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Governance in Church Schools and Academies

What governors do, how governors are appointed and governor support.

Claire Graham-Brown 

Deputy Director of Education

Governor responsibilities 

School governance is a rewarding role. Working as part of a team, it enables individuals to make a positive impact in the lives of young people and to make a real difference in their local community.

Governance roles look different in different contexts – you can read more about this under the relevant section below.

As well as their general governance responsibilities, all those involved in governance have responsibility to uphold the Church school foundation of any Church of England schools for which they are responsible. 

Maintained schools

In a maintained school, there is a single governing body which oversees the work of the school or (in the case of a federated governing body) schools for which it is responsible. 

The composition of the governing body is set out in the school’s Instrument of Government. The governing body will include staff governors (generally including the headteacher), parent governors, foundation governors, a local authority governor and co-opted governors. Any change to the school’s Instrument of Government requires the consent of the YDBE. 

You can read more about the role in the Department for Education’s guidance.

By becoming a governor of a maintained school, a governor is committing to upholding the ethos statement contained in the school’s Instrument of Government.

Find out more

For those who govern in a maintained school, please visit the maintained school section of our website for more information, including in relation to the different types of maintained schools, collaboration and leadership appointments.

Academies and Academy Trusts

In an academy, there are three tiers of governance: members, the Trust Board and the local governing body. You can find out more about these tiers by clicking the buttons below and by accessing the Department for Education guidance.

Members and the Trust Board

The board of directors/trustees (Trust Board) is the legal governing body for the trust, with responsibility for the operation of all of the academies in the trust. The members oversee the work of the Trust Board and appoint many of their number.

The composition of the members and the board of directors/trustees of academy trusts are found in the Articles of Association. The composition varies between trusts, however there will be an appropriate number of foundation appointments at both levels. Any change to the Articles requires the consent of the YDBE. 

Local Governing Body

The local governing body (LGB) is a committee of the Trust Board and has responsibilities in relation to one or more academies. Those who serve on the LGB are generally referred to as “local governors” to make it clear that their role is different to that of a governor in a maintained school.

The specifics of the LGB’s responsibilities will depend on what has been delegated to it from the Trust Board. The YDBE recommends a high level of delegation to the LGB in relation to Church school specific matters – this is reflected in the YDBE’s Scheme of Delegation guidance.

The composition of a LGB of a Church of England academy is set out in an agreed LGB composition document. The LGB will include foundation local governors and will generally reflect the other types of governor the school had when it was a maintained school, save that there will be no local authority appointment. Any change to the school’s agreed LGB composition document requires the consent of the YDBE. 

Ethos Undertakings

In an academy context, all governance appointments with responsibilities in relation to Church of England schools are required to sign an ethos undertaking that has been agreed between the trust and the YDBE, and which reflects the trust’s charitable Objects.

Find out more

For those who govern in an academy, or whose school is considering becoming an academy, please visit the academy section of our website.

Governor training and resources

The YDBE provides governance training to all governors of Church of England schools as part of its annual training programme: this is free for schools that have signed up to the Diocese’s Service Level Agreement.

The focus of the training is Church school focussed: governors should also access general governance training provided through their local authority and/or Trust. 

We recommend that all governors of Church schools complete our introduction/refresher course of Church school governance – either by attending the YDBE’s annual zoom session as part of our annual training programme or by undertaking the YDBE’s self-led online training. Governors should also be aware of the additional information we include in relation to their school type in our dedicated pages for maintained schools and academies.

All those involved in governance also need to be aware that there are differences between Church schools and non-Church schools, and between different types of church schools. A summary of Church school differences can be found here. The YDBE also issues guidance and resources on our website, some of which is specifically aimed at those involved in governance. We encourage governors to spend some time exploring these resources.

Specific information and guidance is provided for those involved in foundation governance roles, those thinking about taking on a foundation governance role and those involved in appointment to these roles: further details can be found in the section below.

Foundation roles

What is the role?

Foundation appointments will be made on each maintained school governing body, and at each tier of governance in academy trusts. Foundation appointees are incredibly important to the support and oversight of Church of England schools in the Diocese. 

Foundation appointments are the representatives of the Church of England. They carry out the same strategic role as any other governor (or trustee/director or member), but they also have a special responsibility to support the Christian foundation of the school(s) for which they are responsible. They do this by, for example, understanding and articulating the role of the Church in the school(s) (and academy trust, where applicable) and the importance of the distinctively Christian character of Church of England the school(s) and by encouraging debate in key areas, including the school’s Christian vision, collective worship and religious education. In essence, they are there to help to secure that schools thrive as a Church of England schools.

