Updates to the DfE Governance Handbook

The DfE recently published an update to its governance handbook (the “Handbook”), which provides information about the role, responsibilities and legal duties of governing bodies in maintained schools, academies and multi academy trusts.

The revised Handbook strengthens the DfE’s guidance in relation to parental engagement, accountability and oversight, workload considerations, and safeguarding.

We set out the Handbook’s key updates which may affect how you govern your school:

Parental engagement

The revised Handbook places stronger emphasis on parental engagement. The updated section emphasises the positive impact parental engagement can have on children’s learning, and reminds schools and trusts that parental representation on a board should not be confused with parental engagement or seen as a one-off exercise.

Workload considerations

The Handbook contains a new sub-section on workload considerations, which draws attention to the latest published workload guidance on marking, planning and resources, and data management, and the workload reduction toolkit which provides support to schools and boards.

The new sub-section urges schools to use the reports to review current policies and practices, noting that all activities are driven by impact on pupil progress and time efficiency for teachers.

Accountability and oversight

The Handbook contains a new section on effective oversight and accountability. The new wording notes that the board and committees should meet regularly enough to discharge their responsibilities, and board meetings must take place at least three times a year. A new section further emphasises the practice set out in the Academies Financial Handbook which provides that larger trusts’ boards should consider meeting more frequently. The Handbook notes that if the board of trustees meet less than six times a year it must describe in its governance statement, accompanying its annual accounts, how it has maintained effective oversight of funds with fewer meetings.


The Handbook contains updated guidance to provide further clarity on the board’s safeguarding responsibilities. The new content provides that boards must ensure their schools have effective safeguarding policies and procedures in place that take into account local risks, any statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State, any local authority guidance and locally agreed inter-agency procedures.

The Handbook further provides that boards should ensure their schools have an effective child protection policy in place, which should describe procedures in accordance with government guidance and reference any locally agreed multi-agency safeguarding arrangements put in place by the three safeguarding partners. The policy should be available publicly (either via the organisation’s website or by other means) and updated annually (at a minimum).

In addition, the Handbook draws attention to the statutory guidance (KCSIE) which sets out that an individual on the board should take strategic leadership responsibility for the organisation’s wider safeguarding arrangements and the Prevent duty should be seen as part of the wider safeguarding obligation.

Finally, the section provides additional clarity on the role and job description of Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL), noting that it is important that the role of DSL is explicit in the role holder’s job description and they have the appropriate status, authority, time, funding, training and resources to carry out the role effectively.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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