Tag Archives: Professional clerk

Supporting your governing body’s clerk matters

A good clerk is pivotal in ensuring that the governing body is as effective as it can be. It is true that good schools will have good governing bodies. It is, I think, equally true that good governing bodies have good clerks. For the purpose of this blog, I will assume that your governing body has an independent and professional clerk. What follows are some ideas on how you can support your clerk in order to help the clerk support you.

  • Write a good job description so that everyone is clear about the roles and responsibilities of your clerk. A clear job description also supports the clerk’s effectiveness.
  • Your clerk will be responsible for writing the agendas (in consultation with he Chair and Head) and circulating the agenda and papers. The Chair should make sure they make time to discuss the agenda with the clerk well before the meeting.
  • If you are responsible for a preparing a paper for the next meeting, do send it to the clerk in time for the clerk to include it in the meeting pack.
  • If you had some actions from the last meeting let the clerk know where you are with them. It will make the clerk’s job less stressful if they don’t have to chase you for papers or updates on actions.
  • As the Chair do ensure that when the clerk sends you the draft minutes you turn them around as quickly as possible. Consider using track changes which will help your clerk.
  • Support your clerk by ensuring they have access to good CPD.
  • Chairs should do a low stakes annual appraisal of clerks. This should be an opportunity for both to discuss how they think the governors and clerk worked together, what went well and what could be improved and how.
  • Ensure that your clerk feels like a valued member of the team. Ask for and listen to their advice when you are unsure.
  • Being introduced to and meeting the clerk should be part of your induction process for new governors.
  • There should also be an induction for a new clerk. They should be shown around the school, especially the room where you normally meet, introduced to the Head/SLT and any other member of the school staff they may need to contact and introduced to all the governors.
  • It may be helpful to agree a routine for regular communication between the Chair and the clerk which may contribute to effective use of both the chair’s and the clerk’s time.
  • It may be helpful to have a school email address for your clerk. This can be communicated to everyone via your website. This has various advantages
    • It will help parents and others know how to get in touch
    • It’s preferable than having the clerk’s personal email address in the public domain
    • If your clerk works for other governing bodies then this will help them in organising paperwork for the different governing bodies
  • Can your school provide a pigeon hole for your clerk? There may be instances where people will write to the clerk/GB/Chair. This correspondence should go to a dedicated pigeonhole which the clerk can access easily.
  • Encourage your clerk to keep up with the latest legislation/developments. If your governing body is a member of NGA (and I highly recommend that they are) then see that your clerk knows this and has signed up for the weekly newsletter.
  • Any governor can ask for an item to be put on the agenda. It would be helpful if the Chair would remind governors how to do this and how much notice is required. Clerks shouldn’t have to deal with last minute requests. (If there is a really urgent matter that can be dealt with under AOB and the governors should have an agreed process for this).
  • Make sure the clerk’s pay reflects what they do.
  • Lastly, and very importantly, in all your dealings with your clerk do consider their life/work balance. The chair should not hesitate to intercede if they feel that unfair demands are being made of the clerk.

Is there anything you would add to the above list?

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Effective minute taking matters, courtesy of @ICSA_News

On 22nd Oct 2015 Rob Robson and Philip Davis (authors of Effective Minute Taking) took over ICSA’s Twitter account and answered questions and posted top tips on effective minute taking. As this is something which will be of interest to governing boards, especially clerks and company secretaries, I thought I would collate the tweets here for everyone. Please read and share with your clerk and see if there is something in these tweets which can help you improve your practice.

This is something I think should be avoided if at all possible. Best practice would be to employ an independent clerk to clerk your full board and committee meetings. If due to some reason it is not possible (financial constraints, for example) to have committee meetings clerked, then I would strongly urge that a governor who is not a committee member take the minutes. This will leave committee members free to concentrate on the business of the meeting.

During the chat they also tweeted some top minute taking tips which are as below.

Update: New (Sept 2016) ICSA guidance on minute taking 

Matt Lake, very kindly sent me the following links. They offer an “interesting” insight to minute taking. DISCLAIMER: These are not being posted here as examples of best practice!

 

 

Non-statutory DfE School Governance Guidance matters

The Department of Education issued advice for school leaders and governing bodies of maintained schools and management committees of PRUs on 13th January 2014. This non-statutory advice replaces Statutory Guidance on the School Governance (Procedures) (England) Regulations 2003. (It also replaces the non-statutory guidance: Paying Allowances to School Governors 2003).

