When I joined a large, national, multi-phase multi-academy trust a year ago as Head of Corporate Affairs, I faced a conundrum about the purpose of local governance within a trust context. Many of our local governors – and our leaders – were confused about the role and governors said they felt ‘neglected’.
It became pretty clear to me early on that the difficulties are not purely structural – they relate to the very purpose of governance itself. We are all familiar with the ‘purposes of governance’ from the DfE’s Handbook, but the overriding sense most people have is that governance is a critical part of our wide-ranging and somewhat overbearing approach to ‘accountability’.
Few of us would suggest that those who are paid to provide education on behalf of taxpayers should not be ‘accountable’, but I do not believe there is consensus about how that accountability should take shape. Michael Pain is among many who have written recently about our unresolved lack of clarity in this area, and the unique opportunity we now have to redefine it from within the education system.
For me, there are two key questions that are absolutely not settled in regard to educational accountability:
- To whom are we accountable – perhaps, more than the DfE, we are actually accountable to our learners, their parents and the community?
- For what are we accountable – perhaps, it is for more than just that which can be quantified in performance tables?
But, even if we were able to agree on the answers to those two questions, is our traditional model of governance up to doing the work? I have been questioning a lot within our trust whether formal meetings, ‘dry’ reports and bags of process are the best way to do it.
So, at a recent webinar with over 60 of our local governors, we began exploring the concept of ‘dynamic’ local governance. I want to re-energise and empower the marvellous people who give of their time to support our work through governance. I truly believe that a reinvigorated approach to local governance can begin to get us closer to the heart of community accountability and also challenge us to measure and evaluate what really counts – whether or not our students and their parents believe we have made a difference to their lives.
Our initial concept of ‘dynamic’ local governance focuses on several things:
- Drawing governors from as broad a cross-section of the local community as possible
- Investing time in the relationships between executives and governors to create a sense of joint endeavour
- Focusing on activity which delivers a tangible impact to what is done in the academy – even if that impact is just to make leaders think about what they are doing
- Listening to as many voices as possible and really getting ‘under the skin’ of what the academy feels like – for students, colleagues and parents
- Being the strategic voice of the community when the academy is forming plans
- Actively collaborating with others inside and outside our trust to share good ideas.
In short, I am working hard to liberate our local governors so that they can really make a difference. I am often asked for permission to do something by one of our local governors. My reply is always that they can do anything they want to do as long as it respects the difference between executive and non-executive roles, is within the scope of our Scheme of Delegation and seeks to make a real difference to the experience of our students.
And that, for me, is what multi-academy trusts should be all about – working together to make a real difference – as we put it in our trust, #transforminglives. We have the flexibility and the possibility to create governance operations that can really support that. Our next chapter is about giving people the confidence and the tools to seize that opportunity.
Head of Corporate Affairs