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Governance Structure

The Sycamore Church of England Trust Governance Charter

The Sycamore Church of England Trust is a charitable voluntary organisation which relies on the valuable input of a number of non-executive volunteers, supported by an experienced team of staff. Due to the size of the organisation and the number of schools for which it is responsible, coupled with its drive for accountability, it is a complex organisation with various important elements of governance.

  1. Sycamore Church of England Trust Charter sets out the fundamental principles of the organisation and lays down the rules for its governance. The Charter consists of the principles set out here, the Academy Trust Articles of Association and the detail set out in the Roles and Functions Matrix and Terms of Reference.
  2. The governance principles of Sycamore Church of England Trust recognise the importance of developing relationships with common purpose and they are about developing processes and structures.
  3. We will continue to develop our governance arrangements to shape and take account of best practice in the sector. The ’21 questions that every Multi-academy Trust should ask itself’ (March 2015; see Annex 1), set out by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Education Governance and Leadership, provides a foundation by which we will assess the effectiveness of our governance.
  4. Financial governance must, as a foundation, be compliant with the principles and regulations set out in the Academies Financial Handbook. Sycamore Church of England Trust aims to go beyond this foundation to provide excellence in its governance.
  5. Governance is underpinned by a common understanding about who is responsible for providing valuable input to decision making and who has the decision-making responsibility.
  6. Effective governance in our Academy Trust is supported by the following:
         i.    Trust Members – the guardians of the Constitution
         ii.   Trust Board – the Directors / Trustees
         iii.   Trust sub-committees
         iv.   Local Academy Committees
         v.    The Executive Team 
  7. The Trust Board has overall responsibility and ultimate decision-making authority for all the work of the Academy Trust, including the establishment and maintenance of the schools.

The Trust will appoint a Clerk on an annual basis. Where practicable, the Clerk to the Trust Board will also act as Clerk to the Local Academy Committees (LACs). This is to ensure unity of message and purpose across the Trust. 

Articles of Association

This document is the ‘constitution’ of the Trust. It is a legal agreement between the members, lodged at Companies House, which can only be varied by special resolution of the members (a 75% majority). The Articles are available on our Sycamore Church of England Trust website.

Board of Trustees - An Overview

Trustees constitute together the board of trustees. In some documents trustees are referred to as ‘directors’ – the terms are interchangeable, but within this Trust we use the term ‘trustees’ or the ‘board’ to refer to the board of trustees. The names of all trustees, with terms of office, must be lodged both with Companies House and the DfE. The term of office for a trustee is 4 years. 

All trustees currently, apart from the Trust Lead, are non-executive, in other words they do not form part of the senior management of the Trust and are not employed by it. However, legally there is no difference in the level of responsibilities of non-executive trustees and trustees who have executive (or senior management) roles and are employed by the Trust. 

The board of trustees elects its own chair annually, and the chair automatically serves as a member, and chairs meetings of members, during the term of office as chair. 

The board is held legally accountable for all aspects of the Trust’s work, and in particular for ensuring that the terms of the Funding Agreements (FA) are fully met. They are also responsible for ensuring that the Trust complies with:

  • the Companies Act 2006 – the Trust’s obligations as a company limited by guarantee must be met; 
  • charity law – the Trust’s charitable objects must be observed and the obligations of the trustees as charity trustees must be met. 
  • Specifically, the board is accountable to the following bodies for the Trust’s educational and financial performance: 
  • The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) 
  • The Department for Education (DfE), in particular through the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) 
  • Ofsted 

Local Academy Committees (LAC)

The Trust supports its local academy committees in their important role of working with the head teacher of each school to ensure high levels of aspiration for the children is maintained. Local academy committees have a central role to play in preserving the identity of each school and building and maintaining strong links with parents and the community it serves. 

LACs have a critical role to play in supporting the work of the school and the Trust. Their role falls into two main areas: 

Supporting the Trust by agreeing  the strategic direction of the school and monitoring:

  • vision and values
  • clear and ambitious strategic priorities and targets
  • access of children, including those with special educational needs, to a broad, balanced and engaging curriculum
  • ensuring all groups and individuals are making good or better progress
  • the quality of education
  • the implementation of the Trust’s policies
  • the development of links with the local community and
  • the establishment of mechanisms to promote good parent/carer/family relations

Hold the senior leaders to account by monitoring the school’s performance, including: 

