Governance within your academy trust

18th May 2023

Your academy trust’s governance arrangements are key to ensuring that it is managed effectively, and in compliance with the Department for Education’s guidance and requirements. However, more frequently we are finding that the governance of academy trusts is not being reviewed and considered on a regular basis, opening the trust up to a multitude of risks.

Articles of association

We often find that clients are operating on a historic set of articles, with the Department for Education (DfE) having updated its model articles numerous times since the articles were last reviewed. The risk of this is that, whilst your trust may well be operating in accordance with its articles of association, those articles may not be reflective of the DfE’s expectations and requirements.

For instance, if your academy trust’s articles of association are historic, they may not make it clear that employees of the academy trust cannot also be members of the academy trust. There may also not be an appropriate separation between the members and trustees.  Historic terms such as ‘Clerk’ may also be being continued to be used, rather than the now recognised title of ‘Governance Professional’ which more accurately demonstrates the increasing professionalism of the role. Further, it may be that your articles of association do not reflect the requirement for the members to now have the power to decide whether to appoint the Principal as a trustee.

External reviews of governance

Academy trusts are also encouraged to carry out regular external reviews of their governance. The Academy Trust Handbook confirms that the DfE’s strong preference is that external reviews of governance are conducted routinely as part of a wider programme of self-assessment and improvement. In terms of what is considered to be ‘routinely’, the Charity Governance Code recommends that academy trusts undertake external evaluations every 3 years.

External governance reviews, conducted by an independent external reviewer, can bring to light areas of improvement for the trust. Some of the areas which we see can benefit greatly from an external governance review include how schemes of delegation operate in practice and how the trustees ensure legal compliance whilst avoiding duplication or omission of duties.

Oftentimes, it can be that processes have been in place for some time, and it can be difficult to see an alternative. An external review can be used to receive honest feedback from trustees and the senior leadership team to implement positive change and improvement. The reviewer will consider, for example, how the trustees ensure that there is effective governance and whether contributions are welcomed from all trustees.

Practical steps

We have experience of conducting external governance reviews and understand the importance of reviewing the trust’s articles of association, funding agreements and policies, as well as considering how trustee meetings are held, and whether the current processes best utilise the time and skills which trustees have to offer. We can work with you to prepare a tailored approach to your review, ensuring that any areas of particular concern are addressed and recommendations made as part of the broader review.