Welcome to Forum Strategy’s Being The CEO report for 2022, our third such report over consecutive years.

Each year has presented the opportunity to consider how the views and experiences of CEOs (using a sample of our national CEO network membership) are changing over time. The last three years have been particularly challenging, first with the pandemic, and then, this year, the onset of significant political change and growing financial pressures. The context for everyone has not been easy and trust CEOs have arguably been in the ultimate positions of responsibility in thinking about the impact for children, communities, the workforce and themselves.

So it has been important for us at Forum Strategy, as a membership organisation for CEOs and other groups of trust leaders, to take time to listen to what CEOs consider the main challenges, priorities and opportunities to be now and in the years ahead. The report covers three main areas – understanding more about the CEOs’ backgrounds, exploring elements of the CEO role, and outlining future priorities and development areas. This short summary of the findings is followed by more detail later in the report. So what did we find?

Most trust CEOs responding to the survey are still in their first CEO role, though a growing number have been in the job for over five years. This year, an even greater percentage of CEOs have indicated their belief that having another professional background – beyond teaching – isn’t a barrier to doing the job. Indeed, we are seeing this shift over the years, towards more acceptance of those with backgrounds other than teaching taking up the role.

CEOs are still more confident in overseeing school improvement than other aspects of the trust’s work, something that has come through strongly in previous years’ reports. In terms of their priorities, growth and capacity building remains at the top of the agenda; but financial sustainability and staff and pupil wellbeing have risen higher up the CEOs’ list of priorities – understandably so, given the current context.

There has been a major shift in what CEOs see as the key challenge for the academy trust sector in the three years ahead. Financial sustainability was overwhelmingly cited by CEOs as the key challenge facing the sector and the recruitment and retention of teachers has risen significantly as a perceived challenge. Changes and uncertainty in government policy around academy trusts is also giving cause for concern. Meanwhile, reflecting the current context, the cost pressures and the cost of living crisis were added to our survey this year, and were immediately identified as one of the major issues facing the sector. Key organisational financial pressures here tend to relate to the cost of energy and rising staffing costs, whilst in terms of the impact on pupils and families CEOs are concerned about increased levels of anxiety and the impact on pupils’ readiness for the school day and learning.

In terms of support, CEOs continue to gain most of their support from colleagues and facilitated leadership development networks which is positive to see. And thinking ahead to the future, based on the responses in our report, there appears little cause for concern about an imminent CEO exodus (within the next five years). However, less than half have a succession plan in place, suggesting it might be something for Boards and CEOs to begin to prioritise as many CEOs may still consider retirement or moving to other trusts in time.

We hope you find this report helpful as a unique insight into some of the current and ever-evolving experiences and views of CEOs across the sector.

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