Academy governance: the key points

15th September 2022

The Department for Education has provided a school governance update, bringing together the key updates stemming primarily from the Schools White Paper and the SEND Green Paper.

We have rounded up the five key updates which will impact your academy, and steps which you should be taking to ensure that your academy trust’s governance arrangements comply with the expectations of the Department for Education in coming months and years.

Establishment of multi-academy trusts by local authorities

The Schools White Paper, “Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child” set out the government’s aim for all children to be taught in a strong group of schools by 2030. In simple terms, this means forming more multi-academy trusts. To steer local authorities in this aim, the government announced that local authorities would be able to register their interest in setting up a multi-academy trust. Given that this is new territory for local authorities, a small number of projects will initially be run through 2022 and 2023 to ‘test-and-learn’.

As all academy trusts are eligible to be part of a local authority multi-academy trust, single academy trusts may wish to consider starting conversations with schools in their area to discuss joining or creating a multi-academy trust if they do not want to potentially be considered for inclusion in a local authority multi-academy trust.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Green Paper

The SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper set out the government’s proposals for changes to the SEND system.  Multi-academy trusts will be held to account in terms of delivery in line with the new national SEND standards. To achieve this, the Department for Education will establish a new Regions Group to combine functions currently distributed across the Department for Education and the Education and Skills Funding Agency.  The regulatory arrangements for trusts will also be adapted, with the Regions Group acting as a single risk-based regulator for trusts, uniting existing legal requirements into a set of statutory Academy Trust Standards.

Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022

Following on from the significant changes made to the Department for Education’s Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance in September 2021, further changes have been introduced from 1 September 2022, which academy trusts must ensure that they are familiar with. In terms of recruitment, academies should keep in mind the new requirement to consider online searches of candidates during the shortlisting process to identify any concerns or issues. In addition, further clarity has been provided in respect of low-level concerns, including a requirement for academies to have in place a low-level concerns policy or procedure.

In light of the updated guidance, academy trusts should review their child protection and safeguarding policies to ensure that they remain fit for purpose and provide staff training where necessary.

Trustees’ recovery guidance

In April 2022, the government provided Education Recovery guidance, setting out the programmes which the Department for Education is funding to support the wellbeing of children and young people following COVID-19.

Academy trustees should ask questions to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the progress, attainment and wellbeing of pupils and students in their trust. In addition, they are expected to ask questions in respect of the overall recovery plans of their trust, for instance in respect of how academies are planning to use the government’s additional funding and whether there are credible plans in place to address any underperformance issues or areas where progress is less than expected.

External Reviews of Governance

The Education and Skills Funding Agency has updated its External Reviews of Governance guidance to encourage academy trusts to undertake reviews of governance regularly. The Academy Trusts Handbook has also been updated to emphasise the important of external review.

Independent external reviews can often act as a more powerful diagnostic tool than a self-evaluation. External reviews will become particularly important for academies as the Academy Trust Handbook clarifies that external review are of particular importance where a significant change is undertaken, such as when an academy trust expands significantly. The Department for Education has also stated its ‘strong preference’ that external reviews are conducted routinely as part of a wider programme of self-assessment and improvement.

Practical steps

In light of these key updates to governance in academy trusts, academies should consider taking the following steps:

  • Review your staff training, and Child Protection and Safeguarding policy to ensure that they align with the updated Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022 guidance.
  • You should also review your current recruitment practices and introduce procedures in respect of carrying out online searches of candidates

While all academies should strive for external review of governance to be included in their academy trust’s diary, those which are looking to significantly expand should consider carrying out an external review in preparation.

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