External Reviews Of Governance – What’s In The New DfE Guide?
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We look here at the key elements of the DfE updated and
consolidated guidance on external reviews of governance.
On 21 December 2021, the DfE updated and consolidated
guidance on external reviews of governance into a single
- maintained schools
- pupil referral units
- academy trusts
- foundations, sponsors, dioceses and others interested in school
- sixth form colleges and
- general further education colleges.
The key elements of the guidance are summarised as follows.
Focus, purpose and importance
First, a review should be conducted by an experienced
independent governance professional. With proven experience and
expertise in governance, Wrigleys is ideally-placed to provide you
with an independent and objective review of your governance.
A review should examine the effectiveness of your governing body
or board (the “board”) against the 6 features of
effective governance included in the Governance Handbook:
- strategic leadership
Some reviews have tended to give less attention to compliance.
However, any review must look at all aspects to provide a thorough
Specifically, the guidance says a review should provide your
- an independent, objective view of its strengths and areas for
- clear recommendations for next steps and
- an opportunity to review strategic direction and processes and
and reassure others that the board is taking its
responsibilities seriously and endeavouring to carry them out
Ultimately, a review will help your board
- be more skilled, focussed and effective
- be clear in its vision and how to achieve it
- have a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities
- have the appropriate skills
- hold leaders to account for improving pupil outcomes
- oversee finances and ensure value for money
- assure compliance and
- continuously improve.
There are also other benefits as detailed in the article
on The Benefits of Good Governance, which is
available on our website.
As for frequency, a review should be undertaken at regular
intervals and otherwise before any significant change, such as an
academy conversion or trust growth.
How to prepare for and commission your review
Preparation is always key and a review is no exception. The
guidance therefore suggests first reflecting on what is working
well and any areas for concern or improvement.. While this can help
prepare for a review, it does not carry the same weight as (and
should not replace) a review conducted by an experienced,
independent governance expert.
When commissioning your review, you should
- secure the agreement of your board and senior leaders
- identify an appropriate reviewer
- agree the scope, costs and timescales for the review
- discuss the findings and recommendations with the board and
- agree and implement an action plan
- review the impact and, if appropriate, schedule a follow
Your reviewer should have the background, skills and experience
to fully understand your organisation and governance structure and
can be sourced from service providers, sector organisations,
consultants, professional bodies, lawyers and auditors.
What to expect from your review
The guidance advises that a review should be personalised to
your organisation, detail well-evidenced findings and provide
recommendations for improvement. To this end, the board and
reviewer should first establish the
- areas of concern or improvement
- anticipated outputs
- objectives and scope
- process to be followed
- timeframes and costs.
Once these terms of reference have been established, the
- assess board effectiveness by observing board and committee
meetings, by facilitated discussion or interviews and by assessing
challenge, scrutiny and internal control and
- test compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
Boards should also consider including a review of the governance
support, advice and guidance they receive and how this helps them
to be effective.
However the review is scoped, you will need to
- provide the reviewer with any documents and information they
- be open and receptive to challenge and constructive
- actively seek and consider new ways of operating and
- be reflective and honest during the process.
In this way, you will help ensure your board learns all it can
from the review and that your school, trust or college improves as
The review should conclude with a report and action plan
(developed together) which is timebound, specific and identifies
clear measures of success.
The reviewer should then return after several months to assess
the board’s progress and provide further advice as
The DfE guidance on external reviews of governance helpfully
explains the key features of an effective review and the benefits
for your board and school, trust or college.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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