December 2020 edition: Chairing a Local Governing Body in a Multi-Academy Trust

Chairing a Local Governing Body in a Multi-Academy Trust

Governance of any organisation is hugely important; schools are no different.

Articles of Association afford Multi-Academy Trusts considerable flexibility with regard to their governance structures. The simplest structure is a trust board (accountable for all the schools in the trust) and governance at the local level with Local Governing Bodies (LGBs) to which the board can delegate powers. Local governance can take many forms and school trusts are free to choose the model which works best for their schools. They can, for example, choose to have one LGB per school or a cluster model with one LGB looking after more than one school or a mixture of both.

Getting governance right at the local level is a challenge unique to larger school trusts and some do get it wrong which means that as Sir David Carter and Laura McInerney’s book title says, ‘…some fail but most don’t’. Trusts which do get local governance right, understand that LGBs are best placed to scrutinise and monitor delegated areas and keep the board informed.

I chair two LGBs; one of a primary school of a small, local primary multi academy trust and one of a secondary school of a large, national system trust. Concerns have been expressed that larger trusts may not have the necessary structures to support effective governance at the local level. In this article I want to relate my experience of being a member of an LGB of a large, national trust (United Learning) and why I think it works.

An immediate task after joining United Learning was to appoint a head. I had previously taken part in appointing a head of a single academy trust so can compare both experiences. As part of United Learning the appointing panel received a great deal of help from Central Office. At the same time, I felt that we were an integral part of the process. The LGB members on the panel were able to share views with the other panel members, Sir Jon Coles, CEO and Dame Sally Coates, and provide feedback. As we knew our school and community well, these views were listened to. The person we eventually appointed had been a Deputy Head before and this was his first headship. Being part of a large trust meant he was able to draw upon the experience of a more experienced head within the trust who acted as his mentor.

A concern frequently expressed by some is that in larger trusts there is a danger of a disconnect between the CEO and the board and the LGB. I have not found this to be the case. As Chair I have regular opportunities to meet with Sir Jon Coles and trustees. These meetings are an extremely useful way to find out about the board’s future plans for the trust. They also provide an opportunity for chairs to discuss their issues with the CEO and the trustees. The meetings have continued online during the present COVID crisis. The support to heads and chairs during COVID has been exemplary.

Trusts which do get local governance right, understand that LGBs are best placed to scrutinise and monitor delegated areas and keep the board informed.

Naureen Khalid

United Learning have Regional Directors who have a wealth of experience of school improvement and work closely with heads. As Chair, I attend these meetings too. There is challenge and support from both sides. The Regional Director goes through our data with us and we have a chance to raise any issues we think the board/Central Office need to be aware of.

Barely a month after we appointed our head, Ofsted "called”. Our Regional Director was in school during the inspection. Having been through an inspection as a single academy trust too, this time around felt less stressful given the support from the Regional Director.

Another source of support for Chairs of LGBs is Lesley Dolben, Head of Local Governance. She provides support, arranges briefings, sends out newsletters, arranges training sessions for governors and has also set up a clerks’ network. Being part of the large United Learning family means there are many people who can lend a helping hand when needed. I had to put together a governor panel and could not find a governor to act as the independent member of the panel. I contacted Lesley and she was able to suggest someone which meant the panel could be convened within the stipulated timeframe. Lesley is also implementing a mentoring programme for chairs. Again, being a big trust means there is a large pool of experienced chairs who can mentor new chairs.

Some school trusts do get local governance wrong but there are many good practice examples out there. The sector needs to learn from them.