Opinion

5 cost-free ways to improve school governance

Martin Matthews
March 5, 2018

A few things Damian Hinds could do to improve education governance that would cost him nothing, as suggested by Martin Matthews

Every time we get a new secretary of state for education we begin another round of competition: the various educational interests vying for attention, each trying to shove their pet issue higher up the to-do list. Lobbying is after all as much a part of politics as breathing in.

Governance has no vested political, financial or regulatory interest in lobbying politicians. That could be why our issues rarely make top 10. But that doesn’t mean they’re not problems that should be heard. Here are five simple changes to governance that I believe would cost the Department for Education nothing, and have a positive impact on education.

Choose to be either a member or trustee

This is as simple as it sounds. We should make it so that a person can either only be a member or a trustee of a multi-academy trust. That would split accountability cleanly into different layers. It could be achieved by changes to statutory regulations, something that is within the gift of the DfE. It would eliminate a common conflict of interest and improve accountability, and would in turn sharpen the board – as they are accountable to the members.

Choose to be either a trustee or supplier

Again, this is as simple as it sounds. People choose either to supply goods and services to a MAT or to be a member/trustee. Again, this can be achieved by a change to the regulations, and issues with MAT spending, occasional embezzlement and perceived conflicts of interest would be completely removed. A supplier could legitimately apply their profit margin to all clients and the board would be freed from any perceived or real problems. Dispensing with yet another of the “noises off” allows more focus on educating children.
Give the DfE the authority to automatically change articles of association

It’s not often you will see me write this – but we need to give the DfE additional powers.

The way every MAT behaves is stated in its articles of association (AoA). The first academies were started in 1997, so we have over 20 years of AoA variations, of which there are possibly thousands. And doesn’t that make you wonder about the whole “we can’t cope with two tiers of maintained and academy schools” thing?

If a clause were added to the next education act, giving the DfE powers simply to reissue AoA each time they were updated, it would resolve all the problems with variants. Every trustee, director, member and school in a MAT would know exactly where they stand, simplifying the whole system.

Make governance expertise essential to every MAT board

This is as simple as it sounds. Like legal, HR, risk and audit, we should make governance an essential skill which every MAT board must have. You guessed it, the DfE can change the regulations to enforce this.

Direct communication to every chair of governors, offering free NLG support

Every chair of governors at a maintained school should already have signed up to “get information about schools”, or GIAS. The DfE should start to use this as a means to share relevant information about national leaders of governance. We offer free peer-to-peer support to almost any state-funded school. The question is, how many governing boards know we are out here or how to access support?

Now for the reality check. I’ve watched enough episodes of Yes Minister and House of Cards to know that what we hoi polloi see on the surface is not what happens behind closed doors.
There is bound to be an abundance of persuasive arguments and warm words being whispered into Damian’s ear about why this can’t or shouldn’t be done. Will things actually change? I couldn’t possibly comment.

Martin Matthews is a National Leader of Governance