The last decade has seen a transformation in the structure and form of school governance across England with the introduction of the academy trust. Academy governance has evolved as a distinct form of school governance compared to that delivered within the maintained sector for a range of reasons.
Firstly, academy trusts are education organisations, registered companies and exempt charities and therefore work within multiple regulatory frameworks. The board of trustees act as the ‘proprietary board’ of governors, company directors and charity trustees and must fulfil a broad range of duties.
Secondly, academy trusts have multiple layers of internal governance, with members, trustees, the executive team and – within the multi-academy trust context – a tier of local governance. As trusts have developed, the role of headteacher has also expanded to include executive headteachers, regional directors and directors of education.
Finally, with growing numbers of academies operating within one legal entity, expectations of academy governance are increasingly heightened to reflect the size, scale and complexity of trusts working with large numbers of pupils and spending high levels of public funds.
With a range of statutory and good practice guidance documents, but no single ‘code’ of governance for the sector, trusts are given significant freedoms as to how to fulfil requirements and structure internal governance – but must be sure to use these freedoms wisely.
This Academy Governance Handbook is therefore a timely and welcome publication for the sector, and credit is due to Katie Paxton-Doggett and the team at ICSA for condensing such a comprehensive amount of information into a straightforward and accessible entry point on a range of topics. The Handbook is designed to sit alongside Academy Governance Checklists, – a companion publication offering practical steps to be taken for key governance tasks – and also acts as the Level 4 Certificate in Academy Governance Study Text delivered by ICSA.
Part One of this Handbook focuses on the external operating environment for academy trusts, setting the academies landscape in context and examining the key legislative and regulatory requirements that must be fulfilled.
Part Two switches to look at the internal governance structures of academy trusts, unpicking the various roles and responsibilities held by each layer. The role of governance professionals is highlighted as crucial to meeting expectations of regulators and stakeholders, and guidance is given on how to ensure effective meeting delivery.
Part Three looks at the more technical aspects of academy governance including risk, compliance and policies. This section features a highly detailed approach to the effective identification and mitigation of risk before setting out the key policies that trusts must hold and publish to meet government expectations.
Finally, Part Four highlights the intersection between academy trust governance and finance – areas that governance professionals will become familiar with through servicing finance and audit committees and helping to prepare the annual report and accounts.
The range of activities expected to be delivered by academy governance professionals has never been greater. On any given day it can include delivery of governance meetings, fulfilment of requirements around admissions, exclusions and safeguarding, or company secretarial tasks including risk, audit, policies, compliance and annual reports.
I am sure that this Handbook will become a trusted and regularly used reference point for academy governance professionals, trustees and senior leaders, in order to support the high quality of governance delivery across the sector.
Academy Governance Handbook