation and appeal of governance in the education sector is the ability to make a life-long difference to the development and welfare of young people, and making great places for staff to work in. It is a very rewarding thing to do. One learns new skills and knowledge and interacts with many interesting people.”
In July 2019, it was estimated that around 35% of all state funded maintained schools are academies, and as of January 2018, there were over 1,000 government approved sponsors. It is vital to bring a wide variety of business skills to the boards of multi academy trusts, including finance, people development, legal, finance and operations. Many though are put off applying for trustee positions due to their lack of education experience, but this shouldn’t be the case stresses Dr. Ziman:
“The first requirement is a passion and interest in young people. We are looking for people who have enquiring minds, who are able to assess and evaluate information, and contribute to decision making. The educational landscape is challenging; expectations of schools and trusts have increased, and financial pressures are acute. Schools and trusts need to serve every child from every background in their communities. Every child deserves a good school place, and it is the responsibility of us all to ensure that happens.”
The Samara Trust currently have vacancies for new trustees to join the relatively new Trust which was formed in March 2018 of three Church of England primary schools. Whilst all business skills are welcomed, there is particular interest for trustees with financial management, HR and buildings experience. As well as giving back to communities, making a material difference to the ethos and performance of schools, and ultimately positively impacting on the lives of young people, trustees can also hugely benefit from the experience says Dr. Ziman:
“Taking on a trustee role is a good way to network, developing and enhancing skills at board level. They may already work at board level, or this could be their first position on a board. As trustees, professionals could become involved in decisions about strategy, employment, budgets, scrutiny of education performance, plans for Trust schools working together, ensuring processes are effective and holding leaders to account for educational management and performance. There is a very wide remit.” Governance is about communities leading their own schools, says Dr. Ziman:
“As a trustee, individuals can engage with their communities and contribute to strong outcomes for children. The board meets for several scheduled committee and full board meetings each year at our schools, and may also be consulted by telephone and email between these times. There may also be opportunities to join working parties for specific projects. As a guide, one meeting per month is a likely time commitment for a trustee. It is an extremely exciting time to join The Samara Trust, as it continues on its journey to create increased opportunities for the children in our academies.”
The Samara Trust has three academies in Chester; Upton Heath, Clutton and Little Sutton Church of England Primary Schools. CEO of The Samara Trust, Paula Conlin expands on the development plans for the Trust saying:
“We are on a journey to create a bigger family of schools working together, making use of the breadth of expertise that already exists in our member schools. Supported by our trustees, we try and make the ever growing demands upon schools somewhat easier.”