The role of governors and trustees in premises management

Get up to speed with your role in premises management as a governor or trustee, and learn what the top 10 checks are that you should be doing.

Last reviewed on 26 March 2024See updates
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  1. Who has overall responsibility for premises management?
  2. How this works in practice
  3. Top 10 estate checks for boards

Who has overall responsibility for premises management?

Day-to-day control of school premises

The academy trust board doesn't have statutory control of its premises, as laid out in section 7.15.1 of the academy trust governance guide. It must refer to the terms on which it occupies each site to determine what its powers are around community and day-to-day use of its premises.

Trust boards also don't have the same powers that maintained schools have to provide community facilities or services, or to support these from their budget.

Normally, an academy trust board can agree casual use or short-term lettings. But it can only agree a longer-term lease or licence if it has freehold of the land, or a leasehold which allows sub-leasing or licenses (section 7.15.1 of the academy trust governance guide, linked above).

Academy trusts should also check their articles of association and funding agreement for any restrictions on sharing facilities with other schools and the wider community, as set out in section 7.15.3 of the academy trust governance guide.

Site safety and maintenance

The trust board is responsible for making sure that the estate is safe and well-maintained. This is set out in part 1.1 of the Academy Trust Handbook (ATH).

The DfE expects trusts to manage their estates strategically and effectively and to maintain them in a safe working condition. To this end, the ATH introduces a list of estates guidance trusts should apply:

This is set out in paragraph 1.19 of the ATH and you can read more about where and when you need to follow this guidance later in this article.

You can also take a look at our article on governors' role in health and safety if you want to know more about your statutory responsibility in this specific area.

Who owns land and buildings?

School land is most commonly owned by the local authority (LA), but may be owned by a charitable trust, or by an academy trust. When a school converts to an academy, the LA tends to retain ownership of the land and leases it to the academy trust.

Occasionally, the freehold may be transferred to the trust but even then it still remains 'publicly funded' and therefore protected by legislation. You can read more about this in the DfE's land transfer advice.

How this works in practice

You should have clear governance processes to support your school estate. Your processes should:

  • Set out who's responsible for the estate at board level and at school level
  • Support and enable strategic decision-making about the estate
  • Include arrangements to make sure that statutory and other necessary estate activities are carried out

This is explained in the section 'plan and organise estate resources' from the DfE's guidance on the fundamentals of good estate management.

Trustees and local governors aren’t involved in on-the-ground premises management

If you're a trustee or a local governor, your role in premises management should be strategic rather than operational. You should make sure your trust/academy is compliant and hold senior leaders accountable for this, rather than take charge of premises management duties directly. 

Designated members of staff, such as premises managers, are responsible for these duties. Schools may also procure support from specialist agencies. For example, if you're concerned about the quality of your school's water, you may need specialist advice.

Delegate operational responsibility to staff members

Make sure there's a designated member of the senior leadership team in each/your academy who checks that duties relating to the premises are carried out by staff and external bodies, and that all relevant documentation is kept up to date.

In many schools, it's the school business manager (SBM) who's in charge of this. As part of your trust's central team, your core services might include estate management and health and safety.

Consider having a premises committee

Establish a committee within your board of trustees or local governing body to oversee responsibilities for premises management. This committee might have other areas of responsibility, such as finance or health and safety.

Top 10 estate checks for boards

The DfE's estate management guidance sets out the top 10 estate checks that boards should be doing. 

Consider these questions as a governing board to make sure you're confident that school premises are safe and suitable, and are being managed well.

