In December 2016, the DfE and the National Schools Commissioner published their awaited 'design principles' for academy trusts in their guidance:

Multi-academy trusts. Good practice guidance and expectations for growth December 2016

The Guidance will be particularly relevant to anyone in the process of setting up a new academy trust and to all existing academy trusts as they grow and develop. It covers a range of different but overlapping areas of focus including governance, school improvement, people and leadership, financial stability and risk management.

The Guidance is 'non statutory' but will be a tool against which decisions will be made by Regional School Commissioners and the Headteacher Boards that support them including:

  • When a school or a sponsor seeks approval for the establishment of a new academy trust
  • When an academy trust seeks approval for the addition of a new school or indeed is seeking to retain one of its existing academies which is causing concern.

The aim of the Guidance is primarily to share best practice and it is hoped that academy trusts will find it a useful tool against which they can plan and learn from the experiences of others. The Guidance is intended to be updated as new effective practices emerge and this sharing of best practice and the testing of academy trusts' capacity will be further borne out through the new MAT health checks, which will inevitably be based heavily on the Guidance.

The Guidance will also help schools and academy trusts to anticipate the lines of enquiry in those circumstances where they do require RSC approval to expand or when a health check is to be carried out. Whilst the Guidance acknowledges that there is more than one model for operating an academy trust, departures from the Guidance will likely need to be justified in the above contexts.

New Governors' Handbook

The new year then brought with it the publication of a new Governance Handbook. The Handbook includes a summary of the changes made in this version on page seven and so we haven't repeated them here. However, of particular note is the new competency framework for governance to which a link is provided within the Handbook.

The competency framework sets out the knowledge, skills and behaviours required by boards in order to achieve effective governance. The Handbook requires boards to reflect on these skills and consider what gaps need to be filled in upcoming appointments. It might be that academy trusts conduct this process as part of an external review into their effectiveness.

The framework sets out 16 competencies which are grouped under the six features of effective governance set out in the Governance Handbook:

  • strategic leadership
  • accountability
  • people
  • structures
  • compliance and evaluation