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HCR Law Events

20 April 2023

Academy trust governance 2023

Kreston Global has released its 11th annual Academies Benchmark Report (the ‘report’), aimed to help academy trusts gain a greater understanding of their trust and assist with future planning. The report sets out some challenges which many academy trusts will be currently facing and may face in the near future. These include:

  • cost of living crisis, including increased food and other costs;
  • uncertainty around salaries;
  • increasing energy costs;
  • high inflation;
  • political instability caused by changes in the Prime Minister and Education Secretaries over the last year, and uncertainty as to which party may be in power after the next election;
  • support for pupils with special educational needs;
  • consequences of COVID-19, including pupil mental health issues and poor communication skills in younger pupils, and changes to pupil attendance;
  • strikes/industrial action.

Increasingly, academies are reporting concerns over funding and budgets and it has now risen to the top of most risk registers for trusts. While the Chancellor has announced a £2.3b increase in budgets for the education sector, this may not amount to a real-terms increase for trusts. Therefore, trusts will need to ensure they are financially sustainable.

What academy trusts should be doing

It is good practice for trusts to have external reviews every three years, in addition to conducting a self-review within that time. Latest figures in the report show that, while more than 51% of boards reported that they had undertaken some form of review, only 8% had utilised an external provider.

External reviewers are independent and give honest feedback, which can highlight the areas in which a trust needs to improve and provide the opportunity for the greatest change and improvement to ensure that the trustees achieve their purpose, including:

  • playing a strategic role, rather than operational, and setting a clear vision for the future of the trust;
  • holding the executive leader to account for educational performance ;
  • taking accountability for financial performance;
  • ensuring participation in regular training (i.e. safeguarding training) and understanding of regulation, such as Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022 (KCSIE);
  • ensuring compliance with:
    • health and safety requirements;
    • KCSIE, by keeping the requirements of KCSIE at the forefront of their minds and being proactive in carrying out safer recruitment and safeguarding checks.

How we can help

We are experienced in carrying out external governance reviews for schools. Some of the areas in which we have identified potential weaknesses in governance for schools more broadly include the structure, size and composition of the board of trustees, and the structure of committees. Complex structures can sometimes form over time, leading to an increased risk of a breakdown in communication lines and delegation of decision-making.

We are also aware of the key areas where there is a heightened risk of the distinction between oversight and operation becoming blurred by both the trustees and the school’s leadership team. By identifying these areas of concern, we can prepare tailored strategies to ensure that all individuals in the trust are confident in their role and their duties.

As part of our tailored review of governance at an academy trust, we can:

  • review the articles of association and schemes of delegation;
  • review minutes and documents prepared for meetings;
  • review funding agreements;
  • review school policies;
  • interview members and trustees to talk through their role, what they understand about effective governance and how they carry out their duties to get a 360 view of governance;
  • produce recommendations to ensure best governance, including in respect of:
    • running meetings more effectively;
    • ensuring that policies best protect the school;
    • conducting training;
    • ensuring executive staff are held to account appropriately.

If you have any queries in relation to governance at your academy trust, or if you would like to discuss how we can support you, please get in touch.

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About the Author
Emma Swann, Partner, Head of Academies

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