Business support for academies reaches 600 appointments milestone

Increasing numbers of senior business leaders are choosing to give back to education by volunteering as non-executive directors (NEDs) or trustees of school academy chains. The not-for-profit Academy Ambassadors programme today (11 July) announced that it had made its 600th appointment to an academy trust. 

Academy Ambassadors provides a free, bespoke service matching business people and professionals with multi-academy trusts. The not-for-profit programme is funded by the Department for Education and was founded in 2013. 

The financial year 2016-17 saw an increase of 122% in the number of NEDs appointed to boards through Academy Ambassadors – 319 appointed in FY 2016-17, compared to 144 in FY 2015-16.  
There has been an increasingly large number of non-executive directors appointed to trusts in the North - 75 appointments made in FY 2016-17, compared to 32 in FY 2015-16. In 2017, so far, 27% of Academy Ambassadors’ appointments have been produced by the northern regions. 
A total of 938 business leaders volunteered support over the course of the financial year. The dramatic growth has been driven in part by the development of new multi-academy trusts and in part by a new recognition among employers of the contribution they can make to education. 

Academy trusts face the same challenges as any business: coming up with a compelling vision and strategy; operating within financial constraints; and creating a strong and effective governance structure. The role of board members is to lead the trust and provide oversight. 
Employers supporting the programme include HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Merlin Entertainment, Northern Powergrid, Rolls Royce and Santander. 2017 has also seen founders and entrepreneurs who understand the start-up challenge faced by new academy trusts becoming involved. The programme is endorsed by the Confederation of British Industry and Institute of Directors.  

Trends in 2017 have included:

  • trusts seeking new skills for their boards, including the recruitment of board members who have experience of small and medium-sized enterprise growth, organisational change and marketing and property, as well as traditional accountants and lawyers who remain in demand;
  • and the ‘northern powerhouse’ effect – 2017 has seen significant increases in the numbers of trust and businesses becoming involved across the North, Lancashire, Yorkshire, East Midlands and Humber. 

Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, said: “There is no more important work than securing a good future for our young people. The academies programme is designed to unleash the potential of our best leaders and that includes the best from industry and the professions as well. By working together, inspirational educationalists and talented business leaders can provide a better future for the next generation.”

Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner, said: “I am delighted to see Academy Ambassadors reach this landmark. High-quality governance is important in effective leadership and driving up performance. This is why Academy Ambassadors plays a massively important role in the school system, providing high-quality people from the business world to support the governance of multi-academy trusts across the country.”   
Reece Booth, who led the Academy Ambassadors partnership with PwC, said: “Encouraging staff to get involved with Academy Ambassadors aligns with the two main principles of our corporate sustainability strategy: ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘being a catalyst for change’. That, in turn, leads to our employees making more enlightened business decisions based on their first-hand involvement with the wider community.”

The new appointees – in their words:

Chika Chukwujekwu, PwC’s Africa Business Group Lead and NED at the five-school Woodland Academy Trust, said:  “I believe that every child should aspire to a successful career, however, I still meet school leavers in East London who don’t believe they could ever work for a company like PwC just a few miles away. I want to help dispel this myth, raise aspirations and use my corporate experience to help headteachers who are doing good work to raise standards. After just three board meetings I can already see the impact and I look forward to seeing our board decisions result in good results for the children.” 
Richard Dunlop, recently retired after serving as Global Head of Corporate Structuring at HSBC, and NED at the eight-school Tapton Schools Academy Trust in Sheffield, said: 
“I have always valued the transformational effect that education can have on the lives of young people. When I was approached to get involved with Academy Ambassadors I was very pleased to be able to give something concrete back to local schools.”  

Caroline Bagley, Chair of the trust board at Tapton Schools Academy Trust, said: “Richard will bring his extensive knowledge and experience of the business environment and this will help with the future shaping and strategic development of the trust.” 
Liz Hughes, Founder and MD of compliance firm ionStar and NED at the nine-school Bourne Education Trust, said: “In a time when funding is tight, it is important to think creatively to help schools position themselves so that they can provide a creative and inspiring education for children. Academy Ambassadors were professional, extremely knowledgeable and helped guide me when making the leap into the education sector.”  
Anyone interested in applying for the role of a non-executive director at a multi-academy trust can find out more by visiting the Academy Ambassadors board opportunities.