THE part played by foundation governors in voluntary aided and
voluntary controlled schools is a long-established part of the
maintained school system.
The foundation governors - whether ex-officio, or appointed by
the diocesan board of education, a charitable trust, or elected by
the parochial church council - play a crucial part in ensuring that
the Church of England character of their school is preserved and
Foundation governors share with their fellow governors the
responsibility for the overall conduct of the school (as set out in
section 21 of the Education Act 2002).
Governing bodies of schools in England are corporate bodies,
which means that the governing body has a legal existence of its
own, separate from that of its individual members. They have
control of the school's delegated budget, and make the important
decisions about the running of the school.
In voluntary aided and foundation schools, the governing body
will also be the employers of the school staff, and will be
responsible for admissions to the school.
So how different is it in academies? The Department for
Education's website emphasises the continuity when it says that:
"The principles and responsibilities of governance are the same in
all academies as they are in maintained schools."
Some important things do, indeed, stay the same. Academies are
inspected by OFSTED on the same basis as maintained schools, and
have to act very similarly to maintained schools so far as school
admissions are concerned.
Governors of church schools that become academies, however, will
understand that some things change. The DfE website goes on to say:
"The governing body [of an academy] has greater autonomy." This
at least in part, because some of the requirements imposed on
maintained schools (to follow the national curricu- lum, for
example) do not apply to academies.
Academies are independent schools. This means that they are not
subject to the law that applies to maintained schools - although
some important elements of the law on maintained schools are
applied to academies through their funding agreements - such as on
While much of the law relating to maintained schools may not
apply to academies, some of the law relating to independent schools
does. On the question of complaints, for example, an academy is not
covered by the requirements on maintained schools to have a
complaints procedure. It is covered, however, by the requirement on
independent schools to have a complaints procedure. So it is wise
for an academy principal, and governing body, to become familiar
with the Education (Independent School Standards) (England)
Regulations, known as the Independent Schools Standards.
There is another significant change. As a type of organisation,
an academy trust is quite different from a maintained-school
governing body. Maintained-school governing bodies are created by
statute, and their corporate status is conferred by statute.
Academies, on the other hand, are charitable companies limited by
guarantee. Thus the academy trust has corporate status, too,
besides being a charity.
The company directors are also the charity's trustees. Whether
an academy chooses to refer to this group as directors, trustees,
or, indeed, governors, the part that they play is the same.
To quote the DfE website again: the academy trust (under the
control and direction of its directors) "is the legal entity that
will be responsible for the running of the school and entering into
contracts. The academy trust will be able to take out employers'
liability insurance (like any other employer of staff).
"Liabilities to external parties would ordinarily be those of
the academy trust (a company with a separate legal entity and not
the governors themselves). Under the articles of association, the
academy trust is required to provide indemnity insurance to cover
the liability of its governors.
"The members of the academy trust will be liable to contribute
up to £10 if the academy trust is wound up. As the academy trust is
a charitable company, the governors are also directors and
charitable trustees, and will therefore need to comply with
obligations under company and charity law."
Of course, the governing bodies of voluntary schools, too, are
charities. Academies - like voluntary schools - are exempt from
registration with the Charity Commission.
To sum up, then: the change from maintained to academy status
means a different framework, and some different requirements. It
will probably mean more of a change for the governing body of a
voluntary controlled school than a voluntary aided school. But the
core principle of responsibility for oversight of the school, and,
for church schools, ensuring that the Christian message is at the
core of the school's work, remains the same.
Shan Scott is an educational adviser to Lee Bolton
Monier-Williams, legal advisers to the National Society.
THE duties of school governing bodies have grown significantly
over the past 25 years. But now, with the increasing autonomy of
schools, the part that they play has never been more important.
Their most crucial responsibility, of course, is the appointment of
the head teacher: their choice can make or break a school. But
every aspect of the way a school is run is in their purview.
Governors are the keepers of standards. They are responsible for
the premises, and must deal with complaints. Where schools are
voluntary aided, or academies, they are also the employers of
In C of E schools, the foundation governors (representing the
Church) must guard the Christian character of the school. Governors
have to ask questions - and must know which questions to ask. The
best governor, it is said, is "a critical friend".
In February, the chief schools inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw,
proposed that some governors should be paid, and appointed for
their professional and leadership experience. The idea met with a
The number of governors, nationwide, has not been counted, but
the National Governors' Association estimates that there are
between 300,000 and 350,000. The 4620 C of E schools each have
governing bodies with ten- to 20-plus members, depending on the
size of the school.