Tag Archives: Committees

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

Effective minute taking matters, courtesy of @ICSA_News

On 22nd Oct 2015 Rob Robson and Philip Davis (authors of Effective Minute Taking) took over ICSA’s Twitter account and answered questions and posted top tips on effective minute taking. As this is something which will be of interest to governing boards, especially clerks and company secretaries, I thought I would collate the tweets here for everyone. Please read and share with your clerk and see if there is something in these tweets which can help you improve your practice.

This is something I think should be avoided if at all possible. Best practice would be to employ an independent clerk to clerk your full board and committee meetings. If due to some reason it is not possible (financial constraints, for example) to have committee meetings clerked, then I would strongly urge that a governor who is not a committee member take the minutes. This will leave committee members free to concentrate on the business of the meeting.

During the chat they also tweeted some top minute taking tips which are as below.

Update: New (Sept 2016) ICSA guidance on minute taking 

Matt Lake, very kindly sent me the following links. They offer an “interesting” insight to minute taking. DISCLAIMER: These are not being posted here as examples of best practice!



Correcting the “Mumsnet misconception” matters

Few of us were having a discussion on Twitter and a Mumsnet thread was pointed out. The title of the thread “Is your governing body run by a little clique?” compelled me to write this post.

Let me say, right at the beginning, that I do know that not all governing bodies operate the way they should. There are some real horror stories out there BUT there are great governing bodies and great governors too. The danger of threads/discussions like the one on Mumsnet is that it may put off people from joining governing bodies. It also does little for the morale of those of us who work really hard and within rules. So, this is my attempt to present the other side of the coin.

A committee is not a clique!

Governing bodies, by and large, assign the work that has to be done to committees (though the circle model is being used by many governing bodies, by and large it is the committee model which is prevalent). Governing bodies form committees and draft terms of reference for these committees taking into account what works best for their school. Some go for a two committee model, some for three or more. The terms of reference of these committees as well as the scheme of delegation agreed by the governing body will determine what these committees are expected to do. These committees meet, usually once a term, and carry out the tasks which have been delegated to them. If decisions need to be made, then the committee will make them, voting on these if necessary. The committees then prepare a report which is presented to the full governing body. Some of the decisions can only be made at the full governing body level. In this case the committee would have discussed the issue and come up with a recommendation which is then presented to the governing body which then takes a decision. The thing to remember is that if the governing body has decided on a structure which has committees, then the majority of the work is done at the committee level and reported to the full governing body. If the full governing body were to debate each and every issue again, then that would just be duplication of the work done at the committee level and a waste of time. Delegating the work to committees leaves the governing body free to focus its attention on those matters which cannot be delegated.

All committees are created equal!

One of the criticisms concerns the committee membership. Some people think that governing bodies work as cliques with some governors responsible for what are perceived to be the more important areas, for example curriculum, achievement, progress and finance. This criticism proves that people have not understood how governors are assigned to committees. Governing bodies should conduct skill audits and use these audits to inform committee memberships. Every governor will not have every skill needed by the governing body. Governing bodies identify the skills each member of the governing body has and then make the best use of these skills by asking them to sit on relevant committees. The other misconception is that some committees are “more important” than other committees. Governing bodies which have decided on a committee structure would have decided to have those particular committees because that is how they decided to divide the work and that is the structure which works best for them. No committee is more or less important than the other committees. For the governing body to function well and be effective, ALL committees need to function well. When we converted we adopted the three committee structure. The three committees are Achievement and Curriculum, Resources and Students, Parents and Community (SPC). I became a member of the SPC Committee. At no point did I ever think that I was a member of a committee which was less important than the other two. If your governing body has decided to go with the committee model then these committees will perform different but equally important functions. It would be wrong to think that governors on, for example, the Finance or Curriculum committee are behaving like a clique just because they happen to be on those committees or that they are in any way more “important” than governors on other committees. It is also worth remembering that governors can attend meetings of other committees too although they won’t be able to vote on any matter. So, every governor has a chance to understand which decisions are being made and why, firstly by reading the minutes and papers of committees, asking for clarification at full governing body meetings and by requesting to attend meetings of committees other than the one they are members of.

Parent governors are different from union reps!

While reading this Mumsnet thread, I also came across something else which needs clarification. Parent governors are not elected to the governing body to represent the views of parents. They are representative parents not parent representatives. This is an important distinction which needs to be understood by the parents as well as the parent governors. People become governors via different routes but once appointed they are all of equal stature and their core purpose is to look out for the interests of ALL the students.

Some people reading this post will say that not all governing bodies behave in the way I’ve described above. This is true and these governors need good quality training but that’s another post! This post, however, is not about the bad or the ugly but about the good. If you are thinking of becoming a governor don’t let the horror stories put you off. There are excellent governing bodies out there that are nothing like the ones described on Mumsnet! Those of you who understand your duties and obligations and operate within statutory boundaries, rest assured that you are appreciated for the difference you make and the time and energy you devote to your schools.