There is an increasing focus by the DfE, the regulator and indeed the public on the governance of our schools. Government policy is for every school to be part of a strong multi academy trust to enable schools and teachers to deliver consistently good outcomes for all their pupils. But with the freedoms brought about by the move away from local authority control comes increasing accountability and scrutiny. The past 18 months has been a formidable challenge for school leaders, juggling the delivery of education considering lockdowns, restrictions and testing. School leadership and teaching staff have shown themselves to be resilient and flexible when it comes to operational delivery. Detracting from this hard work and dedication, however, is an increasing number of reported governance failures, often with those responsible facing civil and criminal penalties and Boards incurring regulatory sanctions.
The importance of strong and effective oversight
Whether you are a newly formed or an established Multi Academy Trust (MAT), in our experience there are some key areas for the leadership team and those charged with governance to consider.
- Do we have effective, transparent governance with the skills, knowledge and experience required to run the trust?
- Do we have strong financial management, ensuring that resources are properly directed to protect children’s education?
- Do we have adequate processes in place to maintain the safety and wellbeing of our children?
In the case of the third point, in her foreword to the recently introduced Academy Trust Handbook, Baroness Berridge highlighted existing responsibilities in relation to safeguarding, health and safety and estates management. In our experience, as Trusts have moved away from the reliance and support they received from the local authority in some areas, they often haven’t replaced that knowledge and experience at the right level.
“It’s surprising how often we identify property compliance issues when we carry out our first reviews at new Trust clients” says Andrew McCulloch, Estates Management lead at TIAA. “Not only can some of the issues we highlight pose a significant threat to the safety of children and staff, but we also often find that these areas have already been subject to scrutiny which didn’t pick up on these issues and provided a false level of assurance to the Board.”
In a similar vein, cyber security remains a significant risk for MATs, as evidenced by continued attacks right across the education sector. For those MATs with poor quality of ICT service provision, gaps in network and cyber defences leave critical school systems vulnerable to attack. Peter Sheppard, Deputy Director of ICT Audit and Cyber Assurance says “With global firms still suffering crippling cyber security attacks, no-one should feel safe; and everyone is a target irrespective of size or stature. Success is now measured on your preparedness to recover, not a potentially false assurance of an annual network penetration test.”
The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) advises that to be effective, internal scrutiny needs to be carried out by someone independent and who has sufficient knowledge and experience to provide assurance across a wide range of financial and non-financial operations. And internal scrutiny is not about simply ticking a box and doing the bare minimum; effective scrutiny is about protecting the Trust, driving efficiency, and adding value. Used properly, it can contribute to the overall strength of your governance arrangements, something you can positively demonstrate when bringing new schools into your Trust.
You can also use internal scrutiny to support you with due diligence when bringing new schools into your Trust and help them to transition to your ways of working. And it’s not just about systems and processes, it’s about culture and encouraging people to look at things in a differently way.
How can TIAA help?
At TIAA, we have significant experience in providing Internal Scrutiny services to the Academy Trust sector. We operate throughout England and have a wide geographical footprint. Our experienced staff understand the sector and have the knowledge, experience, and specialisms to deliver a full program of scrutiny in all of the expected areas. As well as core financial systems, we also have experience that includes:
|Governance||ICT & Disaster Recovery|
|Risk Management||Cyber Security|
|Health and Safety||Pupil/Learner Records|
|Estates Management||Capital Investment|
To find out how TIAA can support your Trust through the provision of high-quality scrutiny services, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org