The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

A journey in governance

“Can I borrow your school field please?” That question led to a life in governance locally, regionally and nationally. The trade-off for using the school field was to become a school governor at the local secondary! This chance conversation led me to being involved in, probably, the most rewarding job that I have ever had – being a school governor! And what a chance that was – the opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of young people, the responsibility that some 300,000 people take on as volunteers across the length and breadth of the country.

In 2011, as part of the school governing body, I oversaw conversion to academy status and became Chair of Governors. By leading the federation of the school with a local rural primary academy, I started my journey of collaboration with other schools and stakeholders. I progressed onto the Board of a Multi Academy Trust with 46 academies under its control.

In 2016, as Chair of the MAT, I appointed a new Chief Executive Officer. I began to re-shape governance at all levels, increasing skills, experience and expertise to change and improve leadership across the Trust.

Over the next two years the Executive Leadership Team was re-structured, new appointments were made at both Member and Board of Director level. A re-focussed, re-vitalised leadership and governance team was introduced.

The new team shared the passion, vision and commitment to improving outcomes for children.

Steve Hodsman
Working with the new CEO, new structures and systems were introduced. This joint approach transformed leadership, teaching and learning and governance culminating in the Trust becoming one of the most improved within the MAT sector.

Our new vision for the future was communicated across the organisation from admin staff and caretakers to executive and non-executive leaders. The buy in and take up of the vision was something to behold. We moved with pace from a Trust haemorrhaging staff to one that people wanted to work for. Finances were turned around and after 6 months we undertook a complete re-branding exercise. This was delivered for around £500! Everything from letterheads to invoices, envelopes to websites were all given new logos electronically, negating the need for printed stationery. The Trust was transformed into Delta Academies Trust.

As Chair, I visited as many academies with the CEO as I could. Together we promoted our vision. Our agenda was introduced to parents, staff, and governors. We delivered greater staff and governor training. Governors attended trust-wide network meetings with Heads and Principals. Across the whole Trust the message remained the same; It’s all about the pupils and students.

On the governance journey, all governors were included in everything that we did and in turn many of them took up the cause on our behalf. They communicated with local stakeholders and got more involved in the lives of their academy. The vision was sold!

The collective work of everyone resulted in increased pupil outcomes. Greater clarity and accountability became the norm. ‘Buy in’ at all levels resulted in greater aspiration and expectation. Parents wanted their children to come to our schools, and with increased pupil numbers, the long-term financial position of the Trust was improved. Delta became synonymous with delivering its vision of “Changing lives.”

Nationally, the push towards academisation continues. I believe that this will continue into the future but with a very different focus. Standalone schools and small MATs will, in my view, become a thing of the past with closer collaboration and self-improvement becoming the norm. Larger, well-structured MATs with a proven record of school improvement will be asked to work with smaller, underperforming or failing MATs in an attempt to avoid mass re-brokering. Pressures on MAT governance will increase as boards look to ensure academic and financial sustainability whilst being asked to take on more academies and schools that need help. Governance will need to become more professional with the accountability of board performance and management coming under greater scrutiny. Chairs will be pressured to deliver improved executive performance at less cost. Trustees will have to justify their performance whilst remaining volunteers. Remuneration of executives will be questioned and MATs will be subjected to an as yet unexplained set of inspection or assessment criteria to show that they are ‘delivering’.

Recently I reflected on my reasons for being a governor. Initially I just wanted to be part of a school family creating opportunity for children to succeed. As Chair of the Board of a ‘System MAT’ – that continues to be my goal. If we lose focus on core values, what will become of our education system? My message remains the same; It’s all about the pupils and students.