Yesterday I was at the Academies Governance and Leadership Conference 2019 to hear from speakers including Claire Collins from the NGA, Lord Agnew, Leora Cruddas from CST and Ernest Jenavs from Edurio. A common theme across the day was about increasing MAT accountability and ways to strengthen good academy trust governance at a local and central level. Highlights included:
- An impassioned plea from Leora Cruddas to reflect on our use of language and to stop using the “toxic language of academisation and MATs” and instead talk about more schools and school trusts.
- Claire Collins raised the important question about how manageable the role of a trustee actually is. She recognised what a challenging role it is, the skills and experience volunteers need, the time and energy it takes up.
- All talked about the ongoing challenge of increasing diversity amongst boards as a means of enhancing leadership – the NGA’s recent governance survey found that less than 10% are aged under 40 (and a fraction of those under 30) and only 5% are from a BAME background.
- NGA gave an helpful summary of the role of a local academy committee: monitor, scrutinise, consult, represent all stakeholders, influence. Claire Collins went on to clarify that ultimately there is no decision making or accountability in their role.
- Jeremy Rowe from Waveney talked about the importance of calling those involved in any school-based committee anything but governors – as this is the one thing in a traditional sense of the word, they aren’t.
- Ernest Jenavs from Edurio highlighted five points they had learnt from their recent research research about what makes a ‘local governing body’ effective:
- a focus on children not numbers
- alignment with the trust’s vision and values
- support for school leaders on key issues
- engagement with stakeholders
- observing good meeting processes – meetings that work are the ones where the important questions are asked, the important issues are discussed and there is confidence that actions are followed up.
It was interesting to hear Ernest go on to talk about how after surveying 10,000 staff, the most frequently mentioned word about what makes jobs easier and makes them want to stay is effective communication. He also spoke about how the leadership dynamics within a trust is a crucial factor in the effective retention of staff.
Lord Agnew summed up the fundamental role and responsibilities that fall on trustees’ shoulders – ‘governance will make or break the academies programme’.