There has been a lot of discussion lately about Chair of Governors and how a good Chair means a good governing body and a not so good one results in, unsurprisingly, a not so good governing body. This led me to think that although the Chair is of crucial importance, he/she is not the only one who can effect how efficiently the governing Body operates. The Governing Body depends a lot on its Clerk. I would go as far as saying that a Governing Body is as good or as bad as its clerk!
The Governing Body is made up of volunteers and although they should know what they are meant to be doing, the very fact that they are volunteers means that they may not be able to keep up with all the changes in the rules and regulations. The Clerk, on the other hand, is, in many cases, the only paid professional on the governing body. The Clerk, therefore, needs to be able to guide the volunteer governors who are under his/her charge. The Clerk is involved in the work of the governing body at all levels. Apart from the Chair, the Clerk is the one person who will (or should) know each governor on the Governing Body well. If the Governing Body has employed the Clerk to clerk the Full Governing Body (FGB) as well as the committees, the Clerk would be working closely with not only the Chair of Governing Body but also the committee chairs. The Clerk will also have the opportunity to see how each Governor works on the committee and therefore have some idea of the strengths and weaknesses of each Governor.
A Clerk’s knowledge of rules, regulations and procedures is what makes a Clerk invaluable. The Clerk begins by helping the Chair draw up the agenda, then makes sure that all relevant documentation for the meeting is circulated in time. When the meeting starts, the Clerk needs to make sure it is quorate and remains so till the end. How many times have we as governors asked the Clerk to clarify something during a meeting? This is not to say that the Clerk must have all the answers all the time, but what it means is that the Clerk should know how to find them. Someone I know who is one of the most brilliant Clerks I have ever worked with, said to me that the Clerk should either have the answer to what has been asked or should be able to say to the Chair that let us adjourn and I’ll find out the answer and then know where to go looking.
So, now that we have established that clerks are essential, we need to think of a few practicalities. Firstly, I think that all meetings should be clerked by a professional clerk. I know that some Governing Bodies employ a clerk for the FGB but the committee meetings are clerked by governors. This really isn’t ideal. Firstly, as I said above, clerks will probably have a better understanding and knowledge of procedures than governors. Secondly, if a governor is taking minutes, then that governor isn’t participating in the business of the committee. It is impossible for one person to do both things simultaneously. I think this is a case of false economy and every Governing Body should consider employing someone to clerk the FGB as well as the committee meetings.
Next question; should the Governing Body hire a school member of staff as the clerk? Absolutely not! The potential for a conflict of interest is too high. The member of staff probably treats the Head Teacher with a degree of deference while performing his/her day job. Is it fair of us to ask the member of staff to make sure that this deference is left outside the room when the meeting starts?
Last question; a service level agreement with a clerking agency or not? I think a service level agreement is almost always better. A service level agreement means that you will never be without a clerk as the clerking agency you use will be obliged to provide you with clerking service, no matter what. This will also mean that if, for whatever reason, you need to get someone else to clerk for you, it is easier to do so if you have a service level agreement with an agency.
So, there you have it; my thoughts on these unsung heroes of governance, the clerks. A good clerk is worth his/her weight in gold because clerking matters. A LOT!