Strong governance within a multi-academy trust (MAT) is one of the key drivers for effective accountability and ongoing school improvement; yet, the MAT model can bring a level of complexity and confusion if not developed, communicated and implemented effectively.
The growing autonomy of individual trusts and academies means that clear, effective and strong governance is essential – this is because, with increasing autonomy comes increasing accountability.
So, what makes an effective governing body?
Created in collaboration with Julie Bloor, Regional Director and National Lead for Governance at Ormiston Academy Trust, here are the key tips to ensure effective governance within an MAT.
Tip 1: Collaboration
In an MAT, you have the advantage of being able to bring in governors and expertise from other boards in order to share good practice – this is one of the most powerful tools that an MAT has.
If you are a governor in a maintained school, increase collaboration with other schools in your area – most governing bodies will allow you to observe their meetings and ask questions.
Tip 2: Training
The DfE expects the governing body to hand out certain roles, such as a safeguarding lead, pupil premium lead and a special educational needs and disabilities lead; however, a lot of governors who take on these additional roles aren’t sure of what to do.
When a governor is given a new role, make sure they are given a role descriptor – outlining their responsibilities and what is expected from them.
Our Role of the Pupil Premium Governor template is an example of what a good role descriptor looks like.
Alongside an effective role descriptor, training should be offered – this can be done through a variety of ways, such as paying an expert to conduct the appropriate training, or collaborating with an experienced governor with the same role within your MAT who can share best practice and appropriate training tips.
Tip 3: Observation
In an MAT, get an established chair of governors to assist and help introduce any new chairs into the role – sharing good practice is a powerful and useful tool.
Engaging in social media conversations, such as #UKGovChat on Twitter, can be a useful way to share experiences, ideas, support and documents, as well as widen your network of governors.
School Governors UK is a Facebook group set up by governors as a “place to share practice and ideas, engage with each other and ask questions in a safe and friendly forum whilst helping school governors across the UK who may feel a little isolated and overwhelmed at times”.
In a climate of financial challenge, governors are still held to account for the skills held by the governing body. Money can be saved on training and professional development costs by collaborating with other governing bodies within the MAT to procure value for money training packages.
Time can be saved by looking at other processes within your MAT – for instance, if you are looking to recruit a new headteacher, and know that an academy within your MAT has done so recently, ask them to run you through their processes and any activities they carried out.
Tip 4: Clerk
Having a really good clerk will have a massive impact on the effectiveness of a governing body as they are the first point of contact. Being a good clerk isn’t just about being able to take minutes and finalising agendas – keeping all governors well-informed will dramatically increase the productivity at governing body meetings.
The clerk in any governing body should have a good, solid relationship with the headteacher – making sure they are aware of all governor meetings so they can adequately prepare.
The clerk should advise the governing body on governance legislation and procedural matters where necessary before, during and after meetings. They should also have access to appropriate legal advice, support and guidance in order to pass on this information to the governing body.
An effective clerk should release important dates at least a year ahead to keep the governing body well-informed. Alongside this, prior to a full governing body meeting, it would be advisable that the clerk, headteacher and chair all meet in order to agree and finalise the agenda.
Use our Clerk to the Governors job description to help save you time when recruiting a clerk, ensuring you attract the right person for the role.
Tip 5: Skills audit
When conducting a skills audit it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong way of doing it; however, it is most effective to carry it out in a way that best suits the arrangement of your governing body.
The purpose of the audit is to provide a level of self-evaluation that allows the governing body to put the right people, with the right skills, in the right position within the governing body and committees, as well as identify any areas of weakness and recruit or implement CPD to fill the skills gap.
Ensuring you recruit the right person for the job will increase the effectiveness of your governing body – for example, if you conduct an effective skills audit and realise you are lacking in financial expertise, it wouldn’t be prudent to employ a governor who doesn’t embody this skill.
If you are recruiting following the skills audit, don’t appoint someone who doesn’t meet the requirements of the skills gap. If you need to address the skills gap through parent elections, address both responsibilities at once by making it clear that you are inviting nominations for parents with the required skills.
Doing a skills audit annually can highlight any gaps within your governing body, and if your skills audit identifies a need for training, this doesn’t necessarily mean expenses. For instance, if a governor lacks knowledge of data protection, perhaps pair them with another governor within the MAT who is knowledgeable about this particular issue.
Tip 6: Holding the headteacher to account
It is important that governors fully understand their role in holding the leadership team to account. They need to ensure that they avoid performing in a way that abdicates all responsibility to the senior leadership team, and instead, adopt an approach that provides support when needed, but is also clear and challenging. They need to ensure that they have governors with the right skills to be able to hold to account, question and challenge – which links back to Tip 5.
As well as holding the leadership to account, the governing body should have a clear insight into whom they are accountable to, how this accountability is measured, and how each person/organisation holding them to account should be reported to.
Tip 7: Ofsted
Although Ofsted inspections take place with limited notice, most of the time school leaders do have a fair idea of when to expect an inspector’s call. With this in mind, it is possible for governing bodies to be ‘Ofsted ready’.
Governors generally only get to spend approximately 30 minutes of time exclusively with an inspector to showcase all that they do. Preparing an organised and clearly labelled file of evidence that inspectors can look through at their leisure, will demonstrate that your governing body is efficient, transparent and is able to identify where it meets the responsibilities and requirements of the role.
Having good-quality Ofsted training can help get your governing body ‘Ofsted ready’ – it must also be noted that there is no reason why the governing body can’t go into an Ofsted interview with a prep sheet; you are allowed to take in whatever you need for an inspection, which could include a piece of paper with all the relevant data on.
Our Governance area includes policies, guidance, checklists, templates and many other resources regarding finance, the role of governors, school collaboration, accountability, recruitment, and more, to ensure your governing body is run effectively.