Ensure positive culture and strong governance in trusts

The Confederation of School Trusts and ICSA: The Governance Institute have unveiled a top 10 checklist that academy trusts can use to check the health of their organisations and ensure governance remains strong

Published by the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) and ICSA: The Governance Institute (ICSA) in March, the Organisational Culture in Academy Trusts report includes a list setting out 10 key areas that should be discussed at trust board level. Topics include:

  • ethical issues, culture and values;
  • the importance of including these topics in the induction of new trustees and staff;
  • the need for trustees to challenge the organisation’s executive leadership, other board members and directors, if required.

What is culture? An integral aspect of good governance
“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 and the associated public benefit,” says Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the CST.“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 this 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.”

“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, adds Louise Thomson, head of policy (not for profit) at ICSA. “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.”

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

  1. How frequently are organisational culture and values discussed as part of the formal board agenda?
  2. How are culture, vision and values included in the induction of new trustees and staff?
  3. Do staff/pupil/parent satisfaction survey results mirror the agreed culture of the academy trust?
  4. Have members challenged the authority of the board in the last 12-to-18 months? What was the issue under challenge?
  5. What evidence is there that the board and senior leadership team behave in accordance with the agreed values of the organisation?
  6. 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?
  7. Are constitutional changes made against material opposition from members, staff, pupils, parents, sponsors and the wider community?
  8. Are ethical dilemmas discussed at board meetings? Are such ethical decisions reviewed?
  9. Have key performance indicators led to any inappropriate behaviours in the academy trust?
  10. How are incidents of inappropriate behaviours – or unwanted culture – recorded, monitored and dealt with?

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