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The importance of Local Governance in Wellspring Academy Trust

14 Oct 2020   |   Karen Froggatt   |   Wellspring Academy Trust

 Effective governance at all levels has been of prime importance for Wellspring Academy Trust since the Trust’s formation, and is key to our effectiveness.

In keeping with our values and culture, our Governors (using this as a collective term for Directors, Board Scrutiny Committee members and Local Governing Body members) are informed and empowered, operating in a transparent and ethical environment, with constructive relationships between Governors and Management at all levels. We all want the same thing – the best possible education and support for the children and young people in our care.

Driven by the growth of the Trust (we have 25 academies and more in the pipeline, including three new Free Schools), the Board agreed that the time is right to undertake a detailed review of our Schemes of Delegation (SoD). They need updating to take account of the increased scale and complexity of the Trust. We also want to ensure that they are clear, unambiguous and user-friendly. The updated NGA models look particularly interesting and will be considered in detail.

A key element of the SoD in Wellspring relates to the delegation of responsibilities to Local Governing Bodies (LGBs). It was therefore decided that the first stage of the review of the SoD would be a detailed review of LGBs’ roles and responsibilities.
From the outset it was agreed that there should be no change in the extent of LGBs’ role in Wellspring’s governance. Unlike some MATs, we believe that they should be delegated significant responsibilities (and accountabilities) and that they should continue to have real influence as committees of the Trust Board. We’ve always paid great attention to ensuring that LGBs are ‘in the know’. In addition to them receiving regular communications, they receive reports of every Board meeting and have the opportunity to escalate matters to the Board on an ongoing basis.

We also have a network of LGB Chairs and Vice-Chairs, in order that various matters can be discussed between them and the Executive Team. In addition, the Trust’s CEO or another senior manager sits on every LGB, in order to reinforce communications and understanding. Our LGBs are supported by members of our in-house Governance Team, who have an in-depth understanding of the Trust, its people and its processes, in order to add value and insight into LGBs’ deliberations.
We firmly believe that effective Governing Bodies are an important assurance mechanism, being of great benefit to the
Board and Executive. The Executive Team conduct Wellspring Assurance Framework (WAF) reviews of all aspects of each Academy’s operations termly. Outcomes (and updated risk registers) are discussed with the relevant LGB Chair and with the Academy’s Senior Leaders, in order that everyone is aware of areas requiring attention and that actions can be planned
and monitored.

Despite our absolute commitment to the value of effective LGBs within our governance structure, we were conscious that their impact and effectiveness could be increased by there being greater clarity regarding their role, and a detailed review of the information and documentation they receive in order to fulfil it. In addition, we were conscious that the extent of their focus on the most important elements of their role (particularly regarding performance and standards) would benefit from reviewing.

We were very conscious that LGBs could sometimes find themselves overwhelmed by ‘process’, not least the consideration of numerous policies, rather than focusing on the ‘big stuff’, in association with School Leaders. It was agreed that we would aim for an 80/20 approach by Governing Bodies, ie, c80% of their time being spent on core matters relating to performance and standards (key Academy data, Academy Development Plans, WAF reports etc) and c20% on matters such as policies and other compliance-related business. We’ve also been aware that LGBs can sometimes find themselves bombarded by various reports and information, which can create confusion and an unnecessary workload.

We’re in the process of developing a Governance Pack, which will be produced for every meeting of each LGB. The majority
of the information within it (particularly performance data) will be generated by the Trust’s Support Centre, using our management information systems, thereby reducing the demand on School Leaders. The Leaders’ role is to ‘bring it to life’, rather than spend considerable time producing it. The content of the Packs will be concise, transparent and userfriendly, ensuring that LGBs have the information they need in order to engage in meaningful discussion with Leaders and monitor progress. Incidentally, during the review we considered whether the term ‘local governing body’ was appropriate. We were conscious that the NGA proposes that alternatives be used, particularly in an academy setting (as distinct from maintained schools), as LGBs don’t (technically) ’govern’. They’re also not ‘local’ in some instances. However, after significant discussion it was agreed that the name be retained.

The review has now concluded, having been overseen by a Governance Working Group, comprising three Directors (including the Chair of the Trust Board) and three Chairs of LGBs. LGB Chairs and Vice-Chairs were consulted throughout and all LGB members had the opportunity to input. All constitutional documents and arrangements relating to LGBs were reviewed in detail – from the overarching LGB Constitution and Standing Orders, to the Governor Role & Person Specification, to the Code of Conduct, to the Terms of Reference of LGB Remunerations Committee, and so on. The revised Annual Business Calendar, which outlines the key business scheduled for consideration at each LGB meeting, will be an extremely useful checklist, ensuring that LGBs cover all aspects of their role and that School Leaders are aware of the expectations of them and the scheduling of consideration of key business.

It’s clearly important that all leaders within the Trust fully understand the role of LGBs (and other bodies within the governance structure) and vice-versa. In addition to the circulation of regular updates throughout the review, we’re in the process of developing a film for circulation to all employees and governors, aiming to ensure maximum awareness and reinforcing the importance of effective governance. At the time of writing we’re liaising with LGB Chairs and School Leaders regarding the forthcoming half-termly LGB meetings, with all of us referring to the Annual Business Calendar as the starting
point when planning agendas. Work has started on reviewing our training and development programme, to ensure that it fully meets Governors’ needs, in addition to which we’re finalising a review of our Governor Handbook and are intent on the guidance being as accessible and user-friendly as possible.

Although a separate matter, we are keen to recruit new people to some of our LGBs and are also reviewing the diversity profile of our LGBs. We hope that the review of the role and focus of our LGBs will assist us in attracting people who want to actively engage in the role – in the knowledge that LGBs have a significant (and respected) role to play within Wellspring.
The review of the Trust’s Schemes of Delegation will commence shortly, building on the detailed work which has been
undertaken to date. This is an exciting time to be a part of Wellspring. We’re also in the process of finalising our next five year strategic plan – ‘Vision 2025’. It aims to build on the Trust’s successes so far, expresses the confidence we have in our distinctive approach and articulates our ambitions for the future. Very importantly, our commitment to effective governance and it’s importance to the Trust’s success is firmly captured within it.

 

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