Taibah Rehman, senior solicitor with Leonard Curtis Legal looks at the typical governance structure of a multi academy trust and the duties of members, trustees and governors.
In a multi academy trust (MAT), a single trust is responsible for a number of academies. The MAT consists of members and trustees.
The members, much like shareholders of a company, have ultimate control over the trust with the ability to appoint trustees and the right to amends the trust’s articles but their role is one of oversight rather than conducting.
It is the trustees who are responsible for the day-to-day running of the trust and have overall responsibility for the schools. They are also responsible for the core governance functions performed by the local governing body in each school, including:
- setting the direction of the school;
- holding the head teacher to account; and
- ensuring financial integrity.
Charity and Company Law
As academy trusts are charitable companies, they must also comply with the requirements of both charity and company law, and academy trustees have legal duties as charity trustees and as company directors.
Trustees must regularly attend meetings, manage conflict of interests and hold academy leaders to account.
Separation between members and trustees of the trust is essential to ensure objectivity, transparency and robust accountability. However the ratio of those holding both roles is frequently unacceptably high with the articles of a MAT often stipulating that the chair of the board of trustees must also be a member. Therefore, reducing the concentration of power is a constant issue for MATs.
Local Governing Body
As a third tier of governance, there is usually a local governing body (LGB) in place for each school in a MAT. The LGB is usually made up of ‘governors’. The trustees have complete discretion as to what to delegate to each LGB. Trustees usually delegate governance functions to the governors at local level for each school. However, in relation to under performing schools , the trustees may reserve their rights to ensure greater scrutiny, retaining all governance functions centrally and therefore establish an advisory body for each school which advises the board on all decisions.
“The scheme of delegation” usually details what has been delegated to each local governing body by the trustees.
It is vital that everyone involved in the MAT governance arrangements are aware of the function of their role. And as trustees have overall accountability, trustees should ensure that each LGB has the ability to adequately perform any functions delegated.
To assist academies with their governance duties, the government regularly provides updates. In the most recent update, the guidance focused on the national response to the COVID-19 outbreak and an update to the Academies Financial Handbook 2020, which is due to come in to effect from 1st September. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-governance-update/academy-trusts-school-governance-update-july-2020
Taibah Rehman has significant experience in advising multi-academy trusts in relation to conversion issues and the issues they face on a day-to-day basis including advising on governance concerns, commercial matters which may arise from outsourcing or contracting with catering and maintenance providers and any property related issues. Leonard Curtis Legal is a fully serviced legal firm which means we are also able to provide specialist dispute resolution advice and litigation services.
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