Key Points

Board of Governors

The Guidance uses the term “Board of Governors”. The term “Board of Governors” is gradually replacing the term “governing body”. The idea behind this change is that the governing body is the non-executive leadership of the school. It operates in a way which is similar to that of a board of directors of a company or a board of trustees of a charity and therefore should be referred to as the “Board”. Read what Clare Collins has to say about this here. I personally do like the idea of serving on a Board than on a body.

Relationship between the Head and the Board

The role of the Board and the Head and the relationship between the two is, or should be, clear. I particularly like the following sentence.

Having advised the board, the headteacher must comply with any reasonable direction given by it. (My emphasis)

Some Heads need reminding of the above!

Although it has been mentioned in The Governors’ Handbook, I’m glad that the guidance also makes the point that governors should not just rely on the headteacher to provide them with information. They must go through the data themselves (the advice is to do this at least annually) and use school visits to verify information.

Accountability

Governing Boards are accountable to Ofsted. Governors are now part of the Leadership and Management and the judgement on governance affects the Leadership and Management judgement, which is the way it should be. If we are to hold the school leadership to account we must be prepared for this ourselves. The guidance states that it is good practice for Governing Boards to publish an annual governance statement in the same way as Academy Trusts are required to do. What I particularly like is the fact that guidance states that such a statement should talk about the effectiveness and impact of the Board and include a statement about the attendance of governors at Board and Committee meetings. We all know or have heard of governors who regularly miss meetings. If Boards were required to publish attendance data, it may go some way in rectifying this. This is something I wish would become statutory!

Self evaluation

The Guidance also states that it good practice for Boards to carry out some form of self evaluation. This can be done in various ways, such as the APPG’s 20 questions or the Ofsted framework. Self evaluation will either reassure you that you are functioning as you should be or it will highlight shortcomings which can then be dealt with. I would also advice Boards to consider external reviews of governance, especially if there is a danger that Ofsted may ask for it to be done.

Delegation

The advice to devise a scheme of delegation is a very good one. It helps everybody understand if responsibility for a particular action rests with the whole Board, committee or individual. It may also be a way to ensure everyone’s involvement.

Role of Chair/Vice Chair

The advice states that it may be possible to appoint more than one person as Chair or Vice Chair. In other words you could have, for example, two people, “job sharing”. Regulations, however, talk about “a” Chair. I am hoping that DfE would clarify this at some point. (Read what Clerk to Governors has to say about this. I’m not a great fan of this idea. I can see many problems with this. How will you decide who will be Chair when? Why stop at two, why not have three or four or more people as Chair?!

The advice does, however, make few good points. It says the emphasis should be on skills and not willingness to stand for election. It also points out the need for good succession planning. It also advices Boards to consider how many times will they allow a person to stand as Chair. The advice goes on to say that the Board may like to consider advertising the position and appointing someone from outside the Board. If a Board finds that none of the current members are willing to serve as Chair or lack the skills to do so, then this may be a way to solve the problem. Obviously, it will need for everyone to be “on board”! You will have to first agree that this is what you want to do. Then comes the advertising and selection process. The successful person will then need to be appointed to the Board before they could be elected as Chair. (Note that you will still need to hold an election).

Role of Clerk

The departmental advice states what governors know and have always maintained; a good professional clerk is essential. The advice points out that Boards should be prepared to pay professional clerks an appropriate salary. There are still some Boards that either do not employ a professional clerk or employ someone only for full board meetings only. This, in my opinion, is a false economy. A good clerk is more than just a minute taker. A good clerk will be able to advice the governors about their roles, responsibilities and points of law. The majority of the work should be happening at committee level so committees need to be clerked professionally too.

Virtual governance

Academy Boards of Directors are allowed, by virtue of Articles, to participate in meetings via conference calls or other similar methods. This has now been allowed for other Boards as well. The advice makes it clear that proxy voting or voting in advance is not permitted. A governor will need to be present “virtually” in order to cast a vote. I’m glad that the guidance has made this clear.

Further reading
Clerk to Governors on what Chairs of Governors could learn from Board Chairs.

Ruth Agnew’s blog on virtual governance.

Clerking Matters. A Lot!

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!