Principles of good governance for academy trusts

Throughout 2023, Price Bailey’s Academies team will be hosting a series of Regulatory Insight webinars aimed at supporting academy trusts.

In a recent webinar, Tom Meeks, Head of our Academies team and a Partner at Price Bailey, explored the principles of good governance for academy trust members, trustees and governors in more depth.

Core strategic functions of governance

‘Governance’ is a term that all members, trustees, and governors have to accord to. As part of this, the individuals that are responsible for ensuring ‘good governance’ must:

  • Ensure clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction.
  • Hold executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the management of staff.
  • Oversee the financial performance of the organisation and make sure that money is well spent.

The Department of Education have created a ‘governance handbook’ which further outlines governance in relation to: strategic leadership, accountability, people, structures, compliance and evaluation.

Complying with ‘good governance’ means individuals should…

  • understand their role
  • ensure they understand and deliver the organisational purpose
  • work effectively as both individuals and a team to maximise the capabilities of the governing body
  • exercise effective control
  • behave with integrity
  • be open and accountable

‘Good governance’ and working as a team

Working as a team of individuals involved in governance is where the most value is realised from a governing board.

As part of working as a team, academy trusts should be committed to carrying out a review of governance on an annual basis – whether this is a self-review or a review facilitated by an external independent advisor. This is fundamental, as it is easy for academy trusts to drift away from their organisational purpose and for the governing board to not evaluate their impact if they fail to have these annual reviews.

Taking time to reflect and discuss ‘what did you want to achieve as an organisation and a governing body?’, ‘did you succeed in achieving this?’ or ‘do we have the skills to be able to succeed or continue succeeding going forward?’ are all questions that a governing body should be asking themselves regularly. There are many frameworks available that enable governing bodies to be able to do this.

The Governance statement in your financial statutory accounts should include:

  • A description of the review undertaken and its impact on the effectiveness of the Board.
  • A description of findings, actions taken and their impact.
  • An indication of when the next review is scheduled.

The importance of having a strong Governance professional

Having a strong governance professional, or what was formerly known as the clerk, is a fundamental tool in your governance armoury. They are not just a person that can take minutes and notes of meetings, but they can ensure that the board is compliant with all relevant legal and regulatory frameworks. They can also understand the potential consequences of non-compliance, particularly when it comes to things like company secretarial duties and Companies Act compliance. Additionally, they can provide independent advice on procedural matters such as complaints and appeals.

If you are Chair of a governing board, you may find that the governance professional is your most important ally as they can take as much of the thought and organisational demands off your shoulders.

The National Governance Association’s development for clerks programme is ideal to upskill your governance professional.

In the next part of our Regulatory Insight series, we outline how academy trusts can mitigate risk.

We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.


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