Principle 4: Decision making, risk and control

The Board ensures that its decision-making processes are evidence informed, rigorous and timely and that effective delegation, control, risk assessment and management systems are set up and monitored. There is effective reporting at all levels of Academy Trust governance to ensure decisions are taken at the correct level in accordance with the Articles of Association and Scheme of Delegation[1].


The Board is accountable for the decisions and actions of the Academy Trust, but it cannot and should not do everything. The Board is required by statute or its Articles of Association, to make certain decisions: i.e. those matters that must not be delegated. Beyond this, the Board needs to determine which matters it will make decisions about and which it will delegate to committees or individuals.

The Board can delegate authority and powers but not accountability. Where the Board has delegated functions, it needs to implement suitable financial and related controls, performance oversight and reporting arrangements to make sure it oversees these matters effectively. The Board must also identify and assess risks and opportunities for the Academy Trust and decide how best to deal with them, including assessing whether they are manageable or worth taking.

Key outcomes

4.1 The Board is clear that its focus is on strategy, performance and assurance, and not operational matters. The Board reflects this in what it delegates to its committees, local governance arrangements and individuals through the Academy Trust’s Scheme of Delegation and Terms of Reference.

4.2 The Board has a sound decision making, monitoring and risk assurance framework which helps the Academy Trust deliver its charitable Objects. It ensures that the full range of financial and non-financial risks are monitored, reviewed and appropriate mitigating actions taken as needed.

4.3 The Board promotes a culture of sound management of resources whilst understanding that being over-cautious and risk averse can itself be a risk and hinder innovation and progress.

4.4 Where aspects of the Board’s role are delegated to Board committees, Local Committees, staff or contractors, the Board ensures appropriate reporting, retains oversight and remains accountable. The Board records delegations in writing and regularly reviews them to ensure they remain effective and fit for purpose, making amendments as and when required.

Guidance on implementation of Principle 4

4.5 Delegation and control

a. The Board regularly reviews which matters are reserved to the Board and which will be delegated through a clear and well-documented delegation framework which provides sufficient detail and clear boundaries so that the delegations can be clearly understood and carried out. It collectively exercises the powers of delegation to the Executive Leadership Team, Board committees, Local Committees and individuals.

b. The Board has systems in place to monitor and oversee how delegations are exercised and changed when necessary.

c. The Board makes sure that it has a committee that leads on audit and risk and that all its committees have suitable and regularly reviewed Terms of Reference and a membership that has the collective competence to carry out the functions of the committee.

d. The Board establishes processes by which its committees provide the relevant information to the Board that enables it to retain oversight of all aspects of the Trust’s work.

e. When using third party suppliers or services, the Board receives appropriate assurance that this work is carried out in the best interests of the Academy Trust and in line with its values and the agreement between the Academy Trust and supplier. The Board makes sure that such agreements are regularly reviewed so that they remain appropriate.

f. The Board regularly reviews the Academy Trust’s key policies and procedures to ensure that they align with the Trust’s values and continue to support the delivery of the Academy Trust’s charitable Objects.

4.6 Planning for, and monitoring, Academy Trust performance

a. Working with the Executive Leadership Team, the Board ensures that plans and budgets are in line with the Academy Trust’s charitable Objects, agreed strategic aims and available resources.

b. The Board determines the oversight required for the Academy Trust as a whole, and individual academies, ensuring delegations are robust and effective, reviewed regularly and revised, as necessary.

c. The Board has processes to ensure the regular monitoring of the Academy Trust and individual School’s performance using a consistent framework and checks performance of a range of academic, financial and other activities against delivery of the Academy Trust’s strategic aims, operational plans and budgets. It has structures in place to hold staff to account and support them in meeting the Academy Trust’s goals.

d. The Board determines, with the Executive Leadership Team, what information is needed to assess delivery against agreed plans, targeted outcomes and timescales. Information should be timely, relevant, accurate and provided in an easy-to-understand format.

e. The Board regularly considers information from other Academy Trusts and educational institutions to benchmark the Academy Trust and individual School’s performance.

4.7 Actively managing risks

a. The Board retains overall accountability for risk management, determining the level of risk it is prepared to accept for specific and combined areas of activity and operations. It delegates to a Board committee for a more detailed review of risk.

b. The Board regularly reviews the Academy Trust’s significant risks and the cumulative effect of these risks. It ensures there are plans to mitigate and manage these risks appropriately.

c. The Board ensures the Academy Trust has in place, and regularly reviews, the Academy Trust’s process for identifying, prioritising, escalating and managing risks and, where applicable, the Academy Trust’s system of internal controls to manage these risks.

d. Arrangements are in place for a body, such as the committee leading on audit and risk, to consider concerns raised in confidence about alleged improprieties, misconduct or wrongdoing. This includes concerns raised by ‘whistle blowing.’ Arrangements are also in place for appropriate and independent investigation and follow-up action.

4.8 Appointing auditors and audits

a. The Board ensures compliant processes are in place to appoint internal and external auditors.

b. The Board discusses the annual auditor letter, especially any issues that the external auditor has identified. Such discussions and planned actions are formally recorded.

[1] In the context of Voluntary Academies consent will be required on specific issues from the Academy’s Foundation.