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New governance guides are a welcome update

New governance guides are a welcome update

The two new DfE guides better reflect the system we have and won’t add to governors’ workloads

The two new DfE guides better reflect the system we have and won’t add to governors’ workloads

Emma Knights.

8 Mar 2024, 10:38

The Department for Education (DfE) has just released two new governance guides, tailored separately for maintained schools and academy trusts. They replace the single DfE Governance Handbook, which was last revised in October 2020 needed an update (for example to acknowledge the existence of the trust quality descriptions).

The Governance Handbook has been a longstanding feature in the world of school and trust governance. These replacement guides will take its place as staples in the governance library.  There’s a noticeable drop in word count and a streamlined focus, offering consolidation, not transformation.

The new guides were crafted through consultation with NGA, something we welcome as the sector experts on school and trust governance. The department’s philosophy is increasingly to provide the principles and a framework and look to the sector to fill in the good practice. NGA has ensured that the voices of those on the frontline of school and trust governance were heard. This collaborative effort reflects the department’s approach in calling on the sector to support good governance.

My message is simple: There’s no need to worry. Very, very little has actually changed and there are no big new asks. If you are confident your governance practice is working, carry on. If you are not, talk to NGA. These new guides may be a stimulus for all boards to review their standard practices and their impact, as should happen regularly.

So of course leaders, governors, trustees and governance professionals need to read the new guides, but not with a concern that this will require more compliance or more meetings. Leaders and volunteers are both overloaded, and that is the last thing anyone needs. NGA is very focused on supporting schools and trusts to make sure governance is as efficient as possible as.

If you are confident your governance practice is working, carry on

Workload is a serious issue for all; the good news is these new guides won’t add to it. Will they reduce it? Well, only in that there are fewer words to get lost in. However, the guides do continue to stress that governance is a strategic oversight role and that volunteers should not find themselves with operational asks.

It is a step forward that as a result of our recent report on governance workload, the DfE agreed to look again at the statutory policies list and reduce the expectations. Those boards that still spend inordinate meeting time on policy sign-off should gain confidence that there are better ways of ensuring the right policies are in place.

The core functions of boards have been amended; although that is largely a rearrangement of words, I am pleased to see a greater emphasis on the need for stakeholder engagement. For example, this is now included as part of the ‘purpose of governance’ the trust guide uses. NGA adopted stakeholder engagement as a fourth core function of governance back in 2017, so is about time that the DfE followed suit.

The education sector has undergone significant transformation in recent years, often making it challenging to keep pace. However, when we look at the role of governance in isolation, the pillars of good governance – accountability, ethics, and effectiveness – remain constant.

Governance acts as the foundation of organisational success and stability, and it will no doubt come as a relief to all that neither the philosophy nor the practice of governance is swept up in a wearying storm of updates.

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