Withdrawal of the governance handbook

18th April 2024

Image of woman on notebook

The governance handbook, first published in 2015, set out the responsibilities and roles of the board in maintained schools and in academy trusts. However, as the sector has evolved over time, it was considered that the handbook could no longer serve both maintained schools and academy trusts. In March 2024, it was replaced with two new governance guides: the academy trust governance guide, and the maintained schools governance guide.

Academy trust governance guide

The DfE published five pillars of academy trust quality, one of which is governance and leadership. The academy trust governance guide is centred around this pillar. As with the now withdrawn governance Handbook, the academy trust governance guide is split into seven distinct areas:

  • Culture and engagement
  • Governance of the trust
  • Strategy
  • Non-executive leadership
  • Executive leadership
  • Accountability
  • Compliance.

There is also an additional section which sets out the statutory policies and documents which academy trusts must have in place.

Maintained schools governance guide

The maintained schools governance guidance is intended to serve as a reference document for those involved in local authority-maintained school governance. As with the academy trust guide, it is split into seven key areas:

  • Effective governance
  • Strategic leadership
  • Accountability
  • People
  • Governance structures
  • Evaluation
  • Compliance

What are the changes?

The change in governance requirements and expectations is limited. However, one important change which academy trusts and maintained schools will need to be aware of is the approach to staff wellbeing. The governance handbook stated that governors “should have due regard for the wellbeing and mental health of the school leadership team and teaching staff more broadly” and may designate a wellbeing champion to provide strategic support to the school leadership team as appropriate.

However, the academy trust governance guidance and the maintained schools governance guide provide far more detail in this respect. For instance, the new academy trust governance guide states that the academy trust board should support staff wellbeing, actively promoting their commitment to implementing the DfE’s workload reduction taskforce recommendations. Furthermore, the DfE encourages the board and the senior leadership team to consider implementing flexible working practices.

In addition, whilst they have been retained in the maintained school governance guidance, the three core functions of a governing body have been removed from the academy trust governance guide. These core functions are:

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
  • Holding executive leaders to account for educational performance and effective and efficient performance management of staff
  • Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent. These have instead been replaced by:
  • Strategic leadership
  • Accountability and assurance
  • Strategic engagement.

This reflects the broader role which the board in an academy trust plays, and is consistent with the amendments which were made to the academy trust handbook.

There is now a requirement in both guides for at least one trustee to complete cyber security training. Further, culture in both academy trusts and maintained schools must actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs.

Practical steps

Whilst the governance handbook has been withdrawn, schools should be cautious to ensure that they continue to comply with governance requirements and expectations, as set out in the guides for academy trusts and maintained schools. For many academy trusts, this may be an opportune time to review your articles of association to ensure that they are up to date and reflect the current requirements.

Related Articles

View All