Checklist published that will ensure positive culture and strong governance in school trusts

The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) and ICSA: The Governance Institute (ICSA) today unveiled a top 10 checklist that academy trusts can use to check the health of their organisation and ensure governance remains strong.

An integral part of the Organisational Culture in Academy Trusts report that was published by the CST and ICSA at the CST’s Spring Conference in London, the list sets out key areas that should be discussed at Trust board level, such as ethical issues, culture and values; the importance of including these topics in the induction of new trustees and staff; and the need for trustees to challenge the organisation’s executive leadership and other Board members and directors if challenge is required.

Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of the CST, the national organisation and sector body for school trusts in England, said:
“As education charities limited by guarantee, academies are required to perform to the exacting standards expected of publicly-funded organisations, but with the additional moral compass of delivering the charitable purpose of education with the associated public benefit.
“This can be more challenging in a sector that is still developing, evolving and maturing in terms of success, sustainability and accountability.

“There have been a number of high-profile governance failures in every sector of the UK and beyond, and that includes a very small number of school trusts. They have rightly attracted attention but it is important to remember that the vast majority of trusts are very well-run by trustees who understand, and truly believe in, their purpose to provide children and young people with the best possible education.
“Culture is an integral aspect of good governance and rightly a board concern. Getting the culture right takes time, effort and continuous monitoring to ensure it is being promoted at every level.”

The checklist for school trusts consists of the following 10 top tips:

  • How frequently are organisational culture and values discussed as part of the formal board agenda?
  • How culture, vision and values are included in the induction of new trustees and staff?
  • Do staff/pupil/parent satisfaction survey results mirror the agreed culture of the academy trust?
  • Have members challenged the authority of the board in the last 12 to 18 months? What was the issue under challenge?
  • What evidence is there that the board and senior leadership team behave in accordance with the agreed values of the organisation
  • Is there an agreed code of conduct and/or ethics in place that helps to build the desired culture of the academy trust? How are these embedded throughout the trust?
  • Are constitutional changes made against material opposition from members, staff, pupils, parents, sponsors and the wider community?
  • Are ethical dilemmas discussed at board meetings? Are such ethical decisions reviewed?
  • Have key performance indicators led to any inappropriate behaviours in the academy trust?
  • How are incidents of inappropriate behaviours or unwanted culture recorded, monitored and dealt with?

Louise Thomson, Head of Policy (Not for Profit) at ICSA, the professional body for governance, concluded:
“Initial reactions to recent academy trust scandals have been to look at the regulatory environment, but a rules-based compliance approach will not, on its own, deliver healthy organisational behaviour. This is because behaviour is determined not only by rules but also by the culture of the entity concerned.

“Each academy trust stakeholder will have an opinion as to what a ‘good’ school culture looks like, which is why the checklist is so helpful. It provides clear examples of the types of questions that school trusts should be asking in order to ensure that their organisational culture is positive and effective.”

Notes to editors
1. The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) is the national organisation and sector body for school trusts in England advocating for, connecting and supporting executive and governance leaders. For more information, please visit: http://www.cstuk.org.uk.

2. ICSA: The Governance Institute is the professional body for governance. With over 125 years’ experience, it works with regulators and policy makers to champion high standards of governance and provide qualifications, training and guidance. For more information, please visit: www.icsa.org.uk.

3. The report, Organisational Culture in Academy Trusts, is published by the CST and ICSA.

4. The report draws upon the insights and contributions of a roundtable held in September 2018 with participants from the academy and charity sector and governance world. Those participants include: Cairns, Principal Associate, Eversheds Sutherland; Clare Collins; Head of Consultancy, NGA; Leora, Cruddas, CEO, Confederation of School Trusts; Lucy Devine, Governance Professional, Wellspring Consulting; Lindsay Driscoll, lawyer, governance consultant, and former Board member of the Charity Commission; Rowan Ferguson, Deputy Chief Education Officer, Church of England; Steve Hodsman, Chair, Delta Academies Trust; Matt Humphrey; Head of Governance and Risk Advisory Services, RSM; Anna Machin; Governance and Compliance Manager, ARK; Nick MacKenzie, Partner, Browne Jacobson; Katie Paxton-Doggett, governance professional and trustee, NGA; Emma Perkin, Director, The Constant Group; Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal, Dixons Academy Trust; Peter Swabey, Policy and Research Director, ICSA; Louise Thomson , Head of Policy (Not for Profit), ICSA; and Natasha Zitcer, Academies Regional Delivery Group, Department for Education.