The right ones for the job

The growing group of academy trust governance professionals are fundamental to the success of academy trusts, argues Emma Perkin

Governance within the education sector has changed beyond recognition within the last decade. With the rapid growth in the numbers of multi-academy trusts, for the first time there are legally liable governing boards overseeing more than one school - and in some cases networks of over 50 schools. At the same time, the introduction of academy trusts has reduced local government oversight of schools. The board of an academy trust is often therefore legally and morally responsible for the successful education of thousands of pupils at a time.

As the Department for Education outlines, all boards within the education sector must focus on the trust's strategic direction, educational outcomes and use of public funds as paramount. Academy trust boards must also ensure the trust remains compliant with a range of legislation and statutory guidance. However, within the academy sector, trusts have a large amount of flexibility as to how to establish and maintain their governance arrangements - particularly in the standard of reporting to the different tiers of governance, and the relationship between the main trust board, and local 'governors' who support and challenge each individual school within the trust.

Within this environment, it is an inescapable and fundamental fact that the governance professionals are vital to the success of the academy trust's governance. The complex nature of relationships within an academy trust, coupled with the evolving regulatory landscape, mean that the school governance role has moved on fundamentally from the traditional role of a 'clerk'. Academy trust Heads of Governance are overseeing governance within the whole structure of the Trust - their remit will often encompass meeting delivery, compliance, risk, policies, data protection, admissions, exclusions, and more. They are the lynchpin of good governance within the trust and are vital to giving assurance and peace of mind to the senior team and board.

When I recruit to this role I look for a very specific skill set, and one of the key things I am looking for is someone who has the ability to work with quite a complex group of stakeholders. I will work with people who haven’t had backgrounds in governance but spend quite a considerable amount of time training them into role, because I recognise the qualities they bring. One of the areas that is frustrating for me – and I'm really glad that both ICSA and the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) are working to raise this awareness – is the lack of profile given to that specific role.

Through my own consultancy, The Constant Group, we have also set up The Academy Governance Insight Group where we are specifically working with governance professionals within trusts to give them practical support around how they deliver governance. Many of our Group did not plan to embark on a career in governance, yet have been delivering a great quality of governance that adds real value to their trusts. We offer time-saving technical knowledge, mentoring and a peer group that they can access to share their challenges and successes.

It is vital that the sector invests in and supports our governance professionals, and I know that the ICSA's offer in this area will be hugely welcomed by the sector.

Emma Perkin is the Founder and Lead Consultant at The Constant Group and former Head of Governance at Ark Schools. She is also a course leader of Essential Academy Governance, a new one-day training course designed for trust secretaries, clerks, trustees and school leaders. The course provides insight into the governance of academy trusts and the key building blocks for strong governance structures. View the course details here.


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