The Governance handbook Section 4: Working out what’s new matters. Part 5

This blog looks at Section 4 of the new Governance handbook (Section 2 of the old version). Additions in the new handbook are in red. Black text indicates that the text is from the old version and my comments are in green. The numbering used is that of the Governance handbook.

This Section starts by explaining the benefits of multi-school structures in some detail.

4.1 Multi-school governance structures

2. As highlighted in Section 1, governance structures that span more than one school create an opportunity for higher quality governance. The boards of maintained school federations and the boards of multi-academy trusts have a more strategic perspective and the ability to compare and contrast between schools. They also create the opportunity for the skills of high calibre people to be brought to bear in overseeing more schools to the benefit of more pupils.

3. Governing a group of schools through a single board also creates the condition for fully realising the sustained benefits of school-to-school collaboration, which include:

• A richer and wider curriculum – including through the ability to recruit and deploy more specialist staff, such as subject specialists or faculty heads;

• Better professional development and career progression opportunities for staff, and better retention of key staff as a result;

• Bigger leadership challenges for middle and senior leaders, while also easing the overall leadership challenge through more supported leadership roles;

• Financial efficiency – through shared procurement;

• Economies of scale – that make employing specialist finance directors and business managers with vital skills more feasible; and

• Ultimately, better prospects for pupils through greater professional accountability and the roll out of consistent proven pedagogies.

4. Many governors, like headteachers and parents can be passionate and committed to their school. However, governing is about putting the interests of pupils before adults and boards should set aside issues of control and school identity to consider objectively the governance structures that would most benefit current and future pupils.

The above is another example of DfE’s preferred direction of travel for schools. It makes the point the board needs to consider what is in the best interests of the students and not let other considerations detract from that. Can’t argue with that!

4.2 The governance structure of academies

If we compare the old and new version as below

In MATs, where trustees and members are responsible for more than one academy, it is the department’s view that while there can be some overlap in the two layers, the most robust governance structures will retain at least some distinction between the individuals who are trustees and those who are members. This promotes internal challenge and scrutiny, which members who are independent of the trustees can provide.

In single school academy converters and free schools, the academy trust should consider what structure is most effective for its specific circumstances. This may include a flat governance structure in which all the trustees are also members. The department however expects that this should usually reflect a degree of separation between members and trustees.

Particularly in MATs given the breadth of their responsibilities, the most robust governance structures will have at least some distinction between the individuals who are members and those who are trustees. This enables members who are independent of the trustees to provide challenge and scrutiny to the board. If there is a risk that members who are trustees will dominate the board, a flat structure may be preferable in which all trustees are members – though the department’s preference would still be for there to be some members who are not trustees.

It seems to me that in the older version the preference for MATs was to have a degree of separation between the members and trustees but if needed single converters could have all members as trustees. In the new version, it looks as if MATs could adopt a structure in which all members are trustees. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind this. I’m happy to be corrected if I have misinterpreted this.

10. Employees of the Trust should not cannot be appointed as members.

Under older versions employees could be members. This is not allowed now.

13. The board is able to remove from office any trustee that they have appointed. In addition members have the power to appoint and remove any trustee irrespective of whether the individual was appointed or elected to the board.

The above power (to remove any trustee irrespective of whether the individual was appointed or elected is an authority given to the board by the Section 282 of the Companies Act 2006. The ability to remove elected governors is a power which governors of maintained schools don’t have. I am not sure if all academy members realise they have this power. Needless to say, this power should be exercised with extreme caution and only if it will be to the benefit of the students and the trust.

15. The departmental advice, Free schools – Pre-opening proposer group guidance, sets out everything the proposer group need to put in place strong governance arrangements.

4.2.2 Multi-Academy trusts

16. MATs are also a single legal entity but its A MAT board of trustees
board is accountable for a number of academies in its chain all of the academies within the trust. This means that an additional layer of governance is possible through the delegation of governance functions to local governing bodies, made up of local governors. Each academy may have a local governing body to which the MAT trustees may delegate some governance functions. However, it can choose to delegate governance functions to local governing bodies or LGBs. LGBs may govern one academy or they may govern more than one academy. Alternatively, local governing bodies may themselves govern more than one academy for example in a regional cluster Particularly in a large MAT, the board may decide to appoint a committee to oversee a group of LGBs, for example as a regional cluster. Both committees and LGBs are made up of people that the MAT board appoints – this may include MAT trustees but can be anyone that the board selects for their skills. Local governors who sit on local governing bodies are not trustees of the academy trust unless they also sit on the trust’s board Committee members and local governors are not trustees of the MAT unless they also sit on the MAT board itself.

The above, to me, suggests that another layer of governance can be present in a large MAT. The MAT trust appoints LGBs for its schools. These LGBs may govern more than one academy. In a large MAT the trust can appoint a committee who will oversee a group of LGBs as a regional  cluster.                                                  

18. The Academies Financial Handbook requires all academies and MATs to publish on their website their scheme of delegation for governance functions. This should set out in a clear and concise format the structure and remit of the members and of the board of trustees, its committees and LGBs – including details of which governance functions have been delegated and which remain with the trust board. All individuals involved in the governance of a MAT should know who the trustees are and understand clearly what functions have been delegated by the board to LGBs or other committees.

MAT trustees should make sure the above information is published on websites.

19. As they grow, MAT boards have the opportunity to expand their central executive team as means of exercising their responsibilities of oversight. However, as individual school principals become line managed by, for example, a chief executive, there is a risk of duplication or confusion between the role of the chief executive and the LGB in holding the school principal to account. MATs need to consider carefully and be clear about how they will exercise their governance and oversight through both executive and non-executive channels and how the two fit together.

