An update to the National Governance Association’s (NGA) guidance on ‘Academy trusts: the role of members’ offers trust members a way to “assure themselves of the remit and limitations of their role” while providing invaluable information for trust boards reporting to members.
Members are ‘guardians of the governance of the trust’ and act as “a last line of defence from failures of governance and failure to uphold the charitable purpose of the organisation”. Their role is to satisfy themselves that the “standard of governance across the trust is high”.
The updated guidance says members and the trustee boards must “remain committed to keeping the members’ role discrete for it to fulfil its function” to prevent undermining the board, which is responsible for the core governance functions and conducting the business of the trust.
In choosing members, trusts should emphasise that “knowing what good governance looks like is the most essential requirement to be able to fulfil the member role”. These include people who “possess a good understanding of the charitable aims of the organisation, and who are willing to take action if the need arises “which the guidance says “is of more value” than various professional skills.
Among the updates to the guidance are practical suggestions on how to keep members informed of the work of the trustee board, and what members should do in the event of trustee underperformance.
The updated guidance comes as a recent report from NGA – ‘MATs moving forward: the power of governance’ – says that confusion remains around the role of members despite increased focus from the Department for Education, Education and Skill Funding Agency, and NGA.
Lack of separation between members and trustees remains a significant issue in trust governance but is moving in the right direction with strengthened instructions in the Academies Financial Handbook, the report says. The updated guidance reinforces that “given members are the guardians of the governance of the trust, it is logical that they are different people to the trustees, for the simple reason that it is difficult to hold oneself to account”.
Sam Henson, director of policy and information at NGA said:
“This guidance outlines what members should and should not be doing ,and provides clarity and confidence on this limited but crucial tier in academy trust governance structures. Members have a simple but misunderstood role which can be invisible to some and unwarranted by others. However, they hold considerable power as they set out the rules for how the trust is governed, and can appoint the majority of the trustees and dismiss them all. NGA will continue to argue vigorously for complete separation of power between governance layers and roles, meaning no members should also be trustees. Unlike many aspects of governance, this is not a tricky one to resolve.”