Academy trusts are concentrating power in too few hands and leaving individual schools without someone to fight their corner, a governors’ leader has warned.
It comes after almost three-quarters of MAT trustees told a large-scale survey that some trustees of the central trust also sit on the governing bodies of some of its schools.
More than 5,000 school and academy governors and trustees took part in the annual survey by Tes and the National Governance Association (NGA).
Emma Knights, chief executive of the NGA, warned that schools in academy trusts can be left without someone to champion their interests if the same person is both a governor of the overall trust and an individual school within it.
She told Tes: “If the chair of a local governing body is really concerned about something they absolutely need a system where they can go to the central office or to the trustee board and say ‘hang on, this isn’t working for our school’, whereas if you are one of the people who sit on that trust board you are unlikely to start making a fuss.
“[The overlap] hampers the local governing body being the advocate for the school because the trustee then has to put their ‘every school’ hat on.”
The survey also found that 73 per cent of MAT trustees said there are trustees of their academy trust who also act as one of its ‘members’ – who have a similar role to shareholders of private companies and can appoint trustees.
Ms Knights warned that this means “we are concentrating power with a small number of people”.
She added: “While we have small numbers of members its absolutely crucial that they are not the same people as the trustees or the executive because it means they are holding themselves to account and the whole thing becomes a complete farce.
“Basically, there’s no check or balance, and that’s how governance systems should be set up.”
The Academies Financial Handbook says the DfE believes “there should be a significant degree of separation between the individuals who are members and those who are trustees. If members sit on the board of trustees this may reduce the objectivity with which the members can exercise their powers.”
The NGA itself recommends that any one individual only has one role in the governance of an organisation.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have confidence in trusts to comply with their legal obligations and the principles set out in the Governance Handbook.
“As long as trusts comply, they should have the flexibility to organise themselves in ways which enable them to carry out their functions effectively and respond to local needs.”