Book Review : How to Run an Academy School

The £24 price tag of this book concerned me. It meant that I might not buy it unseen as there is a lot of guidance already from the Department for Education.

But as soon as I started reading, I knew that it was not going to disappoint. The author is a professional company secretary and the book is published by ICSA (Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators). Though people don’t always realise it, the link ICSA brings to the formal workings of companies is an important one in the academy sector.

It is not over-long at 316 pages, and it is eminently readable. Each of its 15 chapters covers an area of academy governance. It starts with a potted history of academies, followed by logical progression through the key areas of responsibility and accountability.

The early chapters covering governance structures, the funding agreement, memorandum and articles of association, and the statutory registers and Companies House, are particularly useful. In the preface the author states: “it is the book that I would have liked if I had found myself required to run an academy without any experience”. The information is certainly what I could have done with when our school converted in 2011. There is a really clear explanation of the different types of academy trust, how this links to the funding agreements and governance arrangements and, crucially, how this all sits with company and charity law.

It also clarifies the often confusing language of members, directors, trustees and governors, and how these roles can overlap. The most recent academies financial handbook (DfE 2014) and new academy funding agreements have much more emphasis on the separation between members and directors, and it is refreshing to have a book that explains the legalities clearly and impartially.

This book would have been worth its price just for the structural information; however, it goes on to cover all the practical aspects of running an academy once set up: meetings and minutes of directors’ (governors’) meetings, financial management, accounts, corporate governance, and many others. Much of this is familiar, which left me wondering if there was too much detail, especially around accounts and financial management. However, on reflection, I think this is exactly the sort of information that all governors should engage with, especially those serving on school finance committees.

There are useful case studies from established academies, worked examples and comment boxes from a range of professionals, including school solicitors and auditors. My favourite is on page 184 from Martin Wyatt, who says about accounts: “I would describe the current reporting deadline of December 31 as at the very least nonsensical and at the most as farcical”. Hear! Hear!

Finally the book contains pages of example checklists and forms that can be used or adapted.

I loved this book. I have already referred to it in answering questions I was asked about academy structure and governance. The information is presented with clarity and its structure makes it easy for quick reference. It is a must-read for academy governors. Clerks or secretaries to governors will also find it immensely useful (our clerk has already asked to borrow my copy) and it will be a useful addition to the bookshelf of any current or aspiring academy business manager.