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External Reviews of Governance – What’s in the new DfE Guide?

13 January 2022

We look here at the key elements of the DfE updated and consolidated guidance on external reviews of governance.

On 21 December 2021, the DfE updated and consolidated its guidance on external reviews of governance into a single guide for

  • maintained schools
  • pupil referral units
  • academy trusts
  • foundations, sponsors, dioceses and others interested in school governance
  • sixth form colleges and
  • general further education colleges.

The key elements of the guidance are summarised as follows.

Focus, purpose and importance

First, a review should be conducted by an experienced independent governance professional. With proven experience and expertise in governance, Wrigleys is ideally-placed to provide you with an independent and objective review of your governance.

A review should examine the effectiveness of your governing body or board (the “board”) against the 6 features of effective governance included in the Governance Handbook:

  • strategic leadership
  • accountability
  • people
  • structures
  • compliance
  • evaluation.

Some reviews have tended to give less attention to compliance. However, any review must look at all aspects to provide a thorough assessment.

Specifically, the guidance says a review should provide your board with

  • an independent, objective view of its strengths and areas for improvement
  • clear recommendations for next steps and
  • an opportunity to review strategic direction and processes and systems

and reassure others that the board is taking its responsibilities seriously and endeavouring to carry them out effectively.

Ultimately, a review will help your board

  • be more skilled, focussed and effective
  • be clear in its vision and how to achieve it
  • have a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities
  • have the appropriate skills
  • hold leaders to account for improving pupil outcomes
  • oversee finances and ensure value for money
  • assure compliance and
  • continuously improve.

There are also other benefits as detailed in the article on The Benefits of Good Governance, which is available on our website.

As for frequency, a review should be undertaken at regular intervals and otherwise before any significant change, such as an academy conversion or trust growth.

How to prepare for and commission your review

Preparation is always key and a review is no exception. The guidance therefore suggests first reflecting on what is working well and any areas for concern or improvement.. While this can help prepare for a review, it does not carry the same weight as (and should not replace) a review conducted by an experienced, independent governance expert.

When commissioning your review, you should

  • secure the agreement of your board and senior leaders
  • identify an appropriate reviewer
  • agree the scope, costs and timescales for the review
  • discuss the findings and recommendations with the board and reviewer
  • agree and implement an action plan
  • review the impact and, if appropriate, schedule a follow up.

Your reviewer should have the background, skills and experience to fully understand your organisation and governance structure and can be sourced from service providers, sector organisations, consultants, professional bodies, lawyers and auditors.

What to expect from your review

The guidance advises that a review should be personalised to your organisation, detail well-evidenced findings and provide recommendations for improvement. To this end, the board and reviewer should first establish the

  • areas of concern or improvement
  • anticipated outputs
  • objectives and scope
  • process to be followed
  • timeframes and costs.

Once these terms of reference have been established, the reviewer should

  • assess board effectiveness by observing board and committee meetings, by facilitated discussion or interviews and by assessing challenge, scrutiny and internal control and
  • test compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.

Boards should also consider including a review of the governance support, advice and guidance they receive and how this helps them to be effective.

However the review is scoped, you will need to

  • provide the reviewer with any documents and information they request
  • be open and receptive to challenge and constructive criticism
  • actively seek and consider new ways of operating and
  • be reflective and honest during the process.

In this way, you will help ensure your board learns all it can from the review and that your school, trust or college improves as a result.

The review should conclude with a report and action plan (developed together) which is timebound, specific and identifies clear measures of success.

The reviewer should then return after several months to assess the board’s progress and provide further advice as appropriate.


The DfE guidance on external reviews of governance helpfully explains the key features of an effective review and the benefits for your board and school, trust or college. As experienced, independent governance experts, Wrigleys routinely advises on governance issues, whether by email or telephone as part of Wrigleys’ Education Response package or as part of a review, such as Wrigleys’ Governance Review Service for Academy Trusts. If you would like further information on how Wrigleys can support you, please get in touch.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Graham Shaw  on 0113 244 6100.

You can also keep up to date by following Wrigleys Education on Twitter here

The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. The law stated is correct at the date (stated above) this article was first posted to our website. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors



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