The Role of Trustees in Multi-Academy and Single-Academy Trusts
Trustees have an important role in single-academy trusts and multi-academy trusts (MATs). As their title suggests, trustees are a pillar of trust, helping guide the leadership team of an institution to academic excellence and business success.
What Is the Difference Between The Role of Governors and Trustees?
Trustees and governors have very different roles and challenges. The aims of governors and trustees are similar. Both represent challenging and rewarding positions that are great routes to progress a vocational leadership career, not to mention play a critical role in supporting educational institutions.
Generally speaking, trustees have a lot more pressure and responsibility since they govern in academy settings — including specific financial and legal duties. Governors, on the other hand, are responsible for singular schools and often sub-sets of responsibilities.
The concept of both a governor and trustee role is the same — to oversee an educational institution — explaining why they’re often talked about interchangeably. Below, we go into each role in more detail.
Despite its relation to the greater trustee role, being a governor is a big commitment that carries a unique responsibility in school settings. Governors help a school run effectively, acting as a critical friend to school leadership in shaping vision, advancing digital strategy and overseeing financial performance. Good governors will both challenge and support the school, ask difficult questions but help to find the right answers also.
It’s a general role but one that covers a lot of ground. As such, it’s one of the most important roles in a school. It asks you to be impartial, work with a governing board and understand an individual institution's needs. Some schools will choose to have governors who play an active role in the day-to-day business of the school, others will not
Trustees in single-academy and multi-academy trusts do similar things but on a larger scale. They’re responsible for the academy or multiple academies overseeing the trust's charitable objectives and the trust structure. Their responsibilities are enshrined in law and their roles are far more formal.
As with the role of a company director, trustees can appoint other trustees. Since trusts have the legal status of a company, trustees technically need to act as a charity trustee and a director, giving trustees a two-for-one. Trustees have more personal liability than governors and take on all the usual duties of an employer.
What Does a Trustee Do? List of Responsibilities
Naturally, there’s a long list of responsibilities trustees must carry out, many of which don’t cross over into the school governor role. These include:
- Making admissions arrangements, including setting a school’s oversubscription criteria
- Overseeing financial performance, including the submission of annual accounts and returns to Companies House and the Education Funding Agency
- Setting the strategic direction of the trust and overseeing its implementation, keeping senior leadership accountable for maintaining a trust’s vision and power structure
- Ensuring a trust is compliant with its charitable objectives, as well as company law that covers all aspects of employment law
- All governance competencies outlined in the Competency Framework for Governance, including educational improvement, data analysis and performance management
- All trustee responsibilities for trustees in England and Wales, including reducing risk, creating public benefit and ‘acting with reasonable skill and care’
- All the general duties of a UK company director, including using independent judgement, avoiding conflict of interest and protecting company property
Remember, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Being an academy trustee is a multi-faceted role, calling for you to have a hand in HR, finance, legal, marketing and operations. The above gives you an overview of what a trustee can expect to be responsible for, including governance, trustee and director duties.
Becoming a Trustee: What Does It Take?
Despite their differences, becoming a trustee and a school governor isn’t dissimilar. On paper, anyone can become a trustee — or a governor — with no official requirements for the role. Depending on the school may result in different governors or trustees. For example, faith based schools may have local religious representatives.
However, it’s clear trustees will need to have a good understanding of the challenges the MAT faces, as well as analytical, leadership and financial skills to succeed in the role.
A board of trustees will benefit from a diverse skill set with leaders who are specialists in various areas. So, there’s no one way to become a trustee. However, it’s essential to understand what the job entails, including the enormous personal liability attached to the role and a passion to make a difference.