• Championing Governance - the heart of organisational improvement

Championing Governance – the heart of organised improvement

Satis Education and Wrigleys Solicitors have joined forces to champion the role of governance in academy trusts. Educate magazine catches up with the two companies to find out more about their new governance review service, and how they are supporting academies to ensure their governance is effective and fit for purpose.

Good governance is at the heart of organisational improvement, but is all too often overlooked.

For the education sector especially, the effectiveness of governance is a key element to strong leadership and providing quality education to students. For academies – independent, selfgoverning schools that are funded directly by the government – the need for robust governance has dominated national headlines in the wake of high-profile failures within the sector.

With over 1,000 Multi Academy Trusts in England alone (BESA, 2019), parents need to be assured that leaders at the helm have the right governance in place so that children can thrive.

Satis Education and Wrigleys Solicitors have launched a new comprehensive governance review service for academy trusts which improves decision making, reduces risk and gives those that govern an academy the skills and confidence to challenge and support.

The two companies are no stranger to the educational landscape. Educate Awards sponsor Satis Education is a social enterprise which offers executive leadership recruitment and consultancy services to the education sector. Wrigleys Solicitors has a nationally recognised team of dedicated lawyers who work with a range of academy trusts and have encountered and resolved many different governance issues.

“The service combines the complementary sector expertise of Wrigleys Solicitors and Satis Education to provide academy trusts with a thorough review of their governance function and targeted recommendations and support where action is required,” said Helen Stevenson, co-founder of Satis Education.

“Academy trust governance has become increasingly important as the academies programme has expanded and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has sharpened its focus on the effective governance and compliance of academy  trusts to ensure the future success of the government’s flagship policy,” Helen added.

Wrigleys Solicitors and Satis Education have created a governance review service which comprises of three levels of service. Option one focuses on the effectiveness of governance and includes an analysis of areas such as board, committee and local governing body minutes, terms of reference and the scheme of delegation, interviews with key individuals, observation of a board meeting and a review of the most recent skills audit.

Option two centres on compliance with key regulatory requirements, including a review of the articles of association, funding agreement(s), audited accounts, registers of interests and related party transactions. Option three combines the reviews provided in options one and two to provide a comprehensive assessment of effectiveness and compliance across all key areas.

Each option concludes with a written report on the findings and recommendations and support where action is required.

The two firms say conducting an independent and external governance review has many benefits. “They provide academy trusts with a more objective diagnostic assessment than their own self-evaluation and help them look dispassionately at what is working well and what is not and what needs to change or improve,” said Helen. “It will also provide important evidence to refute any suggestion or view by the ESFA that the academy trust is not being governed effectively and so must be subject to intervention and re-brokerage.”

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is being felt in all areas of our lives, and the world of school and academy governance is no different. “Covid-19 has not only required academy trust boards to hold their meetings by phone or video conference and so understand the rules of engagement for virtual meetings, but has also drawn the roles of trustees and local governors and their responsibility for staff into sharp focus,” said Helen.

“We have seen academy trusts achieve some amazing things and this will continue.

Academy trusts therefore need to understand how effective governance can support them and this is where our governance review service can provide them with the understanding and insight they need. Many executive leaders within MATs have commented that without the support of their boards during this time their role would have been much more difficult.

Having an effective board means that executive leaders receive support and challenge in equal measure, which is key to good decision making,” added Helen.

The consequences of poor governance are troubling and far-reaching, with a recent report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) calling for better governance of the academies sector and greater transparency and accountability to parents and the community. “Poor governance undermines the effectiveness of academy trusts in securing the best education outcomes for their students and their financial sustainability,” said Helen.

“Effective governance must therefore be a core focus of every academy trust if they are to ensure their future success. Where poor governance reveals itself in the performance and attainment of students, the finances and/or non-compliance with the Academies Financial Handbook, the Department of Education and the ESFA will invariably intervene which will lead, where they are so minded, to a Financial Notice to Improve and ultimately the re-brokerage of the academy trust. The ramifications of this are farreaching, with students paying the ultimate price,” Helen added.

The new service takes away the guesswork and provides academy trusts with a thorough review which identifies areas that can be improved and recommends key actions to ultimately ensure success. With years of combined experience in the sector, Satis Education and Wrigleys Solicitors have a detailed understanding of the governance and compliance frameworks so leadership and management teams can rest assured that they are in safe hands.

Alongside regularly conducting governance reviews, Helen says leaders in academy trusts should also educate themselves with the latest guidance and focus on recruitment. “It may seem tedious but taking the time to ensure you are compliant with the Academies Financial Handbook and your funding agreement(s) will avoid catching the attention of the ESFA for a minor infringement. Also, ensure you recruit trustees from a range of backgrounds and ensure they receive a strong induction, along with ongoing training.”

To arrange a governance review for your academy trust or for further details on the service, please contact Helen Stevenson at Satis Education on helen@satiseducation.co.uk or Graham Shaw at Wrigleys Solicitors on graham.shaw@wrigleys.co.uk

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