Release date: 08/10/2020

A new version of the Governance Handbook has been released today (8 October) by the Department for Education (DfE), along with new governance role descriptors.

Board diversity, professional clerking and executive leaders’ understanding of effective governance feature among the updates.

New text which says “It is important that boards reflect the diversity of the school/trust communities that they serve.” has been added, with attention drawn to NGA’s Everyone on Board campaign which seeks to improve the diversity of governing boards. In her foreword Baroness Berridge, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, writes “More than ever we also need diverse boards, and the Handbook has been updated to emphasise the expectation that recruitment processes should encourage volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and perspectives, that better reflect the communities they serve”.

It also recognises the importance of high-quality clerking, adding in to the skills section: “As well as ensuring that governors and academy trustees have specific skills to enable them to carry out the strategic business of the  board, it is equally important that the board’s clerk (governance professional) has the skills and knowledge to provide advice, guidance and effective administrative support.”

Referring to the Headteachers’ Standards, wording to indicate that executive leaders should “know and understand” – as well as “welcome” - the role of effective governance has been added. It also strengthens expectations that executive leaders should “uphold the obligation to give account, accept responsibility and work proactively with those responsible for governance to establish an effective cycle of reporting, robust challenge and accountability”.

Other changes from the previous version (March 2019) include:

  • Several compliance updates including providing further clarity on the board’s responsibilities under safeguarding.
  • Updates corresponding to changes made in the Academies Financial Handbook and the Ofsted Education Inspection Framework.

Read the new Handbook

The Governance Handbook defines the roles, functions and legal duties of governing boards in maintained schools, academies and multi academy trusts. It is described as setting out "the government’s vision and priorities for effective school and trust governance" and acts as a signpost for governance resources including many from NGA. 

In addition to the Handbook, the DfE has also produced new ‘governance role descriptors’ providing "clear information relating to roles in school and trust governance, and how these different layers of governance interact".

Read the role descriptors

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association said:
"We welcome the strengthening of language on important issues that are critical to good governance like professional clerking and working with executive leaders. Having a diverse board brings such benefits to governance and to the wider community so we are especially pleased that the messages in our longstanding Everyone on Board campaign are recognised here by the DfE and by the Minister. This is an important document for everyone volunteering and working in school and trust governance and we will continue to work with the DfE to provide expertise and insight on future updates."

In her introduction to the Handbook, Baroness Berridge also writes:
"Governance has never been more critical to the education of our nation’s young people… I have been impressed to see the governance sector adapt so quickly to virtual meetings, while continuing to discharge your core functions. Despite the challenges, you have continued to play a vital role in supporting school leaders to ensure that the needs of all learners, including vulnerable children and young people, have been met... There is significant work to be done to get all pupils back on track, which means your role in monitoring how core school budgets, catch-up funding and Pupil Premium are being spent has never been more vital." 


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