Academy volunteer workload “unsustainable”, study reveals

The chair of a multi-academy trust (MAT) will spend an average of 50 days per year carrying out the role, a new study has revealed.

The finding forms part of the National Governance Association’s (NGA) new report exploring the roles and responsibilities of trustees in large academy trusts and how the role can be made more sustainable and effective.

According to the analysis, the average chair of trustees spends around 31 unpaid hours a month, or around one working day a week, managing a trust. This equates to a combined estimated labour value of between £7.3 million and £9.8 million each year.

Worryingly, this is “well above” the 10 to 20 day per year quota the NGA suggests academy chairs should commit.

And while just one-third of chairs believe they should be paid for the work they do, an overwhelming majority (64 per cent) agree that it is not possible to work full time whilst chairing a MAT.

Despite best practice, the survey of 93 respondents also found that around half of chairs govern at an academy committee level, adding an average of 100+ hours per year to the time they spend chairing.

Chairing both trustees and at committee level is generally frowned upon, as it “blurs the lines” of accountability and introduces a conflict of interest.

Commenting on the findings, Tom Fellows, research manager at the NGA, said: “This research reveals that chairing a MAT is significantly different to chairing a standalone school, with many chairs taking more time in order to know their organisation well and hold executives to account.

“Yet, just like for chairing positions in standalone schools, it is a vital part of effective governance that the position of chair in a MAT is a sustainable and attractive role for volunteers from all walks of life.

“However, with those MAT chairs who took part in this study spending, on average, 50 days a year on governance duties, this will be less manageable for some depending on their personal circumstance.”

He added: “Understanding the time commitment associated with chairing a MAT, and how to make it more manageable for everyone who has the skills, experience and conviction to take on this vital role, will be a major part of phase two of this research.

“Nevertheless, what is already clear is that the contribution made by these volunteers needs wider recognition within the sector alongside a frank conversation around governance workload.”

Click here to access the report.

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