New DfE Governance Guides: Academy Trust Governance Guide 

The DfE has published 2 new governance guides to replace the Governance Handbook. Find out everything you need to know about the Academy Trust Governance Guide.
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The Department for Education (DfE) has published 2 new governance guides to replace the Governance Handbook: 

The new guides have been designed to distinguish between governance in academy trusts and maintained schools in recognition of the evolving landscape of educational governance. As of March 2024, these will now act as the primary DfE sources of governance information. At the same time, the department has withdrawn the following documents: 

  • Governance Handbook 
  • Governance Competency Framework 
  • Clerking Competency Framework 
  • Governance Structures and Roles 
  • Statutory Policies for Schools and Academy Trusts 

Much of this information is now covered in the new governance guides. 

The new guides look and feel quite different to the Governance Handbook. This marks a pivotal step towards a simpler and streamlined approach. But, whilst changes have been made to ensure that the content is clear, concise, and avoids repetition, it’s important to note that there are no new governance requirements for school governors or trustees.  

Read ahead to find out everything you need to know about the Academy Trust Governance Guide. If you are searching for information on the Maintained School Governance Guide, you can find out more about that here

Academy Trust Governance Guide

This guide has been designed for trustees, executive leaders, local committee governors, governance professionals and academy trust members.  

It applies directly to academy trusts, including free schools and university technical colleges. However, other settings such as pupil referral units, sixth-form colleges or academies, and general further education colleges may still find its principles helpful.  

By making the content quicker and easier to digest, it is hoped the new guide will provide clarity about the board’s role in relation to legislative and contractual requirements.  

What’s inside?

  • Chapter 1 – Culture and Engagement 
    An overview on expected standards of behaviour from those governing. 

  • Chapter 2 – Governance of the Academy Trust 
    Information on filling vacancies on your board and committees to build an effective team. 

  • Chapter 3 – Strategy 
    Guidance on setting and implementing a clear strategy for the trust. 

  • Chapter 4 – Non-Executive Leadership 
    Information on governance roles, the scheme of delegation, and the role of your local tier. 

  • Chapter 5 – Executive Leadership 
    An overview of how the board works with the executive leadership, including appointing and managing executives.  

  • Chapter 6 – Accountability 
    How to hold leaders to account, monitor and manage risks, and conduct financial oversight.  

  • Chapter 7 – Compliance 
    Guidance for boards on how to meet their legal and regulatory responsibilities with regards to compliance. 

What’s changed?

The new guide is structured around the fifth pillar of DfE’s Trust Quality Descriptions, governance and leadership, and now better aligns with the Academy Trust Handbook. References to the core functions of governance have therefore been replaced with the new definition of the purpose of trust governance, as defined by the Academy Trust Handbook: strategic leadership; accountability and assurance; and strategic engagement.  

Previous guidance, including the Governance Competency Framework and Governance Structures and Roles guidance, has been archived, whilst the DfE’s list of statutory policies has been incorporated into the guides. This list no longer contains procedural and ‘live documents,’ instead providing a concise summary of key policies. The DfE has encouraged governing boards to consider delegating policy approval where possible and clarified their position on policy review cycles.  

The new guidance refers to local governing boards as local committees, in recognition that they are committees of the trust board. There is also greater clarity on the value that the local tier can add to trust governance. Further, the definition of Local Authority Associated Persons (LAAPs) has been amended to reflect the fact that only local authority members still qualify as LAAPs for four years after leaving office – other individuals cease to qualify immediately after leaving the relevant role. 

There is also a new reference to ‘diocesan strategy,’ which is a publicly available summary of a diocese’s approach to academisation and trust governance, originally found in the Church of England model articles and memorandum of understanding.  

Next Steps

With very little changes to the guidance, the day-to-day activities of governance are to remain largely the same. Therefore, as trustees, all you need to do is: 

  • Ensure that everyone on your board is aware of, and can access, the appropriate guide for your school  
  • Remove any copies of, or references to, the previous Governance Handbook in your board’s files and documents, including induction materials.  

For further advice and guidance, take a look at our Governor Support services to discover how our experts can help you navigate the complexities of the educational landscape.  

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  

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