Governance structures, and roles and responsibilities for governors

The national policy background

In order to become an academy, the school must establish an academy trust. The trust sets the strategic vision and ethos of the academy or academies, and oversees the governing body (if applicable). It must have an annual meeting and agree an annual report.

Legally, the academy trust is the employer of staff, the admissions authority and the owner or the lessee of the land and buildings.

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Modern building

New academy roles

Single converter academy

Single converters have an academy trust and a governing body. The trust usually has fewer members than the governing body, and may have representatives from other organisations such as a university or charity.

The governing body of the academy has full delegated powers and operates in a similar way to the governing body of the original school, although with some new responsibilities including admissions and appeals, finance and accounting, human resources and estate management.

Multi-academy trust

Multi-academy trusts have an academy trust. Beneath it there are two variations:

  1. Some multi-academy trusts have local governing bodies for each academy in the trust. They operate as a committee of the trust and may have less autonomy and fewer delegated powers than the governing body of single converter academies.
  2. Other multi-academy trusts are organised like a hard federation, so the academy trust is directly responsible for all the schools in the group with no local governing bodies, although there may be academy committees.

Umbrella trust

With an umbrella trust, each academy has its own academy trust and its own governing body, much like the single converter model. However, there is also an overarching academy trust which oversees the partnership work, links and strategic vision for the group.

Collaborative partnership

A collaborative partnership is an informal arrangement which does not carry any formal governance or accountability. Each academy trust carries its own governing body, but agrees to work together on particular areas of interest.

Click through the slideshow below to see the models illustrated graphically.

The governing body

There is ongoing debate around how the role of governors should evolve: how they hold schools and leaders to account, their effectiveness and their part in raising standards. The key themes are a smaller, more strategic and skills-focused governing body, with less regulation and a definition of purpose more aligned to the current educational landscape.

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QuoteWe all know what good governance looks like. Smaller governing bodies, where people are there because they have a skill, not because they represent some political constituency. They concentrate on the essentials such as leadership, standards, teaching and behaviour.Quote Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, speech to FASNA, 5 July 2012

The school governance regulations

The school governance regulations, which came into force in September 2012, enabled schools to reduce the size of governing bodies to focus on the skills required to lead schools.

Support for academy and school governors

The College has a network of peer support for academy and school governors. Dedicated support can be accessed through the National leaders of governance web pages.

Roles and responsibilities of governors

In an academy, the trust governors have a role more akin to that of non-executive directors of a company. They must:

  • ensure that the academy is being run effectively
  • hold the academy to account
  • develop their own partnerships and collaborations

They are part of the leadership of the school, and conversion to academy status provides the opportunity to ensure that governors have the complete range of leadership qualities necessary.

When converting to academy status and considering how to structure your governing and trust bodies, there are a few options:

  • In a flat structure, all the eligible governors of the original school become members of the academy trust. The schools that converted early in the process often took this route, but it is being increasingly seen as cumbersome and ineffective. It is not set in stone and can be changed with the necessary legal support and advice.
  • A streamlined structure is where the academy trust comprises fewer members than the number of governors on the individual academy governing body.
  • The stakeholder model has elected representatives from groups with an interest in the school.

In the video 'How does governance work in your model?', school leaders discuss how they provide governance across their academies and the lessons that they learned.

Chris Wheatley:
Governance in our model is based on autonomy really. So what we have is an Academy Trust Board of Directors who are custodians of the ethos of the Flying High Trust. So there is an educationalist who is not paid and is retired. The wife said it has to come back to what’s in it for the kids first. And that’s in her head. So she’ll hold us to account on that. As well as the Head of one of the schools who’s in the Trust. So he’s a Director as well as his Chair of Governors.

We have five gaps as well for other schools that come on. So other schools that come on to our Academy Trust they will have a representative in the Board of Directors. However, it’s based on autonomy. So the idea is that that Board of Directors will sit there, custodians of the ethos, and then devolve all the power and all the decision making to the local governing bodies.

So all the schools will still function as they always did with their governing bodies and then a representative on the Trust of Directors from that governing body.

