Chairing a Multi Academy Trust. Michael Tait offers some perspectives on chairing a Multi-Academy Trust

The role of Chair for a multi academy Trust (MAT) is an unpaid one but this is no reason to do anything else but a professional job leading the affairs of the board. After all, the MAT and it’s board of trustees have very important responsibilities. The Trust is not only responsible for the children’s education and quality of school experience, it must ensure safety and wellbeing at all times. Chairing a MAT also has onerous responsibilities for the performance and statutory duties as a limited company. A poor or ineffectual board will inevitably impact all these things.

So what’s it like chairing a multi-academy trust? One aspect that has struck me the most is the sheer complexity involved due to being so heavily regulated by government. Another aspect is the difficulty in finding trustees that can operate properly and professionally at board level where there are no politics and point scoring between trustees. This type of board seems to attract people who are more focussed on themselves than the MAT and so it is important to recruit trustees with a lot of care. An impressive CV doesn’t guarantee a great trustee.

A further difficulty for trustees is the never ending list of acronyms used in the education sector. Most trustees will not be from a teaching background yet they are expected to challenge and guide the executives who have a lifetime in the sector and in working with all these acronyms. All in all, chairing a multi-academy trust is by far the most complicated and challenging chairman role I have ever undertaken.

I inherited a board which had it’s share of politics and I wanted the very capable MAT executives to be free of such encumbrances. As such, a number of trustees were encouraged to move on and we went on to construct a board which focussed on issues and not personalities.

The Department For Education (DofE) require of all MATs to have two parent trustees. This presents a challenge because not all parents are from a professional background or are used to dealing with the complex affairs of a MAT board. It is difficult to find parent trustees that are capable of working effectively at board level and possess the right attitude that supports a harmonious board.

The MAT education sector in my view is notoriously bad at recruiting trustees. Trustees should be recruited against a planned schedule of skill and experience requirements. I.e. experience of certain disciplines such as Risk and Compliance or Finance. Proper interviews should be held and appropriate background checks made. This is just the same as recruiting directors of a commercial concern or government body. Particular attention should be made to evaluate a candidate’s personality and ability to communicate and contribute in the style desired.

Because of the depth and complexity of government regulations it is important to follow rules and procedures and a good clerk will advise and guide trustees through the legislative maze as well as properly record all proceedings.

The role of the Chair of a multi-academy trust is pivotal for setting the culture of the board and its journey throughout the executive levels and school staff. Teaching and running schools is a particularly stressful vocation and therefore the Chair has to be an effective leader and support figure for the executives and other management levels.

The role and qualities of the Chair is well described on the ICSA The Governance Institute website. As follows:

Click to access specimen-role-description-for-mat-chair-2019.pdf

Michael Tait has for the past three years been Chair and member and currently Vice Chair of a multi academy trust in Norwich. Mike can be contacted on 07831 105345 or mike.tait@btinternet.com