Skip to content

New governance guides explained 💬

| 5 minute read
59 ARTICLE Guides

Two new governance guides have been published by the Department for Education (DfE).

Elaina1

This would usually mean changes to your duties and responsibilities as a governance volunteer - but these updates are actually a bit different. 

We’ve been chatting to GovernorHub Knowledge content editor, Elaina Blakey, to find out why.

Firstly Elaina, can you tell us why we now have 2 separate guides, not just 1 handbook?

Well, the governance handbook was first published in 2015 so it was certainly due for an update. As you’re aware, it contained everything boards needed to know to be compliant with the law and their statutory responsibilities and yet over time it gradually became clear that it wasn’t working in its attempts to serve both the maintained and academy sector.

The language we use in each sector is different and so are some of the requirements. The purpose of governance in an academy trust is also slightly different - although there are key themes that run across both. It’s much more appropriate that we now have two separate guidance documents.

There’s very little that’s actually new in each document but there has been a change of format. Instead of a very long PDF document, the guidance is now hosted online with relevant sections that you can expand. There’s also a useful search function. The aim has been to streamline the guidance, making it more accessible, concise and easier to search.

We know this will take a bit of getting used to for governors, trustees and governance professionals who like to print off a PDF - and actually we’ve received that feedback about the guides ourselves from our members, who are disappointed that they can’t print it off. You can be sure however, when going online that you’re viewing up-to-date information. If you download a file locally or print it, you will need to keep checking back to see if there are any updates, and no one needs that extra admin.

No big changes then but anything more subtle?

There is a slight change in emphasis around staff wellbeing that I noticed in both sets of guidance and when we checked with the DfE, this was confirmed. In the previous handbook, it says governors ‘should be mindful of staff wellbeing’ but in the new versions there is greater detail about how staff wellbeing should be considered when making decisions and also in monitoring. There are even links to specific items from the planning and resources review group recommendations into marking and data management. We think that’s a really positive change given some of the current challenges in the sector. 

Most people are familiar with the 3 core functions of a governing body. These remain in the maintained guide but they’ve been removed from the academy version - why is that?

The 3 core functions of a governing body have been explicitly removed from the academy guidance - we knew this was coming because of the related changes to the Academy Trust Handbook last year. For the maintained guide, the DfE has continued to bring everything back to the 3 core functions of a governing body but for academies, the trust board has a much wider remit and the purpose of governance differs.

For the academy guidance, the DfE has actually consolidated a lot of previous guidance which makes things a lot easier for the academy sector. Guidance which spoke to the purpose of the trust board in the Academy Trust Handbook is now incorporated into the academy governance guide.  

When might a regular governor at a maintained school or local academy governor refer to these new guides?

The guides remain the key reference point for boards and represent the DfE’s view of good governance in each sector. So, if you’re wanting to check something specific, such as the difference between types of governor or which checks new governors need - the guides will be your reference. Where they’re not going to serve you as well is in telling you how to be an effective governor or trustee in practice. That’s been left to organisations like us.

We know from speaking to the DfE that this is a deliberate shift. There’s been a move to streamline the guidance and signpost to credible sources of information where you can find out how to improve your governance.

Tell me a bit more about the role of the clerk or governance professional and how that’s mentioned in the guides.

Well, the term clerk has gone altogether from the academy version which now refers solely to the governance professional. What’s interesting in both guides is the recommendation that the governance professional or clerk should have an appraisal which the chair is responsible for and that the board needs to take responsibility for making sure the governance professional can access training and development. We’re pleased to see that recommendation in there as it was also a recommendation in our 2023 Women’s Work report into salaries and working patterns of 1,298 governance professionals working in schools and trusts.

In addition, in the maintained guide, it states explicitly that the governing body must listen to the independent advice that the governance professional provides and have due regard to that advice when exercising its functions. 

Do you think the new guides will make it easier for boards of all types to fulfil their duties?