20. MATs can also use their executive team to oversee finances. Many MAT boards tell us that in hindsight they would have appointed a finance director earlier in their growth. A dedicated finance director is essential to overseeing the efficient and effective use of the MAT’s resources for the benefit of pupils, and that systems for financial planning and control are appropriate and sufficient.

The role of finance directors will become increasingly important as MATs grow, especially under the present financial landscape. MAT trustees should give due consideration to the above.

21. As set out in Section 1, In order to transition successfully from a single academy into a small MAT, and onward into a large MAT, the board should commission a robust independent external review of its effectiveness and readiness for growth. The board of a single school might try to develop its existing governance model to form a small MAT 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.

22. More information and case studies on MAT governance are available on GOV.UK.

4.3.1 Single maintained schools

24. These regulations provide that the minimum size of the board is seven members and the board must include:

at least two parent governors – elected where possible, otherwise appointed;

only one elected staff governor;

only one local authority governor; nominated by the LA, appointed by the board,

It is mportant to note the above point. This is explained in more detail in para 26 below. 27 should be made clear to prospective candidates.

• where appropriate, foundation governors – appointed by the relevant foundation, or partnership governors – nominated by the appropriate religious body (where the school has a religious character) or by parents or the local community and appointed by the board as specified in the regulations.

25. The governing body board may appoint as many additional co-opted governors as it considers necessary. The number of co-opted governors who are eligible to be elected or appointed as staff governors must not (when added to the one staff governor and the headteacher) exceed one-third of the total membership of the body board. The term of office for each category of governor is decided by the board and set out in the Instrument of Government. Additionally, boards may decide to adopt the flexibility for those appointing governors to decide the term of office of each individual governor to be between 1 and 4 years. This will only apply to newly appointed governors and would not affect the terms of office of existing governors.

26. For local authority governor appointments, a board should make clear its eligibility criteria including its expectations of the credentials and skills prospective candidates should possess. Local authorities must then make every effort to understand the board’s requirements in order to identify and nominate suitable candidates. It is for the board to decide whether the local authority nominee meets any stated eligibility criteria and, if it chooses to reject the candidate on that basis, to explain their decision to the local authority.

27. Once appointed, local authority governors must govern in the interests of the school and not represent or advocate for the political or other interests of the local authority; it is unacceptable practice to link the right to nominate local authority governors to the local balance of political power.

4.3.2 The governance structures of maintained school federations

33. Federation creates a single governing body board to govern more than one maintained school. Schools in federations continue to be individual schools, keeping their existing category, character and legal identity, but have their governance provided by the same board. Admission to each school continues to be determined by the appropriate admissions authority.
The governing body board of the federation will receive individual budgets for each of the federated schools, and will be able to use them across the schools in the federation and can pool these budgets to use across the schools in the federation as it sees fit. Staff may also be employed at the federation level to enable flexible deployment between schools.

34. The governing body A board’s decision to federate must follow a prescribed process, which is detailed in the School Governance (Federations) Regulations 2012. Governing bodies must also follow A prescribed process must also be followed when they an individual school wishes to leave a federation or where federations are dissolved the federation board decides to dissolve the federation; these processes are also detailed in the federation regulations.

The older version contained a summary o the regulations which has been taken out of the new version.

35. Governing bodies entering into a federation must now do so in accordance with the School Governance (Federations) Regulations 2012. These The Regulations require that the governing body of the federation cannot have fewer than seven members, and must include: board of all federations to have at least seven members, including:

one parent governor in respect of each school in the federation;

the headteacher of each federated school (or the executive headteacher of the federation, if there is one) unless they resign as a governor;

one elected staff governor; and

one local authority governor – nominated by the LA and appointed by the board.

The old version had this to say about parent governors in federations.

While the number of parent governors is restricted to one per school, governing bodies may wish to appoint further parents as co-opted governors.

Whereas the new version states that:

40. We have recently consulted on reducing the requirement for parent governors from one per school to two, and only two, with the proposed changes expected to come into force from September 2016.

I assume the above means the board will have only two parent governors, irrespective of the number of schools in the federation.

4.4.1 Umbrella Trusts

42. Some academies have created an ‘umbrella trust’ as a vehicle for collaboration. This means that while the academies remain separate charitable trusts with their own articles and funding agreement with the Secretary of State, they create an additional charitable trust with functions that reflect their mutual interests. This often involves the individual academies ceding powers of oversight, intervention or governance to the umbrella trust. The department’s preference is for groups of schools or academies intending to collaborate to form a multi-academy trust in which there is robust shared governance arrangements and clear lines of accountability.

The above is what the new handbook has to say about umbrella trusts and in this paragraph the last sentence should be especially noted.

4.4.3 Collaboration between academies and maintained schools

45. Maintained schools may collaborate informally with non-maintained schools While the Collaboration Regulations do not permit maintained schools to share governance arrangements and form formal joint committees with academies, they may collaborate informally. For example, This type of collaboration allows the creation of a joint committee that meet as needed and may only make recommendations The individual schools’ governing body powers cannot be delegated may be established which is purely advisory in nature, making recommendations to the boards of both schools who retain and decision making powers. Alternatively, the committee may be established with parallel dual identities – complying with both the requirements of maintained school regulations and the legal framework for academies.

Part One looked at Contents

Part Two looked at Section 1

Part Three looked at Section 2

Part Four looked at Section 3

Shena Lewington has an online version of Section 4 on her website


2 thoughts on “The Governance handbook Section 4: Working out what’s new matters. Part 5

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

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