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Academy Company Secretaries for Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs)
Academies are publicly funded independent schools that receive money direct from the government, rather than the local council. They are run by an academy trust which employs the staff. Some academies have sponsors such as businesses, universities, other schools, faith groups or voluntary groups.
There is no one-size-fits-all blueprint for academy governance, but as the governing bodies are independent and have responsibility for operating and directing school affairs, good governance is particularly important and consequently, the company secretary role in an academy trust is crucial.
According to icsa: The Governance Institute, the professional body for chartered company secretaries, “What is important is ensuring legal and regulatory compliance and that there are appropriate governance mechanisms in place that ensure each entity is controlled effectively.” As with any system of governance, frameworks should be subject to scrutiny and challenge, both from within and externally, to ensure that public funds are spent properly.
Wherever there is a formal link of control and direction by one organisation over others it is likely that some form of subsidiary governance arrangements will be required. Where organisations do not actively manage the way they grow, serious implications can arise, such as:
- confusion about the responsibilities and obligations of each entity;
- for charitable entities, the use of charitable assets for activities outside the charitable aims, or even worse, for activities that are simply not charitable;
- tax and/or VAT issues;
- potential liability of the parent body if a school fails; and
- potential liability issues should a partnership fail.
Key aspects of good governance in Multi Academy Trusts will incorporate proportionate and effective arrangements for board effectiveness and diversity, risk management and internal controls, financial and performance management and transparency and accountability.
Sound subsidiary governance is essential to ensure that these arrangements are appropriate for the size and complexity of the organisation. For an academy trust, the board needs to be sure that each of its schools is run in a way that is consistent with the direction and leadership set by the academy trust board, while at the same time having the flexibility to deal with local cultures and situations.
A perennial issue for debate when discussing governance of academy trusts is the balance between central control and ‘earned autonomy’ that gives greater local discretion in the running of a school. We subscribe to icsa’s view that the debate should not be reduced to the binary option of one or the other as good subsidiary governance will depend on a mixture of both, with the mix dependent on individual circumstances.
Bridgehouse Company Secretaries can help academy trusts establish a governance model that allows for effective and informed decision-making. Talk to us to find out more.