Academy trusts should hand local governors a greater role in managing headteachers’ performance, a report has recommended amid over-centralisation concerns.
A new study published by the National Governance Association today said the involvement of local governors offered a number of benefits and provided “a richer picture of a leader’s performance”.
The NGA interviewed 10 trusts ranging in size from six to 39 schools, and also spoke to local governors themselves.
Academy trust boards are allowed to delegate some of their responsibilities to so-called local governing bodies or “academy committees”.
But interviews with chains found variations in the extent to which local boards, particularly chairs, are involved in headteacher performance management.
Only three of the trusts interviewed said governors took part in end-of-year appraisals for school leaders, in developing objectives and recommending pay with their CEO.
This was the area that the study found had “the largest disparity in the involvement of the local tier among chains”.
The report, called Local Governance Here and Now, said: “One interview raised the point that, especially in larger trusts, the chair of the local board may have more one-to-one contact with the headteacher.
“The nature of this relationship can ultimately form a sound foundation for the headteacher’s appraisal, as it offers a glimpse into the everyday practices of the head, which may get lost when looking at the bigger picture.”
‘We see heads constantly’
One local governor told the NGA they “would like to see governors play a key role in performance management, as we see [heads] consistently – as opposed to three meetings a year with the trust”.
The report said this was an area “trusts may wish to consider when reviewing their scheme of delegation”.
With many trusts managing school budgets centrally, local boards can play a “key role” in ensuring decisions are informed by “local contexts”, the NGA said.
The association also found SEND, safeguarding, stakeholder engagement and standards – dubbed the “4 Ss” – were the functions typically delegated to governors.
It said this approach “takes full advantage of local knowledge and expertise”, allowing trust boards to make well-informed decisions.
Each of the chains that took part in the study prioritised communication between trust boards and local tiers.
But there was an “appetite for improvement in the way in which information is presented, i.e. engaging in debate and active discussion as opposed to exclusively top-down conversations”.
Some governors feel ‘distant’
Local chairs reported that they regularly met at forums, which allowed them to support each other. But those in non-leadership roles on boards “sometimes felt more distant”.
Governors given trust-wide remits or clerking academy committees are “essential in ensuring meaningful impact occurs on the local level”.
But the NGA warned that “considerations should be made about workload when trusts are going through fast periods of growth as it has put pressure on the governance professionals we have spoken with”.
Parental and foundation governor vacancies are also proving “particularly hard” to recruit for, the NGA found, with boards resorting to “professional and personal connections” to plug the gaps.
The interviews highlighted that the “reputation” of a trust had a “direct influence on the success and impact of the local tier”.
“Trusts with a strong image and positive reputation had better recruitment and stakeholder engagement in their local communities,” the report continued. “This connection and visibility allowed for meaningful impact to happen throughout the trust.”