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The Law - Ways of making you co-operate

Schools have always co-operated. In recent years, legislation has made it easier to have formal arrangements and, in some cases, for schools to be forced into formal arrangements for co-operation.

Schools have always co-operated. In recent years, legislation has made it easier to have formal arrangements and, in some cases, for schools to be forced into formal arrangements for co-operation.

For example, one of the intervention powers of local authorities is to compel a school to federate.

The range of co-operative arrangements is wide. Schools can collaborate informally, but governors may exercise functions co-operatively. So, they may set up a joint staff disciplinary committee. This kind of link will become more necessary if the review of governance results in smaller governing bodies, where appeals to "untainted governors" will become almost impossible within a small "executive" governing body.

The next stage is a formal federation where the governors of several schools agree to place all their assets, income and staff in the hands of a single federal governing body to use as it sees fit. (Unlike in the United States constitution, however, there are provisions for secession if a school feels that its best interests are not being served by the arrangement.)

A further possibility is where a trust holds the assets of several foundation or aided schools and appoints the majority of governors; but each school runs its own affairs and, crucially, each governing body is the employer of its own staff.

Finally, there are academies, where a trust may own the assets, is the employer of all staff, imposing its own conditions of employment on them, and appoints governors; but otherwise the school runs its own affairs.

Choice and variety are producing complex situations, and it is important that school leaders understand exactly which set of parameters they are working within if they are to avoid situations that are embarrassing, or worse.

Richard Bird, Legal consultant to the Association of School and College Leaders.

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