Governance Leadership Programme - Top 5 Take-aways

I've been accepted onto a Department for Education-funded programme to develop governance in academy trusts. Here's five things I took away from the first residential.

Governance Leadership Programme - Top 5 Take-aways

I spent last weekend on a residential as part of the Confederation of School Trust’s  (CST) governance leadership programme. I was lucky enough to receive a fully funded place on the programme, thanks to the Department for Education, which I wanted to use to develop my governance skills (through the academy trust lens), and further develop governance within Inspiring Learners MAT.

It was a great experience, and while the programme will run for another 12 months, I felt it would be useful to describe some of what I’ve already learned. So here’s my five top takeaways from the first two days of this 12 month programme:

1. At Inspiring Learners, we’re on the right track

A significant portion of the residential was spent discussing the legal framework around which we operate, and the documents and processes that we are required to have in place. It was reassuring to see that there was nothing that was discussed that was a surprise to me. We put a lot of effort into ensuring we were fully compliant with regulations in our first year of operation, which underpins all our work. We’ve got all documentation in place that we should have, and I feel like our trust development plan is solid, and ambitious.

2. I’d not realised how much I needed a network

Spending a couple of days with a group of people from across the country who are in a similar situation was oddly liberating. I hadn’t realised how much I’d needed to be part of a network, or that I’ve never really spoken at length with other trustees from outside Inspiring Learners. Everyone was very willing to share their experiences, knowledge and opinions, and conversation flowed extremely easily during breakout sessions mealtimes.

I’m really grateful that CST have offered to continue to facilitate this network, initially with WhatsApp and LinkedIn groups, and I’m looking forward to continuing to discuss governance matters with my new network, sharing ideas and concerns. 

3. There were 40-odd trusts represented in the room, and each one had a different operating model

When we set up Inspiring Learners, we were surprised at the lack of guidance for how to set the trust up - in terms of the best way to do things, operating models to adopt, etc. There was clarity around regulations and the required documentation, but development of processes was very much left to our own judgement.

This approach was reflected across the room. Each trust was different, with different management structures, board structures, committee structures, objectives, plans, and other approaches. I don’t think that this is a bad thing - I think that localisation is important - with each trust able to do things the way that they think suits them and their situation best. It would be useful, I think, to still have some way of sharing experiences - good and bad, what worked and what didn’t - so that others can learn in the future. 

4. Futurology

Another point that came up a few times was about the future of trusts, and of education in general. As an Academy Trust, our sole object in our Articles of Association is to:

“advance for the public benefit education in the United Kingdom, in particular but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, by establishing, maintaining, carrying on, managing and developing schools offering a broad and balanced curriculum…”

This is quite a responsibility, and we take that very seriously. In order fulfil this objective, we have to look to the future - not just the three years or so that a normal strategic plan would look at, but five, ten or fifteen years in the future. It can be tremendously difficult to do this, but it’s something I’d like us to think about at a Trust strategy day in the near future.

I’ve recently read a book by Tom Cheesewright, who is an applied futurologist from the Manchester area, called ‘High Frequency Change’ about how businesses can ensure they are well-placed to deal with rapid developments in their sector. In it, Tom suggests a three pronged approach for businesses to deal with rapid change, and I think that the same principles hold true for trusts:

  • Curation - being able to identify the things that are likely to drive change in the future, whether that be emerging technologies, new funding streams, or central government policy choices.
  • Creativity - being able to think creatively about responding to these things - designing things like curriculum models that incorporate new technologies, for example.
  • Communication - It is critical that we communicate well, as an organisation. This isn’t just about how we present ourselves to the outside world (though collaboration with other trusts and organisations is important). It is equally important that communication paths within the trust work well. In order to maximise the potential of the above two points, we need people in every part of the trust to feel they can share ideas, with whoever they feel it is most appropriate, and they are able to be assessed and worked on.

5. There’s a reading list

As the Chair of the Trust Board, there can be a lot of stuff to read - letters from Lords and Baronesses, changes to regulations, official guidance documents, policies, minutes and reports. I realised, however, that there’s a wealth of information contained in unofficial literature, and while I don’t have to read it, it seems to make sense to make sure I’m well up to speed on a range of topics. CST have really helpfully provided a set of helper docs with guidance on various trust-related subjects, from codes of conduct, to schemes of delegation. As well as these, there’s a few recommended books I’m planning to read:

The Advantage: Why organizational health trumps everything else in business by Patrick Lencioni
Founders Mentality by Zook/Allen

I think it would be useful for someone to manage a collaborative reading list for trust boards. Maybe I’ll do this myself.

This programme will run for another 12 months, but the effect will last a lot longer. Next step for me is to create a governance action plan for our trust (though we have a lot of this in place already), and a development plan for me, as Chair. I’ll follow-up with a post in the future to talk about the real impact of this stuff.