A decade-long government programme supporting struggling schools to improve their governance is set to be scrapped as ministers bid to slash spending.
The Department for Education-funded national leaders of governance (NLGs) scheme was first launched in 2012, and reformed in 2021, to help governance boards judged to be weak by regional directors.
Bosses of the National Governance Association (NGA) – which manages the initiative – said it has provided “much-needed rigour and focus” to the sector.
But ministers have now confirmed the project will be axed when the contract comes to an end in late October.
Officials will then “review” whether to replace the NLGs.
The NGA said it was left “disappointed” by the announcement, as chief executive Emma Knights stated the programme had “led to more secure schools and trusts”.
“The work of our 76 NLGs has been praised by local authorities, diocesan bodies and the DfE’s regions groups, all of whom have commissioned NLGs to undertake reviews and support work.
“It has been a great example of how practitioners from within the sector can add to its knowledge and standards of practice.”
The NLGs also provided support to schools rated long-term ‘requires improvement’.
They were also called in to check if trusts were fit for growth when asked by regional directors.
DfE leaves local governance out of key documents
The programme was expected to cost up to £830,000 to deliver in its first 12 months, and up to £1 million in later years. While the contract ran until 2023, there was an option to extend it to 2025.
The NGA has also criticised the DfE for publishing trust quality descriptors last week which, it said, “contain no mention of local governance”.
Among other things, the descriptions are meant to “define the types of quality factors” that regional directors “can consider” when making decisions about moving schools between trusts.
But Knights said “there is a lack of clarity as to how regional directors will decide whether chains are meeting the vision set by the descriptions, given the absence of any mechanism for measuring success”.
She added: “In terms of the governance judgment, there is currently a DfE programme dedicated to making an assessment on trust governance: external reviews of governance provided by NLGs.
“However, the department’s decision not to continue the NLG scheme removes the ready-made way for commissioners to understand governance success.”
‘We have had to take difficult decisions’
The DfE noted it “extended the contract with NGA from June 27, 2023, so that schools and trusts awaiting an external review of governance may receive one”.
The programme “will not take any new commissions going forward”. Communications to schools and trusts are also said to be “forthcoming”, as officials work with the NGA to confirm plans through to October.
A DfE spokesperson also insisted “we have had to take difficult decisions over how taxpayers’ money is spent, and should only step in where support is most needed”.
“The vast majority of trusts already benefit from having some form of local governance arrangements for their schools and it is important that trusts have flexibility to constitute their local governance tier to best suit their circumstances.
“That is why in our trust quality descriptions we have focused on how these arrangements should ensure meaningful engagement and involvement of parents, schools, communities, dioceses and other religious authorities with decisions which affect them.”