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Coronavirus - Governance Arrangements for the Decision to 'Re-Open'

on Friday, 22 May 2020.

What is the board's role in the decision making process to expand on-site provision?

The decision to 'reopen' the school and on what basis, is ordinarily an operational one, so one for the executive. But responsibility for that decision (as with any operational decision) remains with the board, albeit that the CEO/Head is given that delegated power. Given the importance of the matter at hand (and the strategic nature of the decision) and trustees' duties, it is important that the board and executive work together to ensure that the board has proper oversight of this delegated power on reopening. Collaboration is key.

What Is the Duty of Trustees?

Trustees have a general duty to take reasonable steps to assess and manage risks to the trust's activities, pupils and staff, property, work or reputation. This is obviously very relevant here. In discharging this duty, the trustees are under an obligation to exercise reasonable care, skill and due diligence.

The form that the trustee engagement comes in will be determined by:

  • the trust's usual procedures for risk management, and
  • any specific arrangements the board puts in place for dealing with this specific issu

Any specific arrangements should be clearly minuted/ documented in writing.

In terms of the engagement, it would be appropriate for the audit committee (or the full board/another committee to whom this function has been delegated) to conduct a full review of the risk assessment and processes in order to test its robustness. The risk management process needs to be dynamic, to ensure that new risks/changes to the risks are identified and responded to accordingly. Modelling certain scenarios in order to understand the board's position will be useful.

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Arrangements for Boards to Consider

  • Some trusts are establishing an ongoing coronavirus-specific committee to support and challenge on this matter (as an alternative/ addition to your audit committee).
  • Chairs and vice chairs of trustees and local governing bodies (LGBs) can act as sounding boards to give support to the leaders, but do remember that a chair doesn't have the emergency decision making powers that they would have in the maintained sector unless expressly given by the board.
  • Think about how the full board will be reported/ communicated to through this time.
  • Consider whether communications to staff and parents will be signed off jointly by the board/executive.
  • Consider whether there will be any 'reserved matters' being matters which must be referred back to the full board or a committee before a decision is made.
  • Also - look out for further DfE guidance addressed to governing boards on this point which is expected.

Legally, therefore, the approval of the board on the decision itself is not necessarily required as the decision is already delegated to the executive. However, there should be consultation with the board and robust scrutiny by the board to meet its risk management duties. Given the importance and strategic nature of the decisions, we're sure many trusts will take the approach of securing some form of formal approval on behalf of the board.

What Is the Role of the Local Governing Body (LGB) in the Decision?

There is no legally defined role for the LGB but depending on the nature of your local arrangement, trusts are likely benefit from the additional scrutiny and challenge that can be offered by LGBs on the individual school's risk management processes. LGB members will have valuable knowledge of the school itself, its community and the local area.

LGB members (typically the Chair and/or the Vice Chair) can also provide valuable support to school leaders through this challenging time.

For further advice on governance arrangements through the coronavirus pandemic, please contact Chloe Brunton or Jaime Hobday in our Academies team on 07920 281 889 or 07467 220 552 respectively, or complete the form below.

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