Taylor Root UK Trustee Network: An interview with Kate Burns

Author Georgia Morgan-Wynne
June 20, 2024

As part of our interview series for our Trustee Network, Taylor Root Partner, Georgia Morgan-Wynne, recently spoke to Kate Burns VP Business Operations and General Counsel at MOO about her experience as a Trustee for Wandle Learning Trust.

Can you talk us through your journey to being a Trustee?

I started off by getting involved in my then law firm’s Year 10 Mentoring Scheme. We took on groups of one to three Year 10 girls from a local school and mentored them for an academic year. I was a mentor for seven years which I loved – seeing the girls transform from our first meeting to the last was so rewarding.

This led to being asked to become a Governor of their school. It wasn’t a conventional start as, at my first meeting the school was put into special measures by the Local Authority for management issues! But it was a fantastic experience and a great school, and I was a Governor for eight years. During that time, I had a huge range of experiences, from working as a team to get the school back on track, to thinking really hard about the values and culture to (as a lawyer) sitting on disciplinary hearing panels (for both staff and students). It was in these panels that I had my first real – and raw – experience of very difficult conversations.

I left my law firm in 2016 and my new job was a long way away from the school. I had also done two terms as a Governor, so it was time to find something new. I wanted to find something where I could give back to my local community and where the role was a bit different. Which is where Wandle Learning Trust came in. I joined shortly after it had been set up – a Multi Academy Trust with (then) two schools. It now comprises five schools, teaching school hubs and a phonics programme used by 5500 schools nationally.

Can you share more about your current NFP that you are a Trustee of?

Wandle Learning Trust is a Multi Academy Trust with, currently, five schools (one secondary and the rest primary). All the schools are Ofsted outstanding or good rated (although not all were on joining our Trust). In addition to schools, Wandle Learning Trust takes a lead role in a teaching school, an Early Years Hub, an English Hub and a Maths Hub to create a teaching community with limitless opportunities for collaboration and development. On top of that, in partnership with another school and Harper Collins, we develop and run one of the country’s leading phonics programmes which is used by over 5,500 schools nationwide. I am a Trustee, Chair of the Standards Committee and also a link Trustee for SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) and EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion).

The Trust is growing very quickly – we have about five new London schools interested in joining and may also soon be starting a hub of schools in an adjacent county.

What was it like being one of the first Trustees? 

Hard work! With the Government policy drive to move all schools to Academy status, you would think there would be a blueprint to follow, but it wasn’t as straightforward. We were a small group of Trustees and, until we were big enough to recruit a central team employed by the Trust, we did a lot of the initial work setting up systems and processes ourselves.

However, it was a great way to get to know everyone and there is nothing more inspiring than being surrounded by a group of volunteers who are really good at what they do and are passionate about education and making a difference.

I was a corporate lawyer in private practice for ten years, followed by being in my firm’s management team for five years. I then went in house as a Company Secretary and General Counsel and, over the years, my role has expanded to additionally include change management, strategy and business planning.

Given my corporate law background, I was set to work early on, helping establish our governance systems and risk management processes.

The Trust is growing, so my M&A experience comes in helpful when considering due diligence etc. Schools are a bit different to standard companies, but many of the same principles apply.

Our successful phonics programme is a not for profit organisation, but still throws up the usual issues you would expect to see as a General Counsel in a similar commercial enterprise. IP, contracts, governance, employment issues etc.

 I still get called on to sit on appeal panels for school complaints which are escalated to Trust level. They often involve the same difficult conversations that I experienced as a school governor.

My broader experience of change management, strategy and business planning is also helpful when discussing the Trust’s strategic development plan amongst other things.

Without a doubt. It has expanded my horizons and added to my skill set – this would help any career.

Being a Trustee is different to being a school governor, and much more like being a NED, but you also have to have the schools understanding. As a Company Secretary in my current job, it’s useful being “on the other side” to understand what I could do differently, or better, when managing my board.

Perhaps one of the most valuable experiences for me has been those difficult conversations I have already mentioned. You learn so much from being in the room with people where the decisions you make can impact their family lives so significantly. Making sure you have the facts and are being objective and fair is critical.

Do you have to wait to be a GC before you can be a Trustee?

Absolutely not. I think the skills I have mentioned all exist well before being a GC or equivalent and many lawyers I know could make a significant contribution in a Trustee role. If anything, I think a Trustee role could help you become a GC more quickly.

What advice would you give to lawyers looking for a Trustee role?

We all have limited spare time and if you’re properly committed, a volunteer Trustee role will take up a good proportion of that time. I therefore believe it’s essential to choose a Trustee role in an area about which you are passionate so that you are excited and gain energy from that use of your time.

What have you enjoyed most about being a Trustee?

The opportunity to give back. I believe that education is one of the most important ways to change the world. Through my role as a Trustee, I can help in making a positive difference to over 2,000 (and more as the Trust expands) children’s lives.

While doing that, there is nothing more inspiring than being surrounded by a group of volunteers and professionals who are really good at what they do and are passionate about doing it.

If you are interested in a Trustee role or are looking to hire a Trustee position, please get in touch with Sarah Ingwersen to find out more.

If you would like to join our Trustee network, find out more here

We want to reiterate that this is not a paid service and forms part of our referral programme, so please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

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