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Exclusive: Call to throw open control of academy trusts to parents and communities

Governors' leader says the move would increase the legitimacy of academy chains

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The government should throw open the control of academy trusts to parents and the wider community to give them more legitimacy, a school governors’ leader has said.

Currently, a handful of legally designated "members" – sometimes as few as three – sit at the top of multi-academy trusts, with the ability to appoint and remove trustees and agree its accounts.

The concentration of the power in a small number of hands has raised concerns about democratic accountability, and the links between the academy trusts that run schools and the communities that they serve.

Writing for Tes, Emma Knights, the chief executive of the National Governance Association, warned that “a handful of members is not a sound governance model for a public service”, and called for a “third-sector model of membership”.

She wrote: “All the parents and other interested people in the community, potentially organisations in the area, could be allowed to become members of the academy trust – as many as wanted to be.  They would all then have the right to attend the AGM to do what members are already expected to do – agree the accounts, appoint trustees and remove any if necessary.”

She said such a move would represent “a returning of power over such an important public service as our state schools to the community through participative democracy”.

Ms Knights said that such a move would involve people who currently hold power handing it over, and added: “That will take courage, vision and a belief that a school belongs to its community, not a small number of people who may be very far removed.”

Brian Conway, chief executive of the Norfolk-based St John the Baptist Multi-Academy Trust, warned that such an idea could be "potentially unwieldy" and could leave trusts open to being taken over by groups pushing a particular agenda.

However, he said he was interested in the idea of making annual general meetings of academy trusts more transparent.

He told Tes: "At the end of the day, if you look at a trust and the amount of money they are spending, the more that can be demonstrated and open to the public, the better.

"The idea that the [annual general meeting] could be structured to be a little bit open to the public has got merit."

When approached by Tes, the Department for Education did not comment directly on Ms Knights’ suggestion, but a spokesperson said: “While overall accountability rightly sits at trust level, trust boards can, and do, delegate functions to local governing bodies that oversee individual schools.”

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