Julie Bloor explains how Ormiston Academies Trust plan to trial a new shared model of governance across a cluster of academies…
Governors work incredibly hard and fulfil a vital role – they are generally required to attend an average of 10 meetings per year, in addition to any exclusion or performance management panels, robustly holding the school’s teaching team to account for performance in a number of areas, ensuring the finances are in a strong position, and making essential decisions for the smooth running of school.
Ormiston Academies Trust (OAT) is fortunate to have an incredibly dedicated, strong team of governors but finding those with the skills, knowledge and the time required to do this demanding role well, can be a challenge.
OAT, in keeping with our promise to be the Trust that makes the biggest difference, is developing an innovative new system to enhance our already strong governance system and ensure this crucial area is working at its very best for the benefit of our students and academies.
One area in particular that we are focusing on is to foster more collaboration and school-to-school support. For example, at the moment when a governor sits on one Local Governing Body, they won’t have any real points of reference for how the school is doing compared to its local counterparts. We are seeking to tackle these challenges by developing a unique approach.
In the New Year, we plan to trial a shared model of governance across a cluster of academies in a specific region. While OAT academies are geographically spread across the country, we have formed clusters of local schools, and we want to take advantage of this to improve our governorship model.
Each academy cluster will have an Academy Strategic Body, and each individual academy will have an Academy Council. This will help us place those with the right skills in the right place, and allow for effective collaboration between governors across the cluster.
Academy Strategic Bodies
The Academy Strategic Bodies (ASBs) will be responsible for high-level strategic direction of the cluster of schools they support. Their main responsibilities will include:
- Directing and overseeing the work of each Academy Council, ensuring the outcomes are of great benefit to students and staff
- Providing the reporting link to the Trust Board
- Conducting any staff disciplinary hearings
- Representing the strategic element of academy governance during inspection
- Contributing to the Principal’s performance management.
Furthermore they will contribute to the recruitment of the senior leadership team and oversee the strategic direction of each academy including finance matters. Its members will include a Chair (an appointment made by the Trust), a Clerk, the Principal from each academy in the cluster, the Regional Director, a nominee by the Trust, and up to 4 additional governors with a strategic skill set, which will include each Academy Council Chair. This will enable the senior leadership team at each school to be part of the strategic governance, and make the communication line between the school and the Trust stronger. The number of meetings will decrease, thus allowing more people to get involved.
Academy Councils on the other hand will deal with issues relating to the school they serve. Their main responsibilities will include:
- Maintaining links with academy departments in line with the Academy Development Plan
- Monitoring and delivering priorities identified by the ASBs
- Overseeing the academy’s pastoral responsibilities
- Taking responsibility for community engagement
- Organising student behaviour warning panels and exclusion panels
- Representing the local element of academy governance during inspection
The membership will include the Chair of the Academy Council (also a member of the ASB), the Academy’s Principal, parents, community members and teaching and support staff members. Importantly the Academy Councils’ system will give more people the opportunity to contribute to the governorship of the school and allow those with less free time to be involved, as they will meet less frequently than the current average of around 10 meetings per academic year. This also ensures the work-life balance of our Principals, leaders and staff is maintained.
Whilst different groups have different responsibilities, neither will be more important than the other and they will work together for the benefit of all of the schools that they oversee. If one academy needs to hold an exclusion panel but does not have enough people available, then members of another Academy Council within that cluster will be called upon to contribute, and vice versa. It will be a unique system whereby the Academy Councils can call for support from the others.
Sharing and learning from others
One of the many advantages of being a Multi Academy Trust is that we utilise collaborative practice and skills across the leadership structure and staff teams. A shared governance model will allow us to share expertise and knowledge for the mutual benefit of schools.
There is certainly a national push towards smaller governing bodies and we expect that other academy trusts are already developing or operating new models. Each academy trust will have their own challenges, and therefore will form their own solution. We should encourage the sharing of best practice, recognising that we are not competitors but are all working for the same cause – to provide an excellent education to our students.
We hope to be able to share what we learn along the way as we work towards a better model of governance that benefits the 25,000 plus students supported by OAT.
National Leader in Education Julie Bloor leads Ormiston Academies Trust’s work on governance, alongside her role as Central Regional Director. Ormiston Academies Trust (OAT) supports 27 secondary schools and four primary schools across the country, many of which are in coastal, rural or economically deprived areas