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Boosting the UK economy and your career: NED opportunities in education
The role of a non-executive director (NED) is fundamental to business success in today’s market. Not only do these professionals bring a wealth of unique insights and experiences to the organisations they work with, but they also build skills and gain broader perspectives for their careers. Looking at the public sector, and focusing on education particularly, there are some key differences in the role, but professionals from a more corporate background should not underestimate the value they can add or the experience they can gain from contributing to this space.
For those choosing to enter the public sector as a NED, it is both a rewarding experience and enriching career opportunity.
To further explore the benefits and opportunities that come with taking on the role of a non-executive director in the public sector, we spoke with David Ross, Founder of The David Ross Education Trust. Best known for co-founding The Carphone Warehouse Group plc, David is also chair of New Schools Network and a Trustee of Cathedral Academies Trust.
The importance of NEDs in education
As we have previously explored in articles focusing on redressing the gender balance of NEDs, non-executive directors should bring creative solutions and fresh perspectives to help organisations navigate the challenges they face. Through constructive feedback and objective insight, NEDs can use their expertise and personal experience to support decision making.
Looking at the education sector, David highlighted that it is one of the greatest challenges facing the next generation. He continued: “If you are in the business world, without a well-educated workforce, we faced fundamental challenges. If you believe that - as I do - you can't help but visit schools and become quite passionate about what it takes to create young people who will make a great contribution to their community and to their workplace in five or 10-years’ time. And there's no greater privilege than to facilitate and support children in taking on that opportunity for themselves.”
Quite often, those operating in the not-for-profit sector, including teachers, art gallery curators and even those who run charities, don’t understand some of the commercial and financial requirements that are placed on businesses. This is why non-executive directors with knowledge and experience in dealing with and navigating these challenges are so valuable.
“There are always challenges in doing these roles and there's always going to be an issue between the ways that the business world thinks about challenges versus the way that the education world thinks about challenges,” David said. He expanded: “But actually, what has been proven over the last 10 years is that successful education is being delivered by a marrying of business practice and best teaching practice in order to create schools that are absolutely driven by a desire to create great opportunities for young people as they move out of school and into the workplace.”
Is a NED role in education right for you?
Professionals in the business world possess a wealth of knowledge that can be contributed to the sector. Considering this opportunity for professionals to contribute to the sector, David highlighted that those going through the process of becoming a NED are not only making a worthy contribution to that organisation and the people that will benefit from their input, but they also benefit themselves as well.
There are numerous approaches to education, which might fall across multi-academy trusts through free schools. To ensure that the relationship is mutually beneficial for both the professional and organisation, it is important to make sure that the particular school or trust you are considering working with is taking an approach which aligns with your beliefs.
Ask yourself: “Am I really engaged with this company or organisation?” and “do I really believe in the product or the mission?”
To determine this, David suggests familiarising yourself with the numbers and financial stability of the organisation but that it is also important to identify the organisation’s direction of travel.
“If during that due diligence process, you work out that the organisation itself is heading in a direction that you are not comfortable with or that is not consistent with your values, then you must really think seriously about whether that's the right opportunity for you.”
Getting involved as a NED in the public sector
“If you want to have a successful step into the space, you need to make sure that your interests and the organisation's interests are closely aligned so that everybody is heading in the same direction.” David reiterated.
When assessing NED roles, he also urges professionals to look at two or three different opportunities. Consider which one inspires and engages you, which one has an environment you would like to work in, and look at whether you have a shared understanding with the people in the organisation; do you feel as though you can help deliver value there?
In summary, David shared his three top tips for becoming a NED:
1. Be passionate about the organisation
2. Commit time to the role
3. Be engaged with the mission
“Support the organisation and the people within the organisation. You must mitigate the challenge and you mustn't take the challenge as a personal issue. Challenge is a professional issue and that is the route to a better understanding by all parties of how the organisation can move forward,” he concluded.
If you would like to learn more about opportunities becoming a non-executive director in the education sector, visit https://www.academyambassadors.org/ or call 0161 638 8604.
Associate Partner, Page Executive