NGA is at the forefront of knowledge and understanding of MAT governance.
The rapid growth of MATs has seen many different models of governance evolving and this had led to trust boards reviewing and refining their models of governance both in the light of experience, but also in the light of their own trust’s growth strategy.
NGA has extensive experience of carrying out external reviews of governance reviews in all types of schools and trusts, including MATs. To date NGA has carried out reviews in trusts with just a few small schools, to those with 20 or more. These include a number of reviews which have been required by the ESFA, and which have involved working closely with the ESFA on the review’s terms of reference and expected timescales.
Why should you commission a reivew?
It is good practice for boards to review their effectiveness regularly but most especially if circumstances change, as outlined in the DfE’s 2017 Governance Handbook, which states that effective boards evaluate to monitor and improve the quality and impact of governance through:
Commissioning external reviews of board effectiveness, particularly at key growth or transition points, to gain an independent expert assessment of strengths and areas for development
In addition, in the DfE’s Competency Framework for Governance, the sixth feature of effective governance focuses on evaluation:
6.b It is essential for the board to reflect on its own effectiveness including the effectiveness of its processes and structures. This will assist in building relationships and improving accountability, and will enable the board to ensure that there is a clear distinction between strategic and operational leadership. It will also assist in setting the tone and culture of the board.
Specific circumstances that may prompt a trust seeking a review also include:
- A new chair or new trustees, or a new executive head or chief executive
- There has been no history of self evaluation and so a starting point is required
- There are specific issues, for example with standards, financial management, complaints, local governance
- Ofsted, or some other body such as the Education and Skills Funding Agency, or the regional schools commissioner, has required an external review
Whatever the reason, commissioning an external review should be seen as a positive step.
What is the purpose of the review?
The purpose of the review will be to improve the effectiveness of the trust board in carrying out its three core functions so that the trust it is governing achieves its purpose. With MATs, this may also involve assessing the effectiveness of local governance arrangements. Each review aims to develop the board’s understanding and practice of effective governance through:
- Astute diagnosis of the areas where improvement should be focused
- Active engagement with trustees, the CEO and other key personnel ensuring that there is a common understanding of the requirements for effective governance, and, importantly, how to achieve this
- Realistic recommendations that can form the basis of an action plan for the coming year
- The option to book a progress review after two or three terms
Within a year of the review having taken place, the trust board should be:
- Effectively fulfilling its three core governance functions
- Sustainable, with routine self evaluation established, and succession planning in place
- Seeing evidence of organisational improvement
How will it work?
As all MATs are different, each review begins with a scoping meeting with the chair of the trust board, the chief executive or executive headteacher, and other key personnel. The purpose of the meeting is:
- For the consultant to start to build an understanding of the trust’s context and circumstances
- To identify the areas of focus, and to discuss the range of methodologies available for exploring the issues, and possible outcomes
- The extent of the review, for example, if the trust board wishes the review to explore the effectiveness of local governance
- For the consultant to start to build a picture of the quality of relationships and effectiveness of communication
The information gleaned from the scoping meeting will inform a formal proposal which will detail:
- The issues that are to be explored
- The methodologies that will be employed
- Expected outcomes
- The time commitment involved
- The fee
Once the proposal is agreed, the review will commence. There is a fixed fee for the scoping meeting which includes the preparation of the proposal for the review; once the proposal is accepted this fee is reduced and the work included in the pricing structure for the review.
Although each review is bespoke, the approach generally includes some of the following elements:
1. In order to build an understanding of the history and context of the trust, desktop research and an extensive document review
2. In order to build an understanding of trustees’ and senior leaders’ own views on the effectiveness of the governance arrangements, an online board appraisal and phone interviews with key trustees and personnel
3. In order to build an understanding of the board’s capacity to address any issues identified, analysis of skills, and engagement through either observation of a board meeting, a facilitated discussion, or a developmental workshop
4. In order to build an understanding of local governance arrangements, further document reviews, online appraisals completed by the academy committee members, engagement with the chairs of the academy committees and other key volunteers and personnel through interviews or facilitated workshops
Consultants are also able to offer sessions specifically focused on different models of delegation.
The aim is that all reviews are concluded eight to 12 weeks after the initial contact is made to NGA. However this is dependent on the extent of the review, the availability of trustees, and how term times impact on the review timetable.
All NGA consultants are carefully recruited, trained and quality assured. All reviews are quality assured by the Head of Consultancy, and if necessary with the CEO or her deputy.