Governance update

Posted on November 23rd, 2020

The role of governors and trustees in supporting and challenging their schools and academies has probably never been more crucial than it is during the current pandemic. The government issues regular updates to keep those involved in school governance abreast of the often rapid changes that have taken place recently. The latest edition (October 2020) covers a variety of important points.

Role descriptors

Two documents containing role descriptors and high level information about the governance of maintained schools and academy trusts have just been published. The documents feature detailed explanations of how governing boards of maintained schools and academy trusts are structured and descriptions of the roles and responsibilities of board members. These include:

  • A map of the common governance structures in the different types of school within the maintained school sector and within academies.
  • A role descriptor of the governing board of a maintained school and of an academy trust.
  • Role descriptors for the different types of governor in maintained schools and of members, trustees and governors within a trust.
  • The role of the chair, vice chair and clerk in maintained schools and academy trusts.
  • The role of the DFE and its agencies including the ESFA.

These documents will make very useful, arguably essential, reading for all new governors or would-be governors.

Governance handbook 2020 edition

The long awaited latest edition of the governance handbook has been published in October 2020. It has been updated to reflect policy and legislation from the past year and to clarify language where necessary. Some critical COVID-19 related changes are featured in the handbook (but for the most part the DFE uses other documents to transmit information about the impact of the pandemic on education matters). CEFM will shortly give more details of the main changes in this handbook in one of our November education updates.

Board meetings during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Governing boards must still work to fulfil their three core functions of governance as set out in the handbook. They should take a pragmatic approach to meetings and chairs are expected to make new arrangements as necessary so that all members’ needs are met. Boards must continue to function effectively and in accordance with legal requirements.

Cyber security for schools

There is an increasing number of cyber-attacks involving ransomware infection affecting the education sector. Guidance has recently been issued to school leaders by the DFE advising them to:

  • Have an incident plan that has already been tested.
  • Ensure that data is backed up offline and test the recovery of it.
  • Regularly review defences and controls.

The DFE has also issued a range of security questions for governors and trustees to help inform conversations with school leaders.

National leaders of governance (NLG) reform recommendations

In September, the DFE published a report on the findings and recommendations of an external reform advisory group.

These include:

  • A redefinition of the role of NLGs.
  • NLGs should be paid for their work.
  • Eligibility to become a NLG should be extended to include experienced clerks and governance professionals as well as experienced former chairs of governors.
  • There should be new NLG standards.
  • A robust, two stage process of selection of NLGs should be developed and implemented.
  • There should be high quality training for all NLGs.
  • NLGs should only be deployed to improve governance in education settings where they have relevant expertise – they should only be deployed at academy trust level if they have proven expertise in trust governance.
  • NLG designations should last for three years after which there should be a full review.

NFER report on school and trust governance

This research report is based on responses from over 1,200 schools, academies and trusts. It provides detail on:

  • Governance structures and the distribution of responsibility.
  • Size and characteristics of governing boards.
  • Recruitment and retention of governors.
  • The experiences and challenges faced by those involved in governance.

CEFM will be summarising this report in more detail in one of our November education updates.

Get information about schools (GIAS)

Schools are reminded that school and trust governance details on the GIAS website and data held by the ESFA must be kept up-to-date. Changes to any details of members of governing boards should be transmitted to the GIAS and ESFA websites by the clerk or governance professional at every school or academy.