When is a governing body not a governing body? When it is a ‘local governing body’.


Let’s get some of the terminology right at the outset. In maintained schools, a governing body is a statutory body with statutory powers. Under the original legislation in the 1986 Education Act and the 1988 Education Reform Act, a governing body is set up with the legal responsibility to oversee the school. Whist the local authority is a real presence in terms of keeping a watchful eye on standards, admissions, exclusions and the budget, local management of schools (from the 1988 Act) means that it is the governing body, not the local authority who runs the school.

Perhaps the most precise representation of this is shown where a local authority has to intervene and manage the school directly, and the term used for this is ‘withdrawing delegation of the budget’, demonstrating that it is the devolution of funds that is the actual devolution of statutory powers.

In an academy, the statutory body is the board of directors, and it is the directors who exercise the statutory powers.
In a single academy, the directors and the governors are the same people. Article 1 (k) defines governors thus:
“the Governors” means the directors of the Academy Trust (and “Governor” means any one of those directors)
Article 46 describes the makeup of the governing body, with parent governors, staff governors etc. The powers of the governing body are defined in Article 94:
…the business of the Academy Trust shall be managed by the Governors who may exercise all the powers of the Academy Trust.

This conflation of the terms ‘directors’ and ‘governors’ in a single academy, does not occur in the multi academy model, where the term ‘directors’ is used exclusively. In the Model Articles of Association in a multi academy the corresponding articles are:
Article 1(j):     “the Directors” means save as otherwise defined at Article 6.9 the directors of the Company (and “Director” means any one of those directors);
Article 46 describes staff directors and parent directors in the way we think of parent and staff governors in maintained schools and Article 93 defines the statutory powers:
…the business of the Company shall be managed by the Directors who may exercise all the powers of the Company.
A multi academy trust will include a number of different academies, in which a new school-based body can be established by the board of directors.
This is the ‘local governing body’.
A local governing body can be set up in each academy in the group by the directors. It is defined thus:
Article 1(o):    “Local Governing Bodies” means the committees appointed pursuant to Articles 100-104 (and “Local Governing Body” means any one of these committees);

Governors in the maintained sector are well used to committees and committee structures. We understand that establishment, membership, terms of reference and dissolution of committees are entirely in the remit of the governing body, and articles 100-104 of the multi-academy model Articles define the relationship between the directors and a local governing body in precisely the same way.

Why is this so important? Because all over the country, in multi academy chains, people are being appointed as members of a local governing body; they are told they are governors; they think they are governors; they attend governor training; but they are not governors – at least not in the ‘1986 Act’ sense of the word, neither is the local governing body a real governing body in the accepted sense of the term.
A budget can be devolved to a local governing body if the board of directors decides this. They can also withdraw it. The board of directors, not the local governing body, appoints the Headteacher. Members of a local governing body can be removed by the directors.

In some schools, where the school has found itself in difficulties and is required to join a sponsored academy chain, this requires a decision to be made by the governing body of the school. There is evidence that as governing bodies accede to this, they are often told that they will remain as governors of the school, without realising that they are voting all their powers, statutory functions and tenure and status as governors away to the academy sponsor.
This may well be a good way of running things. There is a sharper than ever focus on the importance of governance arrangements in schools as all are required to work in a more independent way, whether they become academies or not. There is also a clear concern that where standards remain stubbornly low, and real challenge to the leadership is required, the traditional stakeholder governing body does not have the capacity to fix the problem.
It may well be an excellent idea therefore to set up a local group who oversee standards, make school visits, support the school and staff, with some challenging monitoring, but leave the tough decisions, such as removing the Headteacher, to a higher group of directors. Indeed few people join governing bodies to sack people – they are looking for ways of offering positive support.

It is nevertheless questionable, and hard to justify, to carelessly use the term ‘governors’ or ‘governing body’ in an interchangeable way between that found in maintained schools, where governors have statutory responsibilities and statutory powers, and the more informal arrangements in a ‘local governing body’ within a multi academy chain.

There are signs that the drive towards all schools becoming academies might be beginning to fade. The additional funds that come with academy status are diminishing. Some outstanding schools are choosing to stay within the maintained sector. Schools are also working out that they can work in partnerships with other schools, which brings real change and improvement when done well, without the bureaucratic challenge of becoming an academy.
Once governing bodies realise that joining a multi academy trust means abandoning their powers and responsibilities, they may have further cause to pause and think.

Phil Hand,
July 2012.