What happened to governance?

Helen Flynn's picture
I have been digging down on governance in academies, as I have been feeling increasingly uneasy about the whole thing--particularly with respect to accountability.

As other education policy anoraks will know, academies have a corporate structure, being charitable companies, and the Members of the Trust Board and indeed the Governors are in fact directors. Going further, the members of the Trust Board are also shareholders, and once they have been appointed, can continue as long as they like (as long as there are no transgressions), there being no lengths of term of office stipulated.

So what I want to know is what happened to good, old-fashioned governance in all this? How do we the taxpayers gain an assurance that the work and methods of the academy will be adequately scrutinised?

If you refer to the UK Corporate Governance Code 2010 (which Academies must fall under now), you will notice that one of the three basic recommendations is: "each board should have an audit committee composed of non-executive directors". When I trawled through all the academy statutory guidance, Articles of Association and draft funding agreement, etc, there is no mention made of a requirement for an academy to have an audit committee.

Interestingly enough, looking cross-sector, FE colleges and HE establishments, do all seem to have this basic committee.

So how do we scrutinise the work of our academy principals and their SLT's? Presumably, given that the gift of appointing governors (apart from the two elected governors coming from the parent body, who can never form a majority) and trustees can fairly easily and over time, fall under the control of the principal without too much difficulty, it's really down to the principal himself to self-scrutinise.

Strange sort of accountability for tax-payer money.
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Henry Stewart's picture
Tue, 25/01/2011 - 19:12

Helen, this is an important pt. It seems very odd that the ultimate power in academies lies not with the Governing Body, representing parents, staff, community etc, but with its Trust Board.

As you say the Trust Board (normally just 3 or 4 people) is accountable to nobody and has no accountability.

The structure seems to have been created for Labour's academies, where the school would be owned by the sponsor through the Trust Board. Many of us, of course, had strong misgivings about schools being owned by private indivdiuals or companies.

However the Trust Board appears to have been left in place for the new academies and will now put 3 or 4 people in charge of the academy with no accountability. Seems weird?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 25/01/2011 - 21:20

I really think this gets the heart of the matter. All the power is concentrated in a few people's hands in Academies. The govt believes this will increase efficiency, making decisions easier. But there is an argument that it will create "oligarchies" within schools, who can do whatever they want.

Helen Flynn's picture
Wed, 26/01/2011 - 15:17

I don’t know if others had the chance to read the following article in Saturday’s Guardian about senior civil servants’ disquiet over levels of accountability in the Localism Bill: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jan/21/big-society-parliamentary.... It is worth reading.

It seems to me that the same disquiet can be registered about lack of accountability contained within the governance model put forward-- and now being implemented in converting schools--in the Academies Bill. It is a strand that also runs through the recent health White Paper as well.

It seems fair to ask: is this model fit for purpose? I would argue that it is not. Furthermore, it is fundamentally undemocratic and should be challenged. In fact, the governance model is possibly our single best route to attacking how academies fit in a democratic society.

Henry, you are right about this model having been taken from academies, version 1. There, where sponsors were injecting large wads of cash, this kind of corporate structure seemed more reasonable. But in version 2 of academies, it’s like fitting a round peg into a square hole.

Colleagues of mine within the Lib Dems have admitted that--owing to having very little time to scrutinize the Bill in the Lords and having clear priorities for specific amendments—they ‘dropped the ball’ when it came to governance. So we are left with potentially hundreds, and eventually maybe thousands, of tax-payer funded schools without a sufficient mechanism for democratic oversight.

One last thing, at a time when we are uncovering on a daily basis the problems with corporate governance in companies owned by shareholders (and remember that Trust members are ordinary shareholders), and their accompanying total focus on the bottom line and complete (and allowed) disregard for social responsibility, why on earth was this posited as the best ‘vehicle’ for organizing taxpayer-funded schools? Why could a co-operative model not have been considered, or if it has to be a corporate entity (and I don’t see why it should really)—why not an SEC or a CIC?

I am going to keep at work on this. Any input from others would be appreciated.

Charlotte Reed's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 18:06

I am very interested in your posts on academies and funding agreements as we are about to launch a complaint against an academy school and need every bit of helpful advice we can get. Having read several of your posts so far, it seems you have already done lots of research into this and I would really appreciate any help you could give me. Charlotte Reed

Steve Sarsfield's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 19:54

What an interesting post

I am a parent governor of a very successful state primary school and naturally, the school is considering the options that academy conversion may bring school like this.
The greatest challenge at this present time is funding. In short the school is impoverished and is susceptible to the offer of an additional 10% to their annual budget.

As a teacher I see all too often how easily schools can be manipulated by relatively small injections of cash.

However the constitutional changes that you have outlined are startling. The lack of democratic accountability at a local level is more than a cause for concern it is inequitable and totally flawed.

This government has rushed headlong into poorly thought through reforms which have had no proper scrutiny or consultation.

This could give Heads/Principles a utterly dominant position that is difficult or impossible to challenge.

Who in their right mind would sign up to this?

Thank you Helen for this post and bringing this to our attention.

Guest's picture
Sun, 28/10/2012 - 10:52

In connection with this lack of accountability issue, apart from the recent Cardinal Vaughan case in west London, does anyone have any other examples of where the parents have 'voted with their feet' in protest at what the governing body or school have been doing?

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