Academies are independent schools and so they have flexibility in deciding how to run their governing bodies. In the simplest sense the key consideration for academy governing bodies in deciding how to operate and what to focus upon beyond their legal requirements is achieving and maintaining academy improvement. The governing body should set educational objectives for the academy and agree them with the Principal. The governing body of The St Lawrence Academy is to be called the Board of Trustees.
Much maintained school governors’ guidance could be helpful to academies as set out below; essentially the challenges are the same. However, it must be emphasised that in some respects [largely structural] academies are in a different position and guidance that is aimed at maintained academies must be used with this in mind. The legal and financial framework within which academies are working is very different to that of maintained schools and as such guidance in these areas is generally not applicable. Specific differences and issues that are relevant only to academies are highlighted below.
Academies may want to consider providing governance training for their members and the main source of information about governance for maintained academies can be found at www.governornet.co.uk.
This website provides some training materials that academy governing bodies could use. In addition private companies may offer training and sometimes Local Authorities might be prepared to provide training to academies at a cost. Obviously it will be for the academy governing body to decide which training is appropriate for them and which options provide value for money. It is likely that governors within the governing body will have different requirements and as such it will be necessary to plan for both the whole governing body and individual members.
Academy governors are in a somewhat different position to other types of academy particularly in terms of:
An academy is a new school with support from an external sponsor and freedoms in certain areas of the academy’s business [curriculum, teachers’ pay and conditions, setting own admissions policy etc]. The process of setting up an academy takes between one and three years from the point at which the sponsor puts forward an Expression of Interest [EoI]. A Project Steering Group [PSG] normally oversees the feasibility and implementation stages and consists of sponsor representatives, an LA representative, a DCSF representative, a project manager, a construction project manager, architects etc.
The academy Board of Trustees carries out the management of the academy on behalf of the Academy Trust [which is the company]. The core composition of the two key bodies [unless otherwise stated in the Articles of Association] is as follows:
Academies should be responsive to parents, students and the community. Academies are inspected by Ofsted in the same way as maintained and independent schools and are inspected against both the maintained school framework and the Independent School Standards, as they apply to academies. Prior to opening Ofsted inspect academies against the Independent School Standards and the DCSF sends a pre-registration pack to all academies before the inspection. This pack sets out the various policies and practices that need to be in place and also outlines how the law more widely applies to academies. The DCSF provides academies with School Improvement Partners [SIPs]. Academies are included in the Performance Tables and should of course still consider themselves as part of the local family of schools; they are actively encouraged to share resources with other schools and work constructively with the Local Authority.
The educational objectives of an academy are much the same as those for maintained schools:
The academy is owned and run by the Academy Trust [which is the academy company; the two names are synonymous in this context]. The Funding Agreement, Memorandum of Understanding and Articles of Association form the basis of the legal relationship between the Secretary of State and the Academy Trust. The Funding Agreement covers:
The Articles of Association set out the governing body composition and will provide a useful source of information for anyone wanting to find out how their Board of Trustees has to be constituted and how decisions should be made.
Academies have charitable status and this has various implications one of which is that they cannot delegate their decision making power to a body upon which they do not have a majority.
After initial sponsor input the majority of the funding for academies comes from the DCSF. Some funding is from the Local Authority. Full details of financial matters can be found in the Academies Financial Handbook which is on the Freedom of Information site.
The Board of Trustees manages the academy on behalf of the Academy Trust. Its key responsibilities are to:
In accordance with the responsibilities set out above governing bodies/Board of Trustees should:
The governing body/Board of Trustees must be set up before the academy opens. The composition is agreed in the Articles of Association at the time that the Funding Agreement is signed. They all must have at least three members but the governing body/Board of Trustees are likely to benefit from having more, in order to create a more balanced board. The compulsory members of the governing body/Board of Trustees, unless otherwise stated in the Articles of Association are: sponsor members, parent and LA member and Principal [ex-officio member]. The DCSF encourages governing bodies/trusttes to include community and staff members. Further members can also be co-opted as specified in the Articles of Association. It is also possible to recruit Associate Members; these are not full members but can participate in committees and provide advice on specific issues. Governing bodies/Board of Trustees are legally obliged to set up a financial committee. As a rough guide a governing body/Board of Trustees with about ten members would serve the purposes of an average size secondary academy.
There is a range of ways in which an Academy Trust can operate: it could be overseeing several academies or it could have a range of sponsors. As above the Academies’ Articles of Association will set out how the governing body/Trustees should be constituted and the relationship between any central and local governing bodies. Where there are several academies operating below one Trust, a central governing body/Board of Trustees could find it useful to delegate some powers to committees with specific functions. Indeed over time it could become apparent that it would be beneficial to do this. Every academy will have its own view as to how it should best organise itself to achieve its targets and within the framework of what is stipulated in the Articles of Association, and bearing in mind the ways in which it is accountable, it has the freedom to do this.
The Chair and Vice Chair of the governing body/trustees have to be elected by the members of the Governing body/Trustees.
The Chair has the final say over the way that meetings are structured, and in general will find it useful to work closely with the Principal. Every academy is legally obliged to appoint a clerk who will have responsibility for performing a secretariat function for the academy governing body/Board of Trustees; the board could decide on a wider role for the clerk. A Responsible Officer [RO] has to be appointed and will have responsibility for financial matters and accountancy, ensuring that the Academies finances are in order etc. Academies have a great deal of scope in deciding how to recruit their trustees although the parent member has to be elected.
The Articles of Association stipulate that the academy should have meetings at least once per term, although we know that some governing bodies/trustees have found it useful to meet and communicate more frequently. Decision making has to be taken by a majority of the governing body/trustees although this decision making power can be delegated to a sub-committee of the overall governing body/Board. As above the structure of the governing body/trustees is very much dependent upon the way that the Chair and other members would like to proceed but one possible and simple way to organise the meeting could be:
The monitoring and evaluation that the academy governing body undertakes will depend upon the particular issues that it faces. A good basis for monitoring and evaluation is the Self Evaluation Form [SEF] that should be updated regularly and used actively. Core areas that should be covered include:
Although the entire website is not relevant for academy governors/trustees there are a number of articles that may be of interest.