  • agreeing the outcomes from the school’s self-evaluation and ensuring they are used to inform the priorities in the school’s action and improvement plan
  • considering all relevant data and feedback provided on request by school leaders and external sources on all aspects of academy performance
  • asking challenging questions of school leaders
  • ensuring senior leaders have implemented the required policies and procedures and the academy is operating effectively according to those policies
  • appointing link partners on a specific issues (specifically safeguarding and SEND), making relevant enquiries of the relevant staff, and reporting to the LAC on the progress on the relevant school priority and
  • listening to and reporting to the school’s stakeholders: pupils, parents, staff, and the wider community

When required, LAC members may serve on committees of the Trust to:

  • appoint staff in the school
  • hear discipline, exclusion, admissions and appeals cases

Communication between LACs and the Trust Board 

At least three times per year, the headteacher will produce a written report for the LAC covering the main areas of the LAC’s responsibilities. This report will always be part of the communication between LACs and the Trust Board. The report will cover as a minimum: 

  • quality of education
  • standards being achieved by each year group in key curriculum areas
  • behaviour and attitudes of the children (including exclusions)
  • personal development of the children (including attendance) and
  • staffing issues and specifically staff wellbeing and development

The full minutes of each LAC will be available to trustees on the Standards Committee on a termly basis, but issues in them will be addressed by exception only. 

To ensure there is effective communication between the Trust Board and the LACs, there will be termly meetings involving the Chair of the Trust Board, the Chairs of the Trust Board Committees, the Trust Lead, the LAC Chairs and the headteachers.

Where there are examples of the development of excellent local practice or if there are areas of concern, the Chair of the LAC may be invited to the Trust Board to report upon them.

Local Academy Committees and Policies 

In addition to the two main areas of LAC responsibility, which will be addressed as appropriate to the annual cycle at every Local Academy Committee meeting, LACs will be asked to play a part on policies in the three ways which follow: 

By ensuring that the headteacher is observing all Level 1 Trust-wide policies 
By ensuring that Level 2 policies are completed and sent to the Director of Operations 
By ensuring that Level 3 policies are developed or reviewed and sent to the Director of Operations
Local partners will meet this responsibility by asking for copies of each of the policies at each level as outlined in the schedule of policies in section E above. 


The Academy Trust Handbook (2022) summarises the role of members as follows: 

“Every Trust has members who have a similar role to shareholders of a company limited by shares. The members are the subscribers to the memorandum of association (where they are the founding members). They may amend the articles of association subject to any restrictions created by the funding agreement or charity law. They may, by special resolution, appoint new members or remove existing members other than, where there is one, the foundation body and any members it has appointed. They have the power to appoint and remove trustees . They may, by special resolution, issue direction to the trustees to take a specific action. They appoint the Trust’s auditors and receive the audited annual report  and accounts. They have the power to change the company’s name and, ultimately, wind it up. Members must not be employees of the Trust.” 

The Accounting Officer

The Trust Lead is also the Accounting Officer for the Trust, and as such has a range of legal responsibilities in particular for:

  • financial transparency and probity in the use and management of public money;
  • achieving value for money;
  • ensuring feasibility of plans and decisions;
  • annual financial reporting;

together with a range of other duties defined by the DfE, including that relating to the Prevent duty and safeguarding more widely. 

The Accounting Officer has, in law, a direct personal responsibility to Parliament for the discharge of these responsibilities. The Accounting Officer’s annual statement on regularity, propriety and compliance must be included in the Trust’s annual report. This is a formal declaration by the Trust’s accounting officer that his personal responsibilities to Parliament for the resources under his control during the year have been met. 

The Accounting Officer is held to account by other trustees at all Trust board and committee meetings, where they are questioned about projected and actual outturns (financial as well as educational) and projections, and trustees assure themselves of the robustness of mitigation strategies against the Trust risk register. This happens at Board meetings and specifically at every Finance, Audit and Risk committee meeting.

The Company Secretary

As a company limited by guarantee, the Trust has a company secretary. This role is fulfilled by the Director of Operations. The responsibilities of a company secretary are in summary:

  • Ensuring trustee and member appointments are made according to the Articles 
  • Terms of office of trustees are adhered to 
  • Meetings are constitutionally convened and recorded 
  • Filing requirements at Companies House and the ESFA are met 
  • Statutory registers (of members and trustees) are maintained 
  • Committees have legal and constitutional terms of reference 
  • The trustees have appropriate assistance to discharge their obligations 

Some of these functions are delegated to the Clerk to the trustees, but the Company Secretary has the responsibility for ensuring they happen, so liaises with the Clerk to allow these to be discharged.