Agile governance in schools and academy trusts
As covid restrictions flux and local lockdowns increase, agile governance is ever more important. What does this mean for schools and academy trusts?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, schools and academy trusts have been nothing short of remarkable. They have provided for the vulnerable and the children of key workers, made education online the norm, not the exception, and ensured the safe return of students, while taking care of their staff. Governors and trustees have played a key role, moving their meetings and decision-making online. However, as covid restrictions flux and local lockdowns increase, they need to become ever more agile to adapt to changing circumstances. So what are the key things they should bear in mind?
In person or online?
Simply because boards have moved their meetings online, doesn’t mean all meetings should be in person once restrictions allow. Instead, boards should be encouraged to recognise the alternate benefits of meeting in person or online and adopt a blended approach.
In many cases, it will be appropriate for boards to meet online where this will suffice for the purposes of the agenda. This will make it easier for governors and trustees, many with busy lives, to attend and help recruit governors and trustees who would otherwise find it hard to volunteer.
If there is a need for in-depth discussion of difficult or complex issues, boards will benefit from meeting face-to-face, perhaps so that body language can be taken into account, provided social distancing restrictions allow.
Where restrictions or shielding limit the number of people who can meet in person but some face-to-face discussion is
necessary, some governors or trustees can always attend in person while others join by phone or video conference.
Code of conduct
Boards should be encouraged to revisit or devise a code of conduct for their governors or trustees, reflecting on what has worked well and what has not, to record those behaviours that are expected whether in person or online.
Whether a board meets online and/or in person, they must ensure the meeting is quorate which, for a maintained school, requires one half of the governors and, for an academy trust, ordinarily requires three or a third of the trustees, in each case rounded up to a whole number. Where a technical issue disconnects someone from attending online, temporarily or permanently, the meeting may cease to be quorate and so unable to conduct any business until they re-join, in which case it may be necessary to re-schedule the meeting.
A board may of course meet on such shorter notice as the chair directs where the chair determines that there are matters demanding urgent consideration.
However, a board may wish to reconfigure its committee structure to include committees with delegated responsibility for those areas that are most affected by the pandemic. These committees, being smaller than the board, will be better able to meet on short notice, as required.
Terms of reference
Where a board reconfigures its committee structure, it will need to update the terms of reference for its committees so that their role, the procedure for calling meetings and the process by which they report to the board are clear.
Academy trusts will also need to comply with the Academies Financial Handbook by updating the structure and remit of their committees on their website and recording any change in the chair of a committee (including a local governing body) on their website and on Get information about schools.
Scheme of delegation
Boards should of course review their scheme of delegation to ensure the allocation of responsibilities remains fit-for-purpose and keep this under review. Where an academy trust
updates its scheme of delegation, this must be added to the website to comply with the Academies Financial Handbook.
Boards may also exercise their power to co-opt additional governors or trustees to bolster their skills and expertise in dealing with the challenges presented by the pandemic.
Training and support
They can further reinforce their effectiveness by reviewing their training and continuing professional development, online or in person as appropriate, and ensuring regular contact between their governors or trustees and the chair to safeguard their own wellbeing.
Governance reviews, ordinarily conducted every two or three years, should also be considered. It may be that a board will benefit from a review sooner than later to assess their continued effectiveness and reflect on the meeting and decision making processes thrust upon them as a consequence of lockdown . If this is the case, the governance review service provided by Wrigleys Solicitors and Satis Education offers the advice and support needed.
Vision and strategy
Ultimately, a board may need to take a step back and review its vision and strategy to reassess its core purpose and how it will deliver this in practice.
The covid pandemic has presented major strategic and operational challenges, which schools and academy trusts have responded to admirably. The challenge now is for boards to become ever more agile while following best practice and complying with legal and regulatory requirements and, in so doing, ensure their future success.