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Trust Board Governance – How it Differs from LGBs

We are all aware that there are many different types of educational establishments – LA Maintained, Academies, Single Academy Trusts, Multi Academy Trusts, so does that mean that governance differs for each? Well that’s a trick question, as the answer could be ‘yes’ and it could be ‘no’.

Hmm, that’s not helpful, sorry. So, let me explain. I’m going to focus on the difference between governance at Local Board level and governance at Trust level.

Firstly, the answer to my question is ‘no’, effective governance is effective governance, whatever the context of governance. All involved in governance at every level is responsible for ensuring every child and young person gains the best possible educational experience.  The 3 Core Functions of Governance are applicable to all Governors and the Governance Handbook does state that this also applies to Trustees or Directors within Academy Trusts. However, the focus of the 3 Core Functions does differ slightly at Trust Board level, as the Trustees are also responsible for ensuring that the Governors within their Schools are ensuring the 3 Core Functions of Governance happens within their Schools.

To come back to my question, the answer is also ‘yes’, as governance is different at Trust Board level in a number of key ways. One rather uncomfortable truth is that when Schools convert to being an Academy, their legal responsibilities for governance changes as all legal powers rest with the Trust Board. So, the Board of Trustees have ultimate responsibility for governance within each and every School within the Trust. This is why some Multi Academy Trusts change the names of the Governing Boards to ‘Advisory Councils’ or ‘Local Academy Committees’, just to give a clear differentiation on the legal status.

Let’s consider this whilst referring back to each of the 3 Core Functions of Governance.

1.      Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction

The Trust Board are responsible for setting the Strategic Direction and Vision for the entire Multi Academy Trust, but also for ensuring that the School Governors conduct their work in line with the Vision for the entire Multi Academy Trust. There can be an element of autonomy at School level and Governors will need to set their own Vision for their individual School, but Trustees need to ensure their Schools do not go rogue and follow a different path than the one set by the Trust Board. This can be a very difficult conversation to have, but it is imperative that Trustees keep a very close eye on the work of Local Governors and a recommendation would be for a Trustee to attend Local Governor meetings. This also has the benefit of aiding in communication between the Trust Board and Local Governors.

2.      Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the effective and efficient performance management of staff

The Trust Board are responsible for the educational performance of all Schools within the Trust, so having access to data is at the heart of this. But what data should they see? As the Trust grows it is impossible to be able to do a deep dive data analysis on each and every School, so the responsibility of the Trust Board shifts to ensuring that Governors at each School are analysing the data and are able to hold their Headteacher to account. The Trustees must ensure that Local Governors have access to data to enable them to challenge effectively and this may mean communicating with Headteachers in the Trust to have a common template for data reporting. Trustees need a common template as they must be able to take information from numerous Schools and be able to immediately highlight areas of celebration and Schools causing concern.

For staff performance management, this is an area that will generally be delegated to School level, so a protocol needs to be put in place by the Board of Trustees as to how Governors in Schools will ensure that performance management of staff is being carried out fairly and equitably for all staff. For Headteacher performance management, this is where governance really does differ, as the Line Manager of the Headteacher is no longer the Local Governing Board as it is in LA Maintained Schools, but it is the CEO of the Multi Academy Trust. It will be down to the Trust Board to decide within the Scheme of Delegation how much responsibility Trustees wish to give to Local Governors on Headteacher Performance Management.

3.      Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent

Another aspect that Governors within Schools struggle with is the fact that the responsibility for the budget rests with the Trust Board. The School ceases to be classed as a legal entity, so all funding from the ESFA goes to the Trust and not to the individual School. This means that the Trustees can decide how much funding each individual School receives, something Governors at School level often are not happy about. So, Trustees need to ensure that Schools are spending within their agreed budget and can identify Schools where there is a significant surplus over and above the agreed reserves and also Schools which are forecasting a budget deficit. In this situation, Trustees will be looking to Governors of the School to put a recovery plan in place to ensure the budget can be balanced. Whilst it is not essential that there is a Governor at School level with direct financial accounting experience, it would be highly recommended that there is a Trustee with direct and relevant accounting or auditing experience, purely down to the level of budget that Trustees are responsible for.

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