Listen to parents before making decisions, DfE tells school governors

School governors and trustees should “regularly communicate” with parents and make sure schools listen to their communities before making decisions, according to new guidance from the government.

The Department for Education has today updated its governance handbook for academies and maintained schools. The updated document states that boards should be able to show how the views of parents and the local community have shaped their “strategic decision-making”.

A revised section on workload also states that boards should review their practices in line with the DfE’s new workload reduction toolkit, published last summer.

It follows criticism that the views of parents and communities have been ignored by some schools and academy trusts, especially those large chains with centralised decision-making processes.

Comments made by Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, drew criticism last year after she pointed out that it is “technically the trust, not the local governing body, that should be setting the vision for the schools and making decisions”.

Speaking at the annual conference for ICSA the Governance Institute, Cruddas warned against a “local authority mindset” in which schools were used to querying council decisions.

In the updated guidance published today, boards are reminded they must be “connected with, and answerable to, the communities they serve, particularly parents and carers”.

Boards should aim to build productive relationships […] with the local community to create a sense of trust and shared ownership

They also need to build relationships in the community to “create a sense of trust and shared ownership” of the trust or school’s strategy.

Boards should also ensure their schools are “regularly communicating with parents and carers, and that parental engagement is used by the board to inform their strategic decision-making”.

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, said she was “pleased” the handbook had been updated but warned it was a “missed opportunity” because a “more fundamental review of governance roles” was needed.

She said this was particularly the case for “academy trusts where there can be a lack of understanding” around roles.

The DfE has told the NGA that another edition of the handbook later this year will clarify these roles, Knights added.

New guidance also says governors should be able to “demonstrate the methods used to seek the views of parents, carers and the local community” and “show how those views have influenced their decision-making”.

Mechanisms should also be in place for parents to be able to put forward their views at “key points in their child’s education”, the guidance states, and decisions should be made in line with the principles and recommendations of the government’s Making data work guidance and the workload reduction toolkit.

“Boards and their organisations are encouraged to use these materials to review current policies and practices,” the DfE said.

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