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Interview with Clare Collins: Leading MAT governance

Clare Collins introduces some if the thinking behind the session on Leading MAT governance: the executive and non-executive role.

NGA’s work with MATs continues apace and we have now undertaken enough external reviews of MAT governing boards to be able to identify a few key themes that emerge from our examination of accountability in practice in these bigger and more complex organisations. One recurring theme is a certain amount of confusion around accountability through executive and non-executive roles.

One of the key policy objectives for MATs is to harness our most talented and effective school leaders and to broaden their influence beyond that of a single school. Thus we have seen the emergence of both executive headteacher and chief executive roles, with the former typically running their own school plus overseeing the heads of other schools, and the latter overseeing the performance of all the schools in the trust. We are also beginning to see the emergence of roles which we would more readily have associated with a local authority such as trust director for school improvement, trust director of primary performance, trust director of secondary performance, etc. Parallel to this is often an executive management structure headed by the finance director, with a staff of regional or phase school business managers providing an interface with individual schools’ finance staff.

So where do these senior executive leaders fit in with governance accountability structures? In theory, many of them should not as they will be line managed through the organisation’s executive leadership structures. For example, the chief executive will line manage the headteachers, or in bigger trusts the CEO will line manage the executive heads or regional or phase directors who will in turn line manage the headteachers. This means that the role of the academy committee (often known as the local governing body) will not include managing the performance of their headteacher. Hence the second core governance function of holding to account is not undertaken at school level; instead it will be undertaken at trust level with the trust board holding the CEO to account for the performance of all the schools in the trust. In theory this should change the role of the academy committee, leaving it to monitor, consult, represent and to influence. However, all too often we come across senior executive leaders sitting on and even chairing these academy committees, and in some cases that these local committees are overloaded with executives. The result is executives seeking to fulfil the governance accountability role as well as the executive leadership accountability role.

This confusion of types of accountability means that a system already experiencing multiple accountabilities experiences even more. Heads are required to account to both their line manager and to their academy committee: work is duplicated and time is wasted. In order to address this, lines of accountability need to be more clearly defined, and there needs to be a culture shift away from previous governance models.
NGA’s session will explore these issues further, with some suggestions for how to develop management structures which ensure effective executive accountability, and how these can mesh with accountability through governance structures from the top to the bottom of the trust.

Clare Collins MBE, Head of Consultancy, National Governance Association

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