1. Are we managing the estate effectively?

  • Do we understand the DfE's fundamentals of good estate management and are they in place?
  • Do we take a strategic approach, and make sure we have appropriate processes and policies and that the estate is kept safe?
  • How do we intend to meet our strategic goals? For example, will we need to plan any large capital projects and if so, do we have capacity for this?
  • Have we considered environmental sustainability in our plans for our estates? For example, the Northern Star Academies Trust has set out its aims to reduce its carbon footprint across all of its schools in its sustainability strategy (scroll down to 'environmental sustainability')

2. Who is responsible for the estate?

  • Do we know who owns the land and buildings?
  • Do we know who’s responsible for:
    • The safety and security of pupils and staff?
    • Maintaining the condition of land, premises and equipment?
    • Making decisions about investment in the school estate and prioritising maintenance?
  • Are we clear about when the board should be consulted about capital expenditure?

3. Do we have the necessary skills, knowledge and capacity to manage the estate?

  • Do the people responsible have the right skills, knowledge, experience and qualifications to carry out their roles?
  • Have we used the DfE's 4 competency levels within its estate management competency framework to inform these judgements about the estate workforce?
  • Does the board have the relevant skills and knowledge, and understanding of property-related issues?
  • If the board and/or staff lack skills, experience and capacity, how can we address this?
  • How do we decide when to use external expertise and how do we source this?

4. How do we manage the estate?

  • Do we have arrangements for long-term planning?
  • Do we have an asset management plan? Does it include everything recommended in the DfE's advice on creating an asset management plan?
  • Do we have arrangements for day-to-day management?

5. What is the condition of the buildings?

  • Do we have a good understanding of the condition of the school/trust estate?
  • Do we have a good quality of information available?
  • Has a full survey been carried out within the last 5 years, or does it need updating?
  • Has/have our school(s) been surveyed yet as part of the DfE's CDC2 programme and, if not, are we ready to host a site visit and to provide the necessary site information?
  • Has the 5-stage process for assessing our buildings for potential use of RAAC taken place, in line with DfE advice?

6. Are we complying with our legal responsibilities?

  • Are we clear about how our academy / each individual academy knows it’s complying with all the legal requirements relating to the occupation of the estate, including:
    • Health and safety law and other relevant laws and regulations?
    • Planned preventative maintenance?
    • Statutory inspecting and testing?
  • Is there a record of all asbestos known or assumed to be on school premises? Are there written documents identifying the areas affected and the planned measures to manage risks, and are these reviewed regularly?
  • Has there been a risk assessment identifying the general fire precautions needed to safeguard people in case of fire, and is it regularly reviewed?
  • Are there procedures in place to reduce the likelihood of fire, and maintain fire detection and alarm systems, and to make sure that staff and pupils are familiar with emergency evacuation procedures?

7. What do we do in emergencies?

  • What insurance is in place to cover emergencies?
  • What are the arrangements for emergencies and critical incidents in terms of:
    • Ensuring the safety and security of pupils and staff?
    • Communicating promptly with parents and carers?
    • Contacting emergency services and meeting the requirements of the statutory bodies?
    • Making alternative arrangements for education to continue as soon as possible following an incident, where necessary?
    • Invoking emergency and business recovery plans?
    • Seeking professional advice on immediate and longer-term action required to replace or repair the affected area, where appropriate?

8. What funding is available for investment in the estate?

  • Do we know what funding is available for capital projects and maintenance? For larger trusts with at least 5 academies and at least 3,000 pupils, have we applied for the school condition allocation (SCA) and in smaller trusts, the condition improvement fund (CIF)?

Find out how your school is funded in our other article.

9. Are we spending wisely on the estate?

  • How do we:
    • Decide how much we spend on capital projects and maintenance each year?
    • Prioritise expenditure?
    • Know we’re getting value for money?
    • Monitor and manage estate budgets and costs?
    • Make sure we're complying with procurement regulations?

Be clear on how to monitor school/trust finance.

10. Can we become more effective with our expenditure?

  • Do we review our contracts for maintenance, facilities management and professional support and advice regularly?
  • When reviewing contracts, do we ask:
    • Are we getting the best deals?
    • Can we work with other schools in our trust/other trusts to reduce costs?
    • Can capital expenditure lead to revenue savings – e.g. through energy efficiency projects and refurbishment leading to lower maintenance costs?


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