Schools are, and will remain for some time, centre stage in the nation’s mind. Through partial closure to wider reopening, the magnificent job being done by leaders, teachers and support staff has been in the spotlight, reminding parents and the public alike just how vital schools are to their community. Coupled with this is upheaval to many people’s lives which has brought with it space to reflect on how and where we work and contribute to society. Given the ease of recruiting virtually, these circumstances lead to a great opportunity for boards to secure new trustees.
Much of a traditional process can be replicated virtually using phone, email and video meetings, and boards should take the opportunity to seek, interview, appoint and induct volunteers virtually, both to benefit as soon as possible from the skills and experience that they bring but also to ensure that you don’t miss out on good candidates as volunteers often explore multiple opportunities at once.
Many of the existing methods of searching for volunteers lend themselves perfectly to a virtual world. Whether you are working with Academy Ambassadors to find trustees or Inspiring Governance for local governing boards, both these services can be completely fulfilled online. Other channels you would traditionally use to make the opportunity available to as many candidates as possible include the trust’s website, social media and professional networks, all of which remain available to you. In fact, with many people still working at home, you may find that engagement with these digital channels increases. Everyone’s personal circumstances are different and our conversations with volunteers registered on Inspiring Governance have found that many would welcome being contacted.
Virtual interviews have existed for some time and are becoming more common, with organisations confidently and robustly using them recruit to all sorts of roles, including paid ones. Once you have identified the skills that your board needs through a skills audit, testing whether the candidate has those skills can be easily fulfilled in an online conversation.
Interviews can be conducted by video call and may have added advantages in that trustees will have more flexibility about when they can attend – perhaps trustees who have not otherwise have capacity or the opportunity can get involved. Play to your board’s strengths when choosing which trustees will conduct the interview and enable those who are more confident to take the lead.
Practical steps like having a dry run to get familiar with the technology, planning and allocating the questions in advance and emulating radio by bringing people into the conversation can help everything to run smoothly.
Given the time and logistics saved by conducting an interview online you could also use a two-stage interview with different people e.g. the vice chair and plus one trustee then the chair and plus another trustee to give you reassurance that the candidate brings the skills, experience and diversity of thought that you need. Due diligence can be carried out as usual by requesting references for potential appointments and scanning their social media accounts. You can also make a visual check of identification.
Once you have a preferred candidate you can confirm their appointment at a virtual trust board meeting using a confidential voting process which your Clerk can provide guidance on.
Although trustees can be appointed virtually, there have been no amendments to the requirements relating to Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. For academy trust boards, individuals are required to hold an enhanced DBS certificate upon appointment or as soon as practicable. In terms of obtaining these checks, new temporary rules make this easier as outlined in this guidance (section 12.4). It is important to remember that the trustee must present the original versions of the documents as soon as practicable.
Inducting new trustees
Once you have successfully appointed a volunteer, they will need to be given a tailored induction to help them make sense of the information and processes related to governance and to give them a confident start in their role. The Clerk can send all your usual introductory information such as a copy of the code of conduct, the scheme of delegation and the trust’s strategy by email or by cloud document. Pairing the new trustee up with a buddy – someone who is experienced in governance – can provides an opportunity for them to ask any questions about the role and learn the lay of the land, and this can easily be conducted via a phone or video call. Again, present circumstances may mean that trustees have more time and space than usual to give to listening to and motivating new volunteers. Finally, encouraging your new trustee to take advantage of eLearning, like NGA Learning Link, means that new volunteers can begin with their governance development straight away at a pace which fits around their other commitments, and is an ideal way for them to get up to speed with their new role until you are able to offer your usual face-to-face training and support.
Judith Hicks is Head of Inspiring Governance at the National Governance Association