New guidance for MAT governing bodies

Good governance is essential to every organisation, regardless of sector, size or complexity. Those responsible for the strategic direction of an organisation and accountable for delivering its aims play a pivotal role in ensuring it has proper governance arrangements. Sound decision making, accurate records, compliance, transparency and accountability are key board activities. Good governance should be viewed as a business enabler; providing structure, clarity and evidence that these key activities are happening effectively. It should not be seen as adding bureaucracy to the way an organisation is run.

Governance is, however, not always an easy concept to understand. In large multi-academy trusts (MATs), it can relate to the relationships between the academy board, local governing bodies or advisory councils, the senior leadership team, staff, parents and pupils and other stakeholders, or any combination of these, demonstrating accountability and how the charitable objects and educational goals are delivered. Depending on the size of the MAT, its development stage and complexity, good governance can therefore mean something different in each organisation, and the detail can vary considerably.

Good governance depends on having:

  • Clarity of purpose – establishing a clear vision as to the purpose of the organisation and how its aims will be achieved
  • Effective procedures – putting in place and regularly reviewing, appropriate, relevant and proportionate policies and procedures to ensure decisions are made legally, ethically and in the best interests of the organisation
  • Recruiting the right people for the right role – talent management starts with the board ensuring they attract and retain the right mix of skills, experience, competencies and diversity around the boardroom table to make the best decisions, and cascading that approach to staff appointments.

As with any type of organisation, the basics of the governance framework will be derived from legislation and regulation, supplemented by the constitution or other governing documents, any standing orders, bye-laws, policies and procedures.

For MAT boards to perform their duties effectively, they will need to understand the full extent of their powers and their limitations, derived from and circumscribed by these sources. In addition, they need to be aware of where those legal duties may not mesh together and understand which statutory duty takes precedence.

Good governance and effective boards require planning, support, review and development. As the organisation changes and faces new opportunities and challenges, the governance framework needs to be reviewed to ensure it is still fit for purpose. So it is of utmost importance that the board, and those supporting board members, remain up-to-date not just with the environment in which the organisation operates, but with new developments in governance thinking and practical aspects of developing arrangements that are proportionate and effective.

ICSA: The Governance Institute is hosting a conference, on 4 October 2016, for academies considering becoming MATs, looking at building good governance and recruiting an effective board. With experienced speakers from academies and infrastructure bodies supporting the sector, delegates will gain an informed insight into how to help their board stay on top of their game with new thinking in improving MAT governance. Visit the conference page for further information.

For those that cannot attend, ICSA has produced two new guidance notes for MAT boards: Building good governance; and MAT board effectiveness free to download here. With a wide range of guidance available, there is no excuse for not developing your governance arrangements and helping your board to be better than ever.

Louise Thomson, FCIS is Head of Policy (Not-For-Profit), at ICSA: The Governance Institute

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