Board chair

Haverhill, Suffolk (GB)
31 Oct 2019
14 Nov 2019
Unity Schools Partnership
Executive Management, Strategy
Contract Type
Voluntary / Trustee

Unity Schools Partnership

Unity Schools Partnership seeks a non-executive Chair with senior corporate governance experience to join a strong board supporting 25 schools in the east of England. The trust is built from a partnership across schools that respects, sustains and supports. Its model is about creating interdependence; schools that are more self-sustaining than stand-alone academies, less dependent than local authority schools and more independent than schools in corporate chains. Board meetings are held in Haverhill, Suffolk.

About the trust

Unity Schools Partnership oversees 25 schools: 7 secondary, 2 special and 16 primary in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Romford in East London.

The trust has been approved to open three new schools: a special school in Ipswich in 2020, a special school in Romford in 2022 and a primary school in Lakenheath in 2022. The Department for Education (DfE) has asked the trust to take on three schools judged inadequate at recent inspections during 2019. Unity Schools Partnership currently oversees the education of 11,600 pupils and employs 1400 staff with an annual budget of just over £60 million.

The trust is led by CEO, Tim Coulson, who joined in 2017 following his role as Regional Schools Commissioner, East of England and North East London.

The trust began with the Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill, which successfully opened a free school, a special school in its grounds in 2013. The trust went on to turn around a secondary school in difficulties and three poorly performing primary schools. Additional well performing schools requested to join as well as further schools that have joined because they needed a trust with the capacity to support further schools in challenging circumstances. The trust leads one of 32 schools in a national Research School Network, which aims to provide to teachers in the trust and across the area learning from education research about effective teaching strategies.

The trust is in a second phase of leadership and governance, with the current chief executive and chair both starting in 2017. The board is ambitious for the schools to be performing very highly and to operate with high levels of transparency and integrity. Upcoming strategic considerations for the board include:

  • Expansion and growth, or consolidation
  • To assess and identify the strength of leadership and talent throughout the trust
  • To continue to maximise the efficient use of financial resources and identify further opportunities for improvement, e.g. procurement and commercial avenues.

Plans for the future

The key challenges for the board over the next 12-24 months are:

  • Rapidly raising standards from national average in secondary schools to well above, and in primary schools from below national average to well above
  • To ensure every school does much more than focus on exam results and provides a great education - 'Results Plus' - to all its pupils
  • Develop an emerging special school strategy

Trust ethos & values

The trust’s mission is to enable students to achieve to their potential through efficient and sustainable, drawing on the collective wisdom and leverage of the trust; and to raise standards and transform lives by smashing through the barriers that have restricted schools’ and pupils’ progress. For more information, please see

Role summary Number of positions advertised:


Trustees – or non-executive directors - are both charity trustees and company directors of the academy trust. The core functions of their role are: ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction; holding executive leaders to account for the educational and financial performance of a charitable company funded by the public purse. The board of trustees manages the business of the academy trust and may exercise all the powers of the trust in compliance with its charitable objects, company and charity law.

In the interests of safeguarding, all trustee appointments would be subject to an enhanced disclosure and barring service check.

Every trustee is expected to abide by the trust’s code of conduct and the seven principles of public life set out by Lord Nolan: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The Competency Framework for Governance (DfE) 2017 details the knowledge, skills and behaviours required for effective governance:

The trust seeks two new non-executive directors capable of making a strong contribution in a strong board and intends to run internal and external recruitment activity to appoint a Chair. Successful applicants who are not appointed as Chair will be invited to join the board as non-executive directors. Candidates should be highly able, experienced directors who will work well with an established and strong board. Diversity is currently not a strength across the board.

Role 1 – Chair of the Board

The Chair leads the board of non-executive directors, or trustees, managing its business while providing an element of leadership for the organisation as a whole. The role is to hold to account the executive and senior leadership team, most specifically the CEO. The Chair needs to ensure that the board is able to deal with problems and related proposals professionally, both in terms of the skills of the trustees and the way in which it conducts its business. S/he will have a key role to play in recruiting and inducting new trustees.

The Chair also provides strategic leadership and governance for the trust. They are responsible for the safeguarding and education of pupils, as well as for setting and monitoring performance benchmarks.

Person specification

The strategic expertise required for this role includes:

Essential (candidates may be accepted who possess one or more of the skills below):

  • Gravitas and ability to guide and lead
  • CEO/Chair
  • Build chemistry with the Exec and Board
  • Growth/Change Management
  • Time and ability to engage with the schools and management
  • Represent the organisation externally


  • Non-executive/ Trustee
  • Corporate Governance
  • Financial Control and Risk Management
  • Education and school improvement

See Candidate Pack for a full role description.

Time commitment

6 hours / month minimum. There are five board meetings a year plus a whole day for a strategy meeting. Board meetings start at 10am and usually end at 2.30pm.

The Audit committee meets at least three times a year (not all Directors are on this committee). Audit committee meetings try to be after or before a Board meeting. The Remuneration Committee meets once a year (again, not all Directors are on this committee).

Key dates

We strongly recommend applying as early as you can to have the best possible chance of being considered as we may change the closing date if we have received sufficient applications. Applicants should be aware of the following key dates in the recruitment process.

Deadline for applications: Friday 15th November 2019

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