Governance Guide


Public service delivery has experienced considerable change in the twenty first century and one particular challenge for schools and colleges has been the decline of the powers of local authorities and the delegation of responsibility more directly to boards of trustees and governing bodies. The incorporation of further education colleges, the growth in academies and the advent of free schools, university technical colleges and studio colleges have all brought diversity of governance structure together with a degree of confusion as each system settles down. We all carry around with us in our heads the governance model that we think we understand from our previous experience and, candidly, this can sometimes get in the way of effectively working the new accountability structures.

In theory we should all understand much about boards of governors as we have all been pupils and students, many of us have been parents, whilst some have been employees in schools and colleges and others have served on boards in other schools and colleges. However, experience is telling us that we don’t know and understand as much as we think we do. The nature of the direct relationship between governance behaviour and school success and performance is still a grey area. Little is known about the key processes that make school governance effective because the body of research is thin. We do know that a foundation of sound governance is the way that boards delegate effectively to management and then vigorously monitor performance. In order to help our people better understand the pillars of our Robert Owen Academy Governance Handbook we have tried to set out below our understanding of good governance – the holy grail to which we are all committed. Good governance put simply is about the process for making and implementing decisions. It is not about making the correct decisions, but about making the best possible process for making those decisions. Good decision making and good governance go hand in hand. So our seven pillars of good governance of the Robert Owen Academy Trust are:

  • Accountability. We are answerable for the outcomes of our decisions
  • Transparent. We seek to make our decision making processes clear
  • Compliance. We seek to do what we say we will do whilst complying with legislation, national rules and guidelines
  • Responsive. We seek to serve our students and those who care for them whilst balancing competing interests
  • Equitable & inclusive. The Robert Owen Academy is a co-operative school and we are always conscious that our people’s interests must be carefully considered in all decisions
  • Effective & efficient. Value for money and resource maximisation are at the heart of all our decisions
  • Participation. The co-operative nature of our academy means that full participation in the decision making process is important to us.

We now turn specifically to the Robert Owen Academy which opened in September 2013 under the Government’s Free Schools Initiative. The specifics of Free schools governance differ from other types of school in several key areas and these can be summarised for us as follows:

  • We are a single academy trust (the Robert Owen Academies Trust) and as such we are not, as yet, under the management of a multi academy trust
  • The Trust document was written by the Department and through a special arrangement made with the Charities Commissioner confers us on charitable status
  • The Trust is the contracting and responsible body with the Department
  • The Trust is responsible for the strategic direction of the Academy
  • The Governing Body is set up by the Trust, as a committee of the Trust with direct responsibility to the Trust for monitoring the performance and effectiveness of the Academy on a day to day basis. It is an operational body without legal status outside the Trust
  • Members of the Governing Body are appointed by the Trust for a set term of office unless the Trust has good reason to terminate such an appointment
  • The Governing Body is tasked with setting up two Committees – Finance & General Purposes; Student, Curriculum & Assessment. These committees report directly to the Governing Body and are able to set up task and finish groups as appropriate. In addition the Governing Body is charged with setting up hearing panels as necessary in accordance with statutory requirements
  • The Chair of the Governing Body is appointed by the Trust and is a full member of the Trust
  • The Principal is a member of the Governing Body and attends Trust meetings by invitation
  • We have appointed a Governance Support Officer who acts as the Clerk to both the Trust & the Governing Body but with additional responsibilities. This position is unpaid
  • An annual cycle of Trust, Governing Body, Committee & Stakeholder Board meetings is published by the Governance Support Officer. Each July there is an Annual General Meeting to which parents and carers are invited

In order to reflect the community ownership of this unique co-operative academy a Stakeholder Group of key community members is identified. This Group elects the Stakeholder Board which meets regularly and works closely with the Trust & Governing Body to ensure that the academy meets the community needs & aspirations. The Board nominates five members of the Governing Body and one member to the Trust.

Governance Guide