Further information on Foundation roles role can be found the guidance section below and in the videos on this page. 

Those taking up foundation appointments are expected to be familiar with the DBE’s core guidance and to undertake training: this includes as a minimum the DBE’s introductory/refresher training. For further details, please see above.

Foundation appointments

Making local level foundation appointments

If you have any questions about Foundation appointments, please contact Anita Smukulis – PA to the Diocesan Director of Education & Administrator to the team; anita.smukulis@yorkdiocese.org

The number of appointments and the process for their appointment will depend on the context. 

Summary process guidance, as well as guidance for those involved in foundation governor recruitment are found below. Please click on the relevant section below for details relevant to your context.

In practice, foundation governors are almost invariably identified by the school and the vicar/Parochial Church Council (PCC)/other church body, working in partnership and drawing on their local knowledge. The YDBE provides guidance and resources aimed at helping schools and others involved in the appointment process to identify suitable individuals to take on foundation roles. Please see below.

Maintained schools – foundation governors

The number of foundation governors on the governing body is linked to the particular status of the school(s) for which the governing body is responsible i.e. whether they are a voluntary aided (VA), voluntary controlled (VC) or foundation school. In a VA school, foundation governors will outnumber all other governors by two. In a VC school, there will be at least two foundation governors and no more than 25% of the governors on the governing body will be a foundation governor. The composition is reflected in the school’s Instrument of Government.

Most foundation governors will be appointed by the YDBE, however there are some instances where other individuals/bodies have recommending/consultee/appointing roles and in general the principal officiating minister of the parish is entitled to become a governor.

The Diocesan Education Team will manage all foundation governor appointments linked to the Church of England, in line with its appointment processes. Depending on the type of foundation governor appointment, there will also be a co-ordination role for the local church (ex officio/temporary ex officio appointments) or the school (other appointments).

Academies – foundation local governors

The number of foundation local governors on the local governing body will generally reflect the status of the former school. If an academy was previously a voluntary aided school, foundation local governors will outnumber all other governors by two. In a former voluntary controlled or foundation school, there will be at least two foundation local governors and no more than 25% of the governors on the local governing body will be a foundation local governor.  The composition is reflected in the agreed local governing body composition document.

In the academy context, appointments are generally formally made by the trust board, with the prior written consent of the YDBE.

In order to obtain the YDBE’s consent, the agreed composition and the YDBE’s foundation appointment guidance and processes must be followed. Depending on the type of foundation local governor appointment, there will be a co-ordination role for the local church (ex officio/temporary ex officio appointments) or the school (other appointments) to ensure that the YDBE’s requirements are met prior to application for the YDBE’s consent.

The relevant appointment guidance can be located below.

Academy trust level foundation appointments – directors/trustees and members

The Diocese (and sometimes other Church bodies/individuals) have a role in the appointment members and directors/trustees of academy trusts. 

The number of foundation member and director/trustee appointments will depend on whether the trust is one with majority or minority Church governance. Details of the foundation appointments will be set out in the academy trust’s Articles of Association. Please see the YDBE’s academisation strategy for further details.

In each partner Trust, one member will be the Diocese of York Educational Trust (DYET), which embeds a permanent and consistent foundation presence within every trust and helps with overall oversight of Church of England academies. There will also be at least one director/trustee appointed by the Diocese of York Educational Trust on each partner trust board.

Where there is a vacancy for a foundation member or foundation director/trustee, the YDBE/DYET may ask the academy trust to help to identify an appropriate individual to take on the role and to provide a recommendation. This might involve proposing that an existing director/trustee or member changes their category to become a foundation director/trustee or member or finding an additional individual to serve on the Board. In such cases we will supply the academy trust with a copy of the relevant application form for completion.

Resolving issues

Occasionally problems arise regarding foundation appointments. In such cases, unless the circumstances make this inappropriate, it would be anticipated that the issue would be resolved as set out in the YDBE’s guidance for raising issues about foundation governors.

Webinar for those considering becoming a foundation governor

Coming soon

Church school specific governance reporting

It is important the governors receive the information they need in order to oversee the school as a Church school. The school’s Diocesan adviser can support with this.

The YDBE also publishes high level reporting templates relating to key Church school areas – their completion is mandatory in the academy context and voluntary in the maintained school context. The reporting templates and accompanying guidance are included below.