Ahead of the Academies Governance and Leadership Conference 2020, Clare Collins, Head of Consultancy at the NGA, shared her thoughts on the scope for improving governance across academy trusts in light of the many challenges faced this year.
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2020 has been a big year and we’re not through it yet. We’ve had Boris, Brexit and coronavirus, all of which have had – and are likely to continue to have – an impact on schools, and therefore on academy trusts. This means that the pressures on those governing trusts have been considerable, and if anyone had managed to escape trustee responsibilities such as risk management, by May half term they would have been knee deep in its intricacies.
On the whole the governance community has responded well to the challenges facing trusts, embracing virtual working, supporting their chief executives, and soaking up the information and guidance made available by the Department for Education and sources such as the National Governance Association. In many cases, trusts have gone the extra mile, foregrounding the needs of those most affected by the pandemic, working closely with local authorities, and collaborating with other schools, regardless of whether they are academies in or beyond their trust, or are maintained schools. This is ethical leadership in action and it has been a pleasure to hear from many trustees and local governing board members how much their schools have benefitted from the central direction that they have received from their executive teams.
But there’s no room for complacency. Despite COVID-19 expenditure, unknowns associated with ministerial changes, and the prospect of a hard Brexit, budgets still have to balance, schools have to re-open and curriculums have to be delivered so that pupils meet their goals. And just to keep everyone on their toes, no doubt Ofsted will soon crank up their act.
Ensuring that trust boards are well informed and understand their role and responsibilities is a key starting point. However skills such as scrutiny, analysis, question and challenge are critical to good governance so that the board can effectively hold senior executive leaders to account. Ensuring that boards reflect our wider communities continues to be a challenge to many. We know that diverse boards promote diversity of thinking and therefore challenge, both of which indicate a healthy governance culture. In other words, aiming for diversity of the people around the table is a commitment all boards should be making.
Too often tools for assessing and developing trustee effectiveness are too theoretical and over generalised. NGA has a team of experienced consultants who can work with trustees and trust boards on a basis that allows relationships to develop and utilises extensive networks, resources and practical approaches to support effective governance.