But in terms of the structure of the governing body for the school that doesn’t change. It’s exactly the same with a Chair, with a Vice-Chair, with three committees as most schools have, will meet exactly the same way as it always does. Because they’re responsible for the day-to-day running. What we are there to do is to help them do that.

Jennifer Bexon-Smith:
When we converted, our governors were asked the question if they wanted to continue as governors under the auspices of the new Academy. And all of them wanted to continue. And while it might have been an opportunity to have pruned our Board a little because we have 22 members of our governing body, the decision was made that if they wanted to be a part of it then they would be a part of it.

So we transferred our governing body members straight over to the new Board. Obviously we had to change one or two titles but nevertheless they all moved over. And we retained our old committee structure which is the traditional one with a Finance Committee, Staffing Committee, Curriculum Committee.

So the Chairs of those committees remained the same. The Chair of Governors stayed the same person. So in a sense we didn’t see a great change in terms of governance arrangements. As I have said, we’re in the process of converting to this Multi Academy Trust model. And that will mean significant changes because we’re moving away from a committee structure. We’re going to have local governing body Boards which will be smaller in size.

We’ve traditionally had six parent governors, we’ll go to two parent governors. We’ve had three members of staff, we’ll go to two. So it will be smaller. And then we’ll have our local governing body Boards sitting with each of our three Academies and then we’ll have our Trust Board which will provide the strategic direction for the Academy Chain. And that will be formed of just eight people.

Chris Tomlinson:
The governance at Chafford Hundred was always quite a small governing body anyway. I very much believe in that. And that the governors’ role at Chafford Hundred was very much in line with that of the Harris model. The schools really did fit.

Chafford is a business and enterprise college. It’s a forefront of education initiative so it very much fitted the model. And that was total transparency with governors. Being very open with them, being very forthcoming with information. But also as much opportunity as we possibly can to get the governors involved in the school. Especially at the accountability level.

We have something called self-evaluation days with governors. So governors come in with the Head of Department, with the SMT link for that area, that subject area and sit round and talk about their termly SEF’s. And talk about their judgements and standards within the school. And we have lots of days and events like that throughout the whole of the year. That’s just one example. So really giving ownership to governors. Get them involved.

John Pennington:
Within each Academy committee at least one of the members of that committee will be responsible for challenging the Principal of that Academy on a regular basis on the data and the performance of the children in that particular Academy.

And that member will then report back in to the Board of Directors who will then decide what, if any, further action is needed to ensure that the targets that the Principal has been set are being achieved or are being realised.

Each Academy now has its own Academy committee in addition to the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is a strategic role. The Academy committee which is comprised of seven foundation members, two elected staff, two elected parents and the Principal of that Academy the Academy committees are all operational. But member of the Board of Directors will be on each of those Academy committees.

Cherry Edwards:
It’s very important that governors just don’t have the school’s view with regards to how well we think we’re doing. Yes we have very rigorous self-evaluation. And we’ve now aligned ours to the new Ofsted framework.

We have very rigorous performance data. They have the local authority. They have the school performance data. They have the national performance data. But as well as that we think it’s important that they also have some external validation so we buy in an educational adviser, previously known as SIPs.

We plan the programme with the local authority, with the education adviser in those areas they are looking at. Not just in our Academy but in schools and Academies within Lincolnshire.

We might have some areas that we particularly want the educational adviser to look at but he also has his agenda. So he doesn’t work to our agenda he works to his agenda as well the things that he feels that should be monitored within the school.

And we have a grade for each of those Ofsted areas from the education adviser. So we do have some external validation.
View transcript

Ofsted’s report on school governance discusses learning from the best, and identifies the key characteristics of effective governing bodies and the principles for effective governance of schools and academies.


Opinion piece

Governance in chains

Frank Green, Chief Executive, Leigh Academies Trust, Kent
Frank Green


As the Leigh Academies Trust has expanded from one academy to five (it is likely to grow to eight in the next stage of growth), it has been intriguing to note how governance has changed and, it seems, how much more effective the governance has become.

