The Department for Education and Ofsted have clearly set out the expectations on all those involved in school governance in the following essential documents.
1. DfE - Governance Handbook – Guidance from the Department for Education setting out the government’s vision and priorities for effective governance. Read more
2. DfE - Competency Framework for Governors – A framework developed to define more clearly the knowledge, skills and behaviours expected and needed for effective governance. Read more
3. ESFA - Academies Financial Handbook - A handbook issued by Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) – previously known as the Education Funding Agency, that describes financial requirements for academy trusts Read more
4. Ofsted - Improving Governance - Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector’s survey investigated the challenges facing governing boards and recommended actions for the DfE and Ofsted. Read more
1. Effective Governance
1.1 The purpose of governance
1. The purpose of governance is to provide confident, strategic leadership and to create robust accountability, oversight and assurance for educational and financial performance.
2. All boards, no matter what type of schools or how many schools they govern, have three core functions:
- Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction;
- Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils, and the performance management of staff; and
- Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent.
1.2 The key features of effective governance
3. Boards must be ambitious for all children and young people and infused with a passion for education and a commitment to continuous school improvement that enables the best possible outcomes. Governance must be grounded in reality as defined by both high-quality objective data and a full understanding of the views and needs of pupils/students, staff, parents, carers and local communities. It should be driven by inquisitive, independent minds and through conversations focussed on the key strategic issues which are conducted with humility, good judgement, resilience and determination.
4. In our rapidly developing education system the range of organisations being governed is more diverse than ever – ranging from single small primary schools to large Multi Academy Trusts governing numerous schools. Regardless of the scale or nature of the organisation being governed, the features of what makes for effective governance remain the same. They are common across the education sector and share their fundamental principles with governance in the charity and business sectors.
5. Effective governance is based on six key features:
- Strategic leadership that sets and champions vision, ethos and strategy.
- Accountability that drives up educational standards and financial performance.
- People with the right skills, experience, qualities and capacity.
- Structures that reinforce clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
- Compliance with statutory and contractual requirements.
- Evaluation to monitor and improve the quality and impact of governance.
6. The first two features are the core pillars of the board’s role and purpose. The second two are about the way in which governance is organised, and the last two are about ensuring and improving the quality of governance.
The framework is made up of 16 competencies underpinned by a foundation of important principles and personal attributes. The competencies are grouped under the headings of the six features of effective governance, which are set out in the Governance Handbook: strategic leadership; accountability; people; structures; compliance and evaluation.
All those elected or appointed to boards should fulfil their duties in line with the seven principles of public life (the Nolan principles). They should also be mindful of their responsibilities under equality legislation, recognising and encouraging diversity and inclusion. They should understand the impact of effective governance on the quality of education and on outcomes for all children and young people. In addition, all those involved in governance should be:
- Committed - Devoting the required time and energy to the role and ambitious to achieve best possible outcomes for young people. Prepared to give time, skills and knowledge to developing themselves and others in order to create highly effective governance.
- Confident - Of an independent mind, able to lead and contribute to courageous conversations, to express their opinion and to play an active role on the board.
- Curious - Possessing an enquiring mind and an analytical approach and understanding the value of meaningful questioning.
- Challenging - Providing appropriate challenge to the status quo, not taking information or data at face value and always driving for improvement.
- Collaborative - Prepared to listen to and work in partnership with others and understanding the importance of building strong working relationships within the board and with executive leaders, staff, parents and carers, pupils/students, the local community and employers.
- Critical Understanding the value of critical friendship which enables both challenge and support, and self-reflective, pursing learning and development opportunities to improve their own and whole board effectiveness.
- Creative - Able to challenge conventional wisdom and be open-minded about new approaches to problem-solving; recognising the value of innovation and creative thinking to organisational development and success.
Part 1: Roles and responsibilities The handbook recognises the respective responsibilities of the Education and Skills Funding Agency and academy trusts.
1.1.1 The Academies Financial Handbook (the ‘handbook’) sets out the duties and obligations of academy trusts which have a funding agreement with the Secretary of State for Education. The handbook, together with the funding agreement (of which the handbook forms part) describes the financial relationship between ESFA and academy trusts.
1.1.2 The handbook covers all of the requirements under the financial accountability system for acad
emy trusts. The handbook sets out the areas of HM Treasury’s Managing Public Money that directly apply to trusts, and all references to it provide further explanation and clarification of these areas.
1.1.3 It covers all variants of the academy model including single academy trusts, multi-academy trusts, traditional sponsored academies, converter academies, free schools, studio schools, university technical colleges, alternative provision and special academies.
1.1.4 The handbook is aimed at academy members, trustees, accounting officers (principals or chief executives as senior executive leaders), chief financial officers (e.g. finance directors and business managers), clerks to the board of trustees, local governing bodies of multi-academy trusts and academy auditors.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) commissioned a survey to investigate the challenges facing governing bodies in schools. The report draws on evidence from visits to 24 improving primary, secondary and special schools that are situated in some of the poorest areas of the country to look at their governance arrangements.
It also uses evidence from routine inspections and monitoring visits over the last year and from 2,632 responses to a call for evidence initiated by HMCI in November 2015.
The report identifies the barriers faced by governors in these schools and the actions taken to strengthen their professional skills and fulfil their roles as effective, strategic school leaders.
The DfE should consider:
- publishing national quality standards to encourage schools to continue to improve governance by undertaking robust self-assessment and making use of their findings
- publish each academy’s annually reviewed scheme of delegation on the website of the multi-academy trust and ensure that local governing boards, where they exist, fully understand their roles and responsibilities
- ensure that local governing boards use support from experts across the trust and beyond to closely monitor the performance of schools where they have delegated responsibility for doing so.
- report more robustly on the extent to which governors are committed to their own professional development in order to secure sustained improvements in governance practices.