The benefits of good governance
We look here at the benefits of good governance for schools and academy trusts.
Schools and academy trusts have been through the mill in so many ways over the last 18 months. Their understanding and implementation of good governance has been put to the test, like never before. So what are the key benefits of good governance that will stand schools and academy trusts in good stead as they emerge from the pandemic?
The vision sets the direction of travel for any school or academy trust. It captures what they want to be and achieve. For some, covid will have caused them to review and re-set their vision, with governors and trustees enthused by a new sense of purpose. For others, their vision will have held them firm through the pandemic, with governors and trustees more convinced of their shared endeavour. Either way, we have seen how a clear, shared vision enables schools and academy trusts to unite around a common purpose.
We have also seen how the pandemic has required boards to retain a strategic focus while supporting staff and students. This has not been easy. However, a strategic plan that identifies the key priorities and deliverables, the required resources and how key challenges will be resolved, helps governors and trustees in this endeavour. It provides a strategic framework for policies, procedures and other metrics, so that staff and local governors can also play their part in delivering the collective vision.
Meanwhile, life teaches us that our values derive from who we want to be and what we see as important. The same is true of schools and academy trusts, where values derive from the vision. As with the vision, values are most powerful when they are written down, shared and owned by everyone, not just governors or trustees. In this way, the whole community understands what’s expected of them in pursuing the common good.
Expectations are particularly important among governors and trustees, if they are to function effectively. A code of conduct plays a key role in recording expected behaviours by codifying what works well and/or setting new expectations. Governors and trustees know what’s expected of them, meaning they all pull in the same direction. Others see what’s expected, which facilitates the recruitment of like-minded individuals.
This supports effective teamwork at board level, where having the right skills and experience also means everyone has a valid contribution to make. An effective chair ensures each voice is heard while keeping everyone focussed on the task in hand. They also build team between the board and senior leadership, ensuring the two work together to deliver their shared vision. Both play an equal part. The same goes for the members and local governors of an academy trust. Everyone plays their part when roles and responsibilities are understood and embraced.
Effective teamworking is reinforced by policies and procedures that are informed by independent advice, best practice and what works well. Front and centre is a scheme of delegation that clearly records the division of responsibility between the members, trustees, senior leadership and local governors. A full set of other policies and procedures builds on the scheme of delegation by recording how functions are to be discharged. Together, they ensure clear delivery and limit the risk of legal challenge.
They also manage the risks that present themselves and so form a key accompaniment to the risk register which records the key risks and where these can be managed. Where this is not possible, decisions can be taken to avoid or cease a course of action and so ensure the future success of the school or academy trust.
The timely receipt of suitable reports, information and advice plays a key role in informing risk management and also decision-making. We’ve seen this during the pandemic. Decisions informed by the right advice and information are more likely to be robust and stand up to external scrutiny. Internal challenge by the board, committees and auditors also place decisions under the spotlight so these are made for the right reasons.
Trust and confidence
Where minutes of board and committee meetings are published on the website, this enables the public to see the integrity and care with which decisions have been made. Publishing information such as the scheme of delegation, policies and procedures and register of interest also enables others to see how things work in practice. This builds trust and confidence and wider support for the school or academy trust.
All the above create a culture and way of working geared towards compliance. This minimises the risk of a legal or regulatory breach and, in the case of an academy trust, helps avoid additional scrutiny from the ESFA or RSC.
An independent external review of governance, whether before growth, where concerns arise or otherwise on a routine basis, can also help boards navigate significant change, overcome difficulties, and review established practices, all with a view to continuous improvement.
Information on the governance review service Wrigleys provide can be found on our website here. If you would like to discuss how our work can help support and equip your academy trust, do get in touch.
The benefits of good governance are wide-ranging and clear to see. These will serve schools and academy trusts well, whatever their circumstances. Perhaps the summer break will be an opportunity to reflect on what has worked well and where change may be needed?
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Graham Shaw on 0113 244 6100.
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The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. 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