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New Schools Network

Since 2009, NSN has been at the forefront of an agenda promoting equal standards of education and life chances of all children in England.  We know that too often, a young person’s background dictates their destination in life, entrenching inequality and impacting communities for generations to come. Through the last decade, we have passionately championed breaking down barriers to a good education, through every divide, be it the area where you live, your family background or race.

Ethnically diverse communities have had their standards of education transformed by the free schools programme. A higher percentage of pupils from black and minority ethnic communities attend free schools when compared to other schools. As the top performing type of school at primary and secondary level in England, the programme is a vehicle for social mobility and delivering for left behind communities.

But, NSN recognises that there is much more to do. It is no longer enough to tackle the scourges of racism, lack of diversity and inequality with one approach.  NSN’s senior leadership team has been listening to staff and stakeholders to understand what role the charity can play in breaking down barriers in education. Charities must act on, not just talk about, change- NSN will do that. Having worked with the staff body, NSN’s trustees are today announcing a series of commitments to further our work.

New Schools Network’s Academy Ambassadors Programme is committed to meaningful diversity and inclusion. We believe a diverse academy trust board – in thought, skill, and experience – offers the best range of perspective, and the best support and challenge to the leaders it holds to account.

Figures from our annual diversity survey of all Ambassadors in August 2020 showed 13% of Ambassadors that responded are from BAME backgrounds; 5% are from the LGBTQIA+ community; and 33% are women. We are proud of the progress made over recent years to encourage more women and people from BAME backgrounds to volunteer on academy trust boards.

Results of our annual diversity showed respondents appointed in financial year 2019/20 were more diverse than previous cohorts, with more female than male Ambassadors appointed; the highest figure of Ambassadors with a disability appointed; and the breadth of religious belief, sexual orientation, ethnic background, employment status and qualification level more wide ranging.

While Academy Ambassador appointments are broadly in line with FTSE 100 board positions, and these figures suggest positive trends in more diverse recruitment by academy trusts, we recognise this is not enough. We continually evaluate and reflect upon our procedures to ensure we are promoting board recruitment practices that remove barriers to volunteers from diverse backgrounds being appointed to, and retained in, non-executive director roles.

We are working with industry partners to curate a series of new offers to match diverse candidates to roles that will provide professional development and support their careers in business; we have reviewed and increased the job boards we use to promote roles, ensuring they are reaching the broadest audience; we are developing partnerships with diversity and inclusion networks in business; and we are matching professionals with academy trust roles exposing more diverse candidates to board roles.

We are also listening to NSN staff, businesses, and Ambassadors to learn more about lived experience and how academy trusts can make sure their own recruitment practices are encouraging a broad range of candidates.

We recognise that this must be an ongoing endeavour, with impactful and tangible results, but we are unwavering in our commitment to more diverse academy trusts. We will keep working hard to see broader representation on academy trust boards because we believe a diverse board positively impacts outcomes for children of all backgrounds and for society as a whole.

In October 2020, New Schools Network, together with the Confederation of School Trusts, published On Diversity: An Essay Collection. The collection has been written by six trustees from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds, who reflect on their personal and professional experiences. It also includes a foreword from best-selling author Matthew Syed.

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