Principle 5: Board effectiveness

The Board works as an effective team, using the appropriate balance of knowledge, skills, experience, and backgrounds to make informed decisions.       


The Board provides a key role in ensuring the Academy Trust thrives. The tone the Board sets through its leadership, behaviour, culture and overall performance is critical to the Academy Trust’s success. It is important to have a rigorous approach to the Board’s recruitment, conduct, performance and development. In an effective team, Directors feel it is safe to suggest, question and challenge ideas and the Board ensures that difficult topics are addressed not avoided.

Key outcomes

5.1 The Board’s culture, behaviours and processes help it to be effective; this includes accepting and resolving challenges or different views.

5.2 All Directors have appropriate skills and knowledge of the Academy Trust and can give enough time to be effective in their role.

5.3 The Chair enables the Board to work as an effective team by developing strong working relationships between Directors and creates a culture where differences are aired and resolved.

5.4 The Board takes decisions collectively and confidently, respecting issues of confidentiality. Once decisions are made the Board unites behind them and accepts them as binding.

5.5 There are strong relationships and effective communications with local stakeholders that informs decision making.

Recommended practice

5.6 Working as an effective team

a. The Board meets as often as required to ensure it is effective and in accordance with the requirements in the Academy Trust’s Articles of Association, the Funding Agreement and Academy Trust Handbook.

b. The Chair, working with Directors, the Governance Professional and the Accounting Officer, plans the Board’s programme of work and its meetings, making sure Directors have the necessary information and time to explore key issues and reach well-considered decisions, so that Board time is well-used.

c. The Board has a Vice-Chair who provides a sounding board for the Chair and serves as an intermediary for the other Directors, if needed.

d. Where Directors have additional duties to lead on specific issues, such as SEND or safeguarding, the Board continues to exercise robust and independent discussion and collective decision making on these issues. The Board retains its collective accountability and continues to engage and challenge robustly where a lead Director is in place.

e. The Board regularly discusses its effectiveness and its ability to work together as a team, including individual motivations and expectations about behaviours. Directors take time to understand each other’s motivations to build trust within the Board and the Chair asks for feedback on how to create an environment where Directors can constructively challenge each other.

f. Where significant differences of opinion arise, Directors take time to consider the range of perspectives and explore alternative outcomes, respecting different views and the value of compromise in Board discussions.

g. Directors receive governance advice and support[1]. The Board can access independent professional advice, such as legal or financial advice, at the Academy Trust’s expense if needed for the Board to discharge its duties.

5.7 Reviewing the Academy Trust Board’s composition

a. The Board has, and regularly considers, the mix of knowledge, skills, and experience it needs to govern, lead and deliver the Academy Trust’s charitable Objects effectively. This is reflected in the appointment of Directors, balancing the need for continuity with the need to refresh the Board and provide a diversity of perspectives and views.

b. The Board has sufficient Directors to enable the Academy Trust’s work to be carried out effectively, and changes to the Board’s composition are managed without creating significant disruption.

5.8 Overseeing appointments

a. The Board understands the different ways Directors are appointed and removed. Where the Board has responsibility for appointing Directors, there is a formal, rigorous and transparent procedure to appoint new Directors to the Academy Trust Board, which may include advertising vacancies widely.

b. The search for new Directors is carried out, and appointments or nominations for election are made, on merit against objective criteria and considering the benefits of diversity on the Board[2].

c. Directors (other than ex-officio Directors) are appointed for an agreed length of time, subject to any applicable constitutional or statutory provisions and the Academy Trust’s Articles of Association.

d. The Governance Professional advises the Board as to regulations and the processes required for the Academy Trust to be compliant with relevant regulatory requirements.

e. Objective criteria and skills that will support the Academy Trust to achieve its charitable Objects are used when recruiting and appointing Directors. The Academy Trust keeps the relevant knowledge, skills, competencies and experiences under review in order to recruit people with skills best able to support the Academy Trust and fulfil the legal duties of the role.

f. Where the Board has a role in the appointment of Members, clear role descriptions and expectations for Members are available to those interested in becoming Members and is kept under reviewed and revised accordingly. The information provided is clear as to the legal responsibilities of the Board and the distinct functions of Members.

g. Members are able to approach the Governance Professional for advice and support.

5.9 Developing Directors and Members

a. New Members and Directors receive an appropriately resourced induction when they join the Academy Trust. For Directors this includes meetings with the Executive Leadership Team, including the Accounting Officer and covers all areas of the Academy Trust’s work. All those involved in Academy Trust governance are given the opportunity to undertake ongoing learning and development opportunities, regardless of the time they have served.

b. The Board regularly reviews its own performance and that of individual Directors, including the Chair. This happens annually, with an external, independent evaluation every three years (or more frequently if required). Such reviews typically consider the Board’s balance of knowledge, skills, and experience, its diversity in the widest sense, how the Board works together and other factors relevant to the Board’s effectiveness.

c. The Board explains how the work of the Board is evaluated in the governance statement in the Academy Trust’s annual report and accounts.

5.10 Relationship with Local Committees

a. Where the directors delegate functions to local committees, all parties are clear on their role and remit, and value each other’s contribution to the governance of the Academy Trust. A clear separation in activities and personnel between Directors, Local Committees and the Executive Leadership Team is established to ensure clear lines of accountability. The same standards of conduct are expected from those governing on Local Committees as those expected from Directors.

b. The Directors operate effective two-way communication systems between Board and local governance that ensures the Board is fully informed on key issues impacting on the Academy Trust’s Schools and Local Committees are informed on relevant Academy Trust matters and consulted, when appropriate, on matters related to the Academy(ies) they govern.

c. Those new to local governance in the Academy Trust receive an appropriately resourced induction when they join their Local Committee. This includes meetings with the Governance Professional and other key staff and covers all relevant aspects of the Academy Trust’s governance structure and processes. All those involved on Local Committees are given the opportunity to undertake ongoing learning and development opportunities, regardless of the time they have served.

[1] In the context of Voluntary Academies, guidance and advice can be provided by the Academy’s Foundation to which the Directors must have due regard.

[2] For Voluntary Academy Trusts, the procedure to appoint new Directors to the Academy Trust Board as set out in the Academy Trust’s Articles of Association may be different e.g. the power to appoint and remove directors might be vested in the Foundation.