Yes, I do. It makes a lot more sense to recognise the differences within the sector. The new streamlined approach should also make it quicker and easier to find what you need. The language has been changed slightly too so it’s more appropriate for each sector. Previously academy boards might look for something in the Governance Handbook but they’d also need to check how it relates to academies in other guidance too. You now have one, go-to guide that’s serving the school you’re working in. 

Post your comment

By submitting your details, you agree to have your name and email address stored for the purposes of managing your enquiry. For more information see GovernorHub's Privacy Policy.

Comments

  • Antoinette Jackson 7 Apr 2024, 19:27 (16 days ago)

    Helpful overview thank you

    By submitting your details, you agree to have your name and email address stored for the purposes of managing your enquiry. For more information see GovernorHub's Privacy Policy.

  • Jane Kalkanen 2 Apr 2024, 14:16 (22 days ago)

    You mention that the DfE have already amended one of the sections since publication, but the "Updated" dates on both guides still show as 7 March. Could you tell us what has been amended please?

    Also you mention the Academy version contains advice on holding a governance professional appraisal but I can't find that, could you let me know the section number? Thank you!

    By submitting your details, you agree to have your name and email address stored for the purposes of managing your enquiry. For more information see GovernorHub's Privacy Policy.

    • The GovernorHub Team 4 Apr 2024, 17:10 (20 days ago)

      Hi Jane,
      We've just double checked with the DfE and there have been several minor tweaks since publication but mostly just editorial e.g. to make sure the information reads better or a tweak to removing some duplication. As such, the changes are not noted in 'updates'.

      Academy boards need to take responsibility for making sure that the governance professional can access training and development and it is the board’s responsibility to ensure the governance professional receives appropriate remuneration for their governance role, reflective of the skills, experience and advice they bring to the board (section 4.5 Governance Support).
      In the academy guide, there is no specific mention of an appraisal but all of the common aspects of an employee appraisal are detailed in the section above.

  • John White 1 Apr 2024, 12:56 (23 days ago)

    Any action to simplify guidance is wellcomed. The complexities of governance requirements act as a deterrent to recruitment. I think its important to recognise the individual skills which each governor has, mine is finance, and ensure effectiveness in that area, whilst seeking to learn other areas from those with experience in that area. As a matter of course I question by own effectiveness with the Chair and CEO at least annually

    By submitting your details, you agree to have your name and email address stored for the purposes of managing your enquiry. For more information see GovernorHub's Privacy Policy.

  • Ray Williams 28 Mar 2024, 09:18 (27 days ago)

    Good to see new guidelines,however with the problems of getting Governors especially experienced and well attended is very difficult, especially if they are full time professionals.

    A more diverse group of governors is very difficult to obtain. So running a full board is sometimes difficult, especially if you cannot get a core group to vote. We have setup teams/zoom so Governor’s can still attend meetings thus help to reduce the number of non attendees. What else can we do?

    I believe the Government need to do more in encouraging people to participate as governors along with dept of education training on
    Safeguarding attendance,special need children, as far too many council or academies interpret these training differently.

    By submitting your details, you agree to have your name and email address stored for the purposes of managing your enquiry. For more information see GovernorHub's Privacy Policy.

  • Tony Abrahams 28 Mar 2024, 08:15 (27 days ago)

    It's all very well having this only online if you have a good internet connection. That is not always the case and whilst checking to make sure I have the latest version is a task, which I am happy to undertake.

    It is extremely unhelpful not to have the PDF version. I cannot stress how much this will impact the way we work.

    By submitting your details, you agree to have your name and email address stored for the purposes of managing your enquiry. For more information see GovernorHub's Privacy Policy.

    • The GovernorHub Team 28 Mar 2024, 11:42 (27 days ago)

      Hey!

      We appreciate that change can be tricky - we supported governors to move from paper for meetings to the cloud and this wasn’t always welcomed by all, although it’s widely accepted now :-)

      Any versions of the guides which are downloaded will become out of date. We know the DfE has already made an amendment to one of the sections.

    • David Roy John Whewell 28 Mar 2024, 10:37 (27 days ago)

      Hi Tony - you can find a PDF version here - https://askaclerk.co.uk/dfe-governance-guides/

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments


You might also like: