Book Look – Part 1 Governance

I’ve been looking at the accounts of three similar sized Multi-academy trusts to see if there is anything to learn about commonalities, differences etc. I shall also use any information I can find about the trusts and their schools that is available on their own websites.

The schools were chosen based on their current size but the accounts looked at were those to 31 August 2015, which explains why they are not exactly the same size. This is in a way helpful as it can show the journey that some of these MATs are on.

So, the three are:

MAT A – Total of six schools (five primary and one secondary) based in the West Midlands. Now has eleven (eight plus three).

MAT B – Total of eleven schools (seven primary and four secondary) based in the South East. Now has thirteen (six plus seven)

MAT C – Total of eight schools (four primary and four secondary) based in the South East. Now has nine (five plus four).

So even in a fairly short period of time we can see that these MATs are all changing. MATs A and B also state on their websites that they are in the process of having more schools joining in coming school year.

I intend spreading this over three posts covering the following areas.

  • Governance
  • Money and how it is used in the trust
  • Other interesting things I come across

So, Governance.

This week, fortuitously, the DfE published a new academies myth buster document. On the issue of governance it has this to say:

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So what forms of governance are obvious in these three trusts?

MAT A

This trust sets its governance structure out very clearly in the accounts. There is a MAT board which is effectively appointed by the Trust members. Sat below this there are currently three local hubs (can be expanded to more hubs if required) each of which is expandable. These hubs are said to be self-governing. The hub board has on it chairs of the local school governing bodies plus two representatives from the main board. Obviously exactly how this works will depend on the schemes of delegation of the different level boards, but this model has three levels.

Also, whilst not all the schools in the trust show details of their governance arrangements, where they do the chair and vice-chair of the GB are governors appointed by the Trust which is suggestive of a less autonomous regime than that indicated by the governance structure set out in the accounts.

Also, from looking at the school websites there appear to be Executive Headteachers and Heads of School rather than a headteacher in each school.

MAT B

This MAT has a top-level board which overseas the work of academy boards which in turn govern the work of academies assigned to it. This is very similar to the hub model in MAT A. The accounts are silent on the membership of the various boards thought the trust website says that “the chairperson of each academy board is represented on the Trust Board to ensure that there is effective and coherent governance”. It also has the interesting statement that each academy board has to have at least two members who are expected to make regular visits to the academy during the year. Which suggests that the other governors aren’t and are a bit semi-detached from the schools they are responsible for. Which is strange.

The accounts state that principals and vice-principals lead and manage the individual academies.

The Trust employs a CEO, Deputy CEO, a Finance Director, Business Director, IT Director and HR Director. This group, in conjunction with the board, set the strategy of the trust.

MAT C

This trust has a board which has six directors appointed by the members, three appointed by the local governing bodies and two directors appointed by their role (who I take to be the CEO and the FD) and the interesting stipulation that no more than three of the directors may be salaried (I assume this allows for a member of staff to be on the board). The trust is using the model of Executive Headteachers and Headteachers/Principals.

There are Academy Advisory Boards in each school to which the main board can appoint governors. There is also a nascent regional body structure. They also have an excellent scheme of delegation. Excellent in that it exists and is publically available. Unlike the other two Trusts looked at here.

It should be noted that the accounts also contains the following statement relating to the local boards – “Directors retain the ability to appoint the majority of Governors and thus retain the ability to exert control over each Academy.” It also notes in relation to reserves – “The Trust holds an unrestricted reserve of £xxxxxx and whilst this is held by individual Academies, the Trust reserves the right to redeploy these resources to meet the wider needs of the organisation.”

These are pointed out not to criticise this trust – effectively they are only being honest as to the legal position they are in.

So externally at least the three trusts have similar governance, a hubs and spokes model, sat under a central trust board. Beyond that there are some important differences. MAT A appoints to the academy boards the chair and vice-chair. This centralises a lot of power. The other two would appear to have a much more organic structure, where the local boards are more traditional. One has a parent governor as chair, for example (but see comments on the scheme of delegation for MAT C later).

Having had a brief look at a number of other trusts this hubs and spokes model would appear to be the way things are going.

The difficulty is that without the scheme of delegation the organisational structure is, in a way, kind of meaningless. Inferences can be made, obviously. For example, where a central board appoints the chair and vice-chair of local boards one can make the assumption that they are likely to be operating less autonomous academies than one that doesn’t do that.

The one scheme of delegation we have shows that the local academy advisory boards have no power. We can see that because they are not even mentioned on it. The different levels are Directors, CEO, Regional Board, Principal. The words most frequently appearing in the column for the Principal are ‘Report’, ‘Deliver’ and ‘Comply’.

It is, of course, impossible to determine how a system of governance operates in practice from a book review. What you can do is see the direction of travel. All-powerful central boards creating regional boards which have some power and local advisory boards which have none does appear to be the direction of travel. In a sense this is inevitable if the intention is for MATs to have the capability of transforming a school – how can it do that if it cannot impose authority over those tasked with the day-to-day operation of the school? This also mirrors the legal power balance between the Trust and the individual school – the former has lots and the latter has little.

Then we can compare the reality (as seen through these three examples) with the myth-buster, the essence of which is that MATs aren’t remote from the schools and that they have a say.

I’d have to say that from what I have seen here that the myth-buster is overstating its case. Whilst none of these three trusts are remote national organisations, they are in no way local either. Operating across geographic boundaries they are more remote than, say, LAs. As for a ‘one-size, fits all’ approach there appears to be a distinct lack of power at the local level to make a reality of the myth-busters contention that the academy can make a change that a parent cares about.

I don’t think the myth has been busted.

Next time, Money!

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