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Chloe Brunton

The role of the local governing body

Chloe Brunton, Partner at education law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards, looks at the role of local governing bodies in academies

Posted by Hannah Oakman | April 28, 2015 | Law, finance, HR

The operation of local governing bodies (or ‘LGBs’) is a matter on which we are regularly asked to advise at Veale Wasbrough Vizards (VWV). It might be an established multi-academy trust which is evaluating the effectiveness of its LGBs in the context of a governance review or alternatively a group of schools which is thinking of working together, but is concerned about the potential loss of autonomy posed by joining a multi-academy trust.

Common issues that we have encountered include the following:

 - The LGB acts as though it is the governing body of a maintained school (in some cases therefore exceeding its powers).

 - The scheme of delegation doesn't make it clear whether the function sits with the board of trustees or the LGBs leading to confusion and potential conflict.

 - The LGB does not understand its role nor its value. This can lead to inactivity and over-reliance on the senior leadership team,  or the resignation of good governors, who have an important part to play in the overall accountability framework.

The role of LGBS

The role of the LGB member within a multi-academy trust is a valuable one in providing local governance as well as offering assistance to the trustees in the fulfillment of their duties.

Broadly, the role is to provide focused governance for an academy at a local level. It should also monitor the academy's key performance indicators and act as a critical friend to the principal, providing challenge where appropriate. It will also play a part in representing the views of the academy's stakeholders. Beyond that, the board of trustees needs to be clear what specific functions it requires the LGB to carry out and this should be set out clearly in written terms of reference.

At one end of the spectrum it can be a purely advisory body. At the other end it can have delegated decision-making power. It might be that in any one multi-academy trust, there are LGBs which fall at opposite ends of that spectrum depending on the performance of the school and its governors.

It is crucial that the role is clearly defined and that LGB members are empowered to fulfil their role with confidence.
The functioning and effectiveness of the LGBs should form an important part of your governance review and the performance of the LGB will also be considered by Ofsted in its inspection as part of the leadership and management judgement.

Key requirements of an LGB

Whilst there are certain parameters which legally apply to the operation of the LGB (as set out below), the specific role or function of any LGB is not legally defined and must therefore be determined by the board of trustees. When setting up an LGB the trustees will need to be mindful of the following:

The LGB is a committee of the board of trustees. It is possible for a trustee to also be a member of an LGB but this is not a requirement. It is possible for there to be no trustees on an LGB.

The board of trustees retains overall responsibility for the operation of the academies and can determine the level of delegation and the subsequent level of autonomy.

The act of delegation is not a shedding of responsibility but a delegation of a power or function.

The funding agreement will ordinarily require that the LGB consists of at least two individuals elected by the parent body. It is usual for there to also be elected staff representation and representation from the community.

Depending on your Articles of Association, it may be possible to establish one LGB to oversee more than one school within your multi-academy trust.

The Articles of Association might give power to a third party, such as a Diocese, to approve the terms of reference.

The ethos and the local arrangements for governance will however, to a certain extent, be unique to each MAT.

Terms of reference for LGBs

Through our extensive experience with MATs and through our lawyers’ experiences as chairs of LGBs, we have devised some template terms of reference for LGBs which reflect those functions which are most commonly delegated to LGBs.

These terms of reference cover a variety of points such as:

- The composition of the LGB, including any requirements regarding parent representation which might be included in the MAT’s funding agreement or any requirements regarding Diocesan representation, which might be included in the Articles of Association.

 - The conduct of staff and parent elections.

 - The role of the chairman, the vice-chairman and the clerk to the LGB (and details of their appointment).

 - General provisions relating to the conduct of proceedings and the management of conflicts of interest.

Importantly, confirmation of the delegated powers and authority and the corresponding limits.

In addition, even within one MAT, it is possible to establish different terms of reference for each LGB, perhaps depending on the current performance of the school in question (some MATs refer to this as ‘earned autonomy’) or in circumstances perhaps where the MAT operates some schools which have religious designation, and some which do not.

When putting in place terms of reference and monitoring their effectiveness, the trustees need to ensure that:

- There are appropriate methods for reporting on and reviewing the effectiveness of the LGBs.

- The written terms of reference are reviewed annually.

Many of the MATs which we work with have also put in place our template Scheme of Governance which complements the terms of reference and which sets out the wider governance structure of the MAT.

This includes, for example:

The role of the members and who they are.

The role of the trustees including agenda items, their accountability, powers and functions, conduct and risk management responsibilities.

The appointment of committees and the clerk.

The role of the CEO/executive principal including their role as the accounting officer.

The relationship between the board/CEO, the principals and the finance director.

Reserved matters (being those matters which must be referred back to the board of trustees for consideration).

We can also support MATs with training for their LGB members on their roles and functions which again, draws on our practical experience in chairing LGBs. 

If this would be of interest to you or you would like to discuss the operation of your LGBs, please contact Chloe Brunton on 0117 314 5301.


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