If there is a single part of our emerging education system that needs our urgent attention, it is governance.
There is still much that is misunderstood about the differences between governing a local authority maintained school, governing a single academy trust and governing a multi-academy trust. The governing bodies of local authority maintained schools do not have the same legal and financial responsibilities as that of a single academy or multi-academy trust board. It is crucial that this is well understood.
Academies and multi-academy trusts are first and foremost charities – in other words, their sole purpose is to advance education for the public benefit. The income and property of the Trust must be applied solely towards this purpose – to advance education for the public benefit. Trustees must comply with the trust’s charitable purpose and with charity law.
The trustees of an academy or multi-academy trust are directors under company law and trustees under Charity Law. The trust is also the employer of staff and the holder of land titles. The level of responsibility of a trustee is therefore significantly greater than the governor of a maintained school, and the requirement for the Trust board to have the knowledge and skills to lead the organisation is correspondingly greater.
This becomes even more complicated for multi-academy trusts where the trustees are leading a complex organisation with a number of schools. The level of knowledge, skill and experience is therefore greater even than the requirements on a single academy trust.
There is no greater public service, in my view, than the investment we make in the future through the education and care of our children and young people. Ultimately failures of governance are a failure of the trust we hold with children and young people.
This is why it is really important that the Department for Education has commissioned comprehensive programmes, particularly aimed at governance leaders – trustees, chairs, vice chairs – and clerks. The FASNA programmes for governance leaders and clerks, are underpinned by the Government’s competency frameworks and a strong knowledge-base.
It is now attendant on the sector to ensure that governance leaders and clerks are properly trained in the knowledge requirements for the role, in order that we build effective governance across all types of schools. If we do not do so, we are failing in our duties of stewardship of the system.
Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” When we accept the role of governor and trustee, we assume the mantle of responsibility for the future chances of our children and young people. When we act irresponsibly or worse, negligently, we fail children. This, ultimately, is why we must take governance seriously.
FASNA is the only not for profit school membership association for that supports executive, governance and business leaders. We are one of the organisations certified by the DfE to provide Governance Leadership Programmes. See here for more information.
Leora Cruddas is Chief Executive of FASNA. She tweets @LeoraCruddas.
She will be giving a Governance Development Workshop for Governors, Trustees and Clerks with Sarah Ray in the MAT Summit at 2.20pm
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