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Exclusive: School governor numbers slashed due to growth of academy trusts

Long-serving governor brands new governor role within academy trusts 'a grotesque waste of time'

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The number of school governors has been slashed by more than a quarter because of the growth of multi-academy trusts (MATs), a Tes analysis has revealed.

An estimated 250,000 people are currently involved in helping to govern schools, representing one of the biggest groups of volunteers in England.

However, when a school joins a MAT, its governors lose their legal powers and responsibilities, which are transferred to the trustees of the academy chain.

With more than 5,200 schools now in MATs along with at least two schools, this means an estimated 68,000 traditional school governor positions have been lost.

In most MATs, there is still a local governing body or academy committee at each school, but any responsibilities it has come from the trustees above them and can be withdrawn at any time. It no longer runs the school.

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, said: “In some cases, trustees struggle, when they have got lots and lots of schools, to understand what they are governing because they don’t know the schools and have probably not set foot in them.

“We have chairs of academy committees who say that they have not met the trustees. We would say that’s bad practice.”

Mike Pollard, who has been a governor at High Crags Academy in Shipley, near Bradford, for 22 years, said the role became “a grotesque waste of time” after it joined Wakefield City Academies Trust.

He told Tes: “The MAT system, in my view, reduces the local governing-body role to a bit-part player, to the point where I wonder, as a district councillor with a lot of hats, whether I’m wasting my time sitting on such a body.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “School governors play a valuable and active role in schools across the country, providing continuous oversight and accountability. That is why we are investing £1 million on the Inspiring Governance programme to recruit governors and trustees, and nearly £2m to support development programmes for governors up to March 2020.

“While overall accountability rightly sits at trust level, trust boards can, and do, delegate functions to local governing bodies that oversee individual schools.”

This is an edited article from the 26 January edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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