New Governance Handbook released


On Thursday 26 November, the Department for Education (DfE) released its latest edition of the Governance Handbook (previously Governors’ Handbook). This handbook is an essential resource for governors and trustees as it outlines the roles and responsibilities of a governor and the legal duties of the governing board for all state schools in England. It also acts as a sign post for governance resources including many from the National Governors’ Association (NGA). 

This handbook, which was last updated in January 2015, is slightly smaller and structured in a way which places more of an emphasis on what the DfE considers to be effective governance. The DfE has also remove the term “governing body” from the handbook and replaced it with “governing board” to emphasise that this guidance is for both academy trustees and governors of maintained schools. As well as more content on questions governing boards should ask the headteacher, and a more detailed overview of effective governance, some of the main points from the new handbook are:

  • There is much more information on governing groups of schools, particularly governing in a multi-academy trust (MAT). The handbook makes it clear that, in the DfE’s opinion, “forming or joining a group of schools can help create more effective governance”.
  • The handbook clarifies some important issues around group structures:

o   The handbook outlines that “there is an increasing need for absolute clarity on the role and remit of each part of the [group of schools’] structure and the relationship and reporting arrangements between them – including, for example in a MAT, between the role of a local governing body (LGB) and an executive principal in holding a school-level principal to account”.

o   It makes it clear that unless the scheme of delegation gives responsibility to local governing bodies (LGBs) they are “relieved of the burden of ultimate accountability” and “LGBs with no delegated governance functions are wholly advisory”.

o   The handbook also makes it clear that, when a MAT contains three or more schools, it will need to overhaul its governance arrangements. At 6-7 schools the MAT will become stretched again and, by 10 schools, another restructure will be needed. For more on groups of schools and forming groups please see the NGA, ASCL and Browne Jacobson Forming or joining a group of schools.

The NGA advises that governors treat this handbook as an essential reference guide when exercising their functions. Clerks should read the entirety of this document and chairs should also make themselves familiar with specific chapters, particularly sections 1 to 5 and section 12. Other chapters should be consulted as and when any relevant issues arise.