This piece looks at some of the changes the trust has implemented and cites examples of how the quality of governance has improved because of the different responsibilities that governors now have and the range of data they now automatically receive.


The English education system is currently going through a major restructuring driven by the imperative of wired, technological world and greatly enhanced economic competition. It is increasingly apparent that the local authority model of education is no longer able to meet the demands of our society and the break-up of this is now well underway.

Read about some of the changes the Leigh Academies Trust has implemented, and how the quality of governance has improved, in Frank's opinion piece by clicking the link to the pdf on the National College website.

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Key question

If your school chooses to become an academy, what skills and abilities will you need on the academy trust governing body?

Try to resist the temptation to think in terms of people when you are exploring whom to have on your academy trust governing body. Think instead in terms of ‘hats’ or ‘labels’.

Think of skills such as:

  • strategic and budget planning
  • analytical ability
  • interpersonal skills
  • professional, high-quality debate
  • an ability to focus on the bigger picture and to relate this to goals and potential strategies for school improvement


Like the governors of any school, academy trust governors are responsible for:

  • working with the leadership team to set the strategic vision and ethos of the school
  • holding the academy to account
  • performance management of the headteacher or principal
  • appointment of a new headteacher or principal when appropriate

For more information about the legal responsibilities, visit the School Governors' One-Stop Shop website and report.

Additional responsibilities of the academy trust

In research conducted by Ipsos MORI for Browne Jacobson (Ipsos MORI survey 2012: 11) found that 4 out of 10 headteachers would have dedicated more time to training governors on their roles and responsibilities as part of the conversion process. It is important to understand and appreciate the changes that academy status brings to governors’ roles, and to prepare accordingly. Some or all of the trust’s responsibilities can be delegated to local governing bodies, depending on the structures of the organisation. Key areas to think about are as follows.

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There is no statutory requirement for an accountant or school business manager for an academy trust, but there are considerable responsibilities which require high-level financial skills. Governors must ensure that there is a finance committee and an annual external audit.

In hindsight, half of all academy principals say that they would have spent more time during the conversion process supporting governors and the senior leadership team on academy finances. Half of all academy headteachers still feel that they have needed some additional financial management support since becoming an academy school, and of these one-fifth (19 per cent) assert that they need ‘a lot of extra support’.


The annual accounts are presented as company accounts, which is a very different format to that used by schools before converting.

They must be audited, approved by the academy trust and submitted to Companies House, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and the Department for Education by 31 December of each year.

At least one governor with experience in reading company accounts is a very useful addition to the governor team.

Read the full Ipsos MORI survey 'Academies - driving success through autonomy' (Browne Jackson, 2012).

See also the DfE's web page on Academy funding and the 'Academies Financial Handbook (2012)' for further information about financial matters for academies.

Admissions and appeals

The academy trust is the legal admission authority, but usually responsibility is delegated to the governing body. Key features are as follows:

  • Academies are bound by the current admissions code and appeal code.
  • They may change the existing admissions policy within the timescale of the admissions code.
  • If the school is oversubscribed, the governing body has to establish an admissions committee made up of at least three governors, including the head.
  • A representative from the academy will need to present the school’s case at any appeal.

Human resources and employment law

Legally, the academy trust is the employer of academy staff, but the amount of delegation varies between academy trusts, so check what will be expected of your governing body in these arrangements.

Existing staff are transferred to the academy trust by the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (known as TUPE). Effectively, this secures the terms and conditions of employment for those staff to be no worse than at the point of transfer, although it does not set them in stone forever.

Academies are not bound by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document or local Green Book arrangements for support staff, other than for those staff transferred via TUPE. Staff appointed after the conversion to academy may be employed under different terms and conditions.

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Estate management

The academy trust is the legal owner of the land and buildings if the school was previously a foundation school, or the lessee if the school was a community school or faith school, although in some cases legal ownership remains with the diocese. The academy trust is ultimately responsible for health and safety, capital investment and building liabilities.

Further information

This section has given you a brief overview of the role and responsibilities of governors in an academy.

You can obtain more detailed information and support from the organisations and websites listed below.

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