The Governance handbook Section 1: Working out what’s new matters. Part 2

In Part 1 I compared the Contents of the old Governors’ handbook and the new Governance handbook. I continue with the comparison of the old and new version here.

  • The Governance handbook is shorter than the old Governors’ handbook (114 pages as compared to 131).
  • The reason for changing the name is given as “This Governance Handbook has been re-named to make clear that it applies to all those involved in governance. It now refers throughout to the ‘board’ to emphasise that it applies equally to the governing body of a small maintained school as it does to the board of a large MAT.” (My emphasis).

In this post I’ve looked at Section One. Things worth noting are shown in red and my comments are in green.

Section One – The essentials of effective governance The role of governing bodies

Section One now deals with “Effective governance” whereas in the older version, the handbook had started by discussing the role of the governing body. The core functions are mentioned in Section One of the new version and are then discussed in greater detail in Section Two. Section One of the new handbook starts by laying down the basis of effective governance and reminds me of Emma Knights’ Eight elements of Effective Governance!

2. The core features of effective governance also apply at any scale and in any context, and are common to good governance practice in the charity and corporate sectors. They include the importance of the board having:

[This is the first time I can remember a reference being made to governance in charity and corporate sectors]

• The right people with the necessary skills, time and commitment, and sufficient diversity of perspectives to ensure internal challenge, all actively contributing in line with clearly defined roles and responsibilities under an effective chair and an explicit code of conduct, and with active succession planning;

• Clear governance structures with tightly defined remits, particularly in relation to functions delegated to committees or other bodies;

• Clear separation between the strategic and operational in terms of the role of the board and its school leaders;

• A positive relationship between the board and its school leaders enabling robust constructive challenge on the basis of a good understanding of objective data particularly on pupil progress, staff performance and finances;

• The support and advice of an independent and professional clerk and, in the case of academies, company secretary;

Robust processes for financial and business planning and oversight and effective controls for compliance, propriety and value for money; and

Processes for regular self-evaluation, review and improvement including; skills audits, training and development plans, and independent external reviews as necessary.

Compare the above with Emma’s Eight Elements of Effective Governance below.

  1. The right people round the table
  2. Understanding role & responsibilities
  3. Good chairing
  4. Professional clerking
  5. Good relationships based on trust
  6. Knowing the school –the data, the staff, the parents, the children, the community, the quality of teaching
  7. Committed to asking challenging questions
  8. Confident to have courageous conversations in the interests of the children and young people

There is a large section on MAT governance which perhaps indicates the preferred direction of travel.

Forming or joining a group of schools can help create more effective governance. The board that governs the group gains a more strategic perspective and the ability to create more robust accountability through the opportunity to compare and contrast between schools. The boards that decide to join a group are relieved of the burden of ultimate accountability and many welcome responsibility for financial and other corporate functions being carried centrally, leaving them freer to focus on pupil progress and attainment. Common governance also lays the foundation for a range of other benefits for pupils, staff and budgets, as discussed further in Section 3. 8

4. When a board decides to grow the number of schools it governs, it might try to develop its existing governance model to form a small MAT or federation of two or three schools, but growth beyond three schools usually represents the first real need to overhaul governance arrangements. Likewise the governance structures of a small MAT will start to become stretched at around 6-7 schools and by 10 a further overhaul will be needed.

5. In order to transition to academy status or grow successfully from a single school into a small MAT or federation, and onward into a large MAT, the board should commission a robust independent review of its effectiveness and readiness for growth. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Governance and Leadership’s Questions for boards and MAT boards to ask themselves provide a helpful framework for doing this. As the organisation the board is governing becomes larger and more complex organisationally and financially, governance can and in some cases must change in a number of ways:

1. Culture: it is important to generate a professional ethos across the entire governance structure and a culture of one organisation and away from any sense of ‘my school/ your school’.

2. Skills: an increasing number of pupils and schools are impacted by the quality of the individuals on the board, and there is hence an increasing imperative for the board to act professionally and actively recruit, develop and retain high calibre board members and an effective chair with the necessary skills to govern and lead the increasingly complex organisation and oversee its growth.

3. Executive oversight: there is increasing opportunity, and possibly need, for the board to discharge some of its functions of governance and oversight through a central professional executive team – starting with an executive principal and finance director, and with further growth extending to a chief executive officer.

4. Structures: there is an expanding range of options for how to design governance structures and levels of delegation. As the need for additional tiers within non-executive and executive governance structures grows to avoid unwieldy spans of control, there is an increasing need for absolute clarity on the role and remit of each part of the structure and the relationship and reporting arrangements between them – including, for example in a MAT, between the role of a local governing body (LGB) and an executive principal in holding a school-level principal to account.

5. Processes: there is an increasing need for the board to be professional in the way it conducts its business. It needs more standardised and robust systems and processes for governance and oversight, including systems for reporting and analysing school performance data; for financial planning, management and control; and for HR and other business processes. It also needs to ensure more standardised teaching and school improvement methodologies are in place across its schools based on proven pedagogies.

6. Risk: increasingly, boards need a more sophisticated understanding of financial, organisational and educational risk; its assessment and its minimisation – and this in turn highlights that increasingly the board must be strategic, that it must focus on priorities and that it must manage by exception.

Shena Lewington has published an online version of Section One of The Governance handbook on her website.


5 thoughts on “The Governance handbook Section 1: Working out what’s new matters. Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Governance handbook: Working out what’s new matters. Part 3 | Governing Matters

  2. Pingback: The Governance handbook Section 3: Working out what’s new matters. Part 4 | Governing Matters

  3. Pingback: The Governance handbook Section 4: Working out what’s new matters. Part 5 | Governing Matters

  4. Pingback: The Governance handbook Section 5: Working out what’s new matters. Part 6 | Governing Matters

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