Tag Archives: Professional clerk

Governance matters at Festival of Education Part 2

Photo Credit: Cat Scutt
Left to right: Mark Lehain, Katie Paxton-Dogget, Naureen Khalid, Jo Penn, Will Malard

On Friday 22nd June 2018 I chaired a panel discussion at the Festival of Education at Wellington College. With an ever increasing number of schools joining Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), there is a need to understand how these are governed. This was a well attended session. It was good to see so many people take an interest in governance. What was especially pleasing was that governors and trustees and even a Member of a trust were present.

The session looked at “The Brave New World of MAT Governance“. The experts who took part in the discussion were

  • Jo Penn: Jo has many years of experience as a school governor. She is currently Chair of a Local Authority Primary School Governing Body and on the Board of a Secondary Academy. She has also been a member of a Special School Interim Executive Board and Chair of a Foundation School/converter Academy for four years. Jo is an experienced National Leader of Governance
  • Katie Paxton-Doggett: Katie is the author of ‘How to Run an Academy School’ and ‘Maximise Your Income: A guide for academies and schools’. Dual-qualified as a Solicitor and Chartered Company Secretary, Katie has significant experience in providing specialist governance support to various academies and MATs
  • Will Millard: Will is a Senior Associate at LKMco where he undertakes research into education and youth policy, and works with a range of organisations to help them develop new projects, and assess and enhance their social impact
  • Mark Lehain: Mark has a wealth of educational experience, having founded one of the first free schools (Bedford Free School) in the country. Bedford Free School has thrived and they have created the Advantage Schools MAT. Mark is the Director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence. He was appointed Interim Director of New Schools Network in March 2018

The discussion started with the panel being asked to define effective MAT governance and to suggest ways by which we can judge how good or otherwise the trustees are. The panel was in agreement with Jo who said that effective governance is effective governance irrespective of the structure. For governance to be effective we need a clear strategic vision, transparency, accountability, ethical leadership and effective training at all levels. Katie agreed that training should be mandatory. She also made the point that there is no need to re-invent the wheel; we can learn from other sectors. Will referenced the research  published recently by LKMco. It is difficult to answer what is effective MAT governance because research has shown that MATs are different and they change as they expand which brings about changes in the way they are governed. As it’s difficult to define, it’s difficult to design a matrix to judge how effective it is. Mark said that if the outcomes for students are good and the right decisions are being made at the right time we may be able to say that the trustees are doing a good job.

Talking about MAT expansion led the discussion to whether governors are coping with moving from governing one school to governing groups of schools in MATs. Katie was of the opinion that governing MATs requires a massive change of mindset and people need to understand that they need to step away from representing just one school. Jo talked about her own experience. She has been a governor in almost all settings but the biggest challenge was the change from being a trustee in a single academy trust (SAT) to a member of the local governing body (LGB) when the SAT joined a MAT. She explained that when the SAT trustees were discussion joining a MAT, the most challenging discussion was around giving up some autonomy to gain other advantages. Jo also warned that we need to be cautious and careful as we now have a two tier system. We may leave those governors behind who are governing LA schools if we aren’t careful because we are so busy talking about the importance of MAT governance.

Talking about LGBs led us to discussing schemes of delegation (SOD). Mark agreed with Jo that when schools join a MAT they have to give up something to gain something. Mark warned that there is a danger that if we take too much away from the local governors and give it to the centre then people may not want to put themselves forward to serve on LGBs. When Bedford Free School was forming a MAT and was talking to other schools there was a great deal of discussion around the SOD. They put in a lot of thinking around the SOD and have kept it under review. Like everything else, there isn’t a one size fits all SOD, appoint made by Katie who said MATs should look at a SOD and then adapt it to their schools and context. Katie talked about the work she has done with community MATs. The back office services were centralised but the teaching and learning and how students were doing, the “proper governance” stuff happened at the local level. So the SOD is about delegation at the local level and the trustees having an oversight rather than doing it at the board level.

The panel then discussed whether centralisation of some services like finance and delegating monitoring of teaching and learning o the LGB would make serving on the LGB more or less attractive. Jo was the opinion that if the LGB feeds back to the board who then take decisions then the LGB may not feel empowered making it less attractive. Katie pointed out that there are models which empower the LGBs. Jo also made the point that the SOD is not written in stone and the board is legally allowed to change it if it wishes to do so.

The panel also discussed how performance of MATs could be judged. Mark was of the opinion that at the minute we have no one who has enough experience of running MATs to be able to judge performance of other MATs. There is also the fact that MATs are very different. For example Harris, ARK, Tauhedul, Inspiration, Reach2 are all very different from each other. Mark’s worry is that by trying to judge MATs we may end up trying to standardise the way they are run. Mark admitted that there have been failures in the way MATs are run but there have been examples of poor governance in the maintained sector too. What we should do is try and learn from these failures. Will said that the research had not shown a clear relationship between SOD and MAT performance and he reiterated Mark’s point that there is no clear one good way to judge MAT performance. According to Katie, the success/failure is not about structures but about the people, about what they are doing and how they are using the structures. With MATs we are at a stage where we can still shape things.

We talked a little about the executive function in MATs. Mark said that in theory there should be a difference between the executive leaders of single schools and those of MATs but in practice people are still finding their way. The role of a MAT CEO is very different to that of a head of a single school

I then asked the panel to give me a short answer to the following question before we took questions from the floor.

What is the one thing you would change to make MAT governance effective?

Jo: Mandatory training for everyone involved in governance. Accredited pre-appointment training same way as it’s done for magistrates. People join boards without a real understanding of the role. It takes a while to get to grips with the role.

Will: Agree with Jo.

Katie: Not sure the MAT structure actually works. Take a step back and see how schools fit together in the legal structure.

Mark: Training of company secretaries. The role of the clerk in a maintained school is an important role but a completely different one to that of a Company ecretary in a MAT. We sometimes use clerk and Company Secretary as interchangeable terms but they are different roles. How many clerks know their Articles of Association inside out and understand the law around that?

Questions from the floor:

Is there a tangible way for businesses to support governance in schools?

Jo: Businesses should encourage their staff to become governors and give them the time and space to do it.

Katie: Businesses should understand that their employees will be getting board level experience which they can bring back to their companies.

Are the challenges in recruiting to MAT boards different to recruiting to boards of single schools?

Naureen: People may find it more attractive to govern in their local school, in a school in their community as they feel connected to it than joining a MAT board which may sit in a different city. People may ask themselves if they have the skills or the time to govern 20 schools.

Katie: The more specific I have been about the skills I want, the more successful I have been in recruiting. This is true for parent governors too. Even in small schools if you are very specific about the skills you want then weirdly it brings more people forward. So rather than sending out a general letter, be very specific about the skills you are looking for and people reading the letter will go “Ooh that’s me”. It appeals to their sense of worth

Jo: Don’t think with MAT boards we’ve reached a point where the boards are massively recruiting.

Will: Don’t think the people in general realise how complex the system is. There is a PR challenge in actually setting out that this is what is and this is what you are stepping into.

Question form Katie to the Trust Member: How connected do you feel to your MAT and what do you think you are contributing to the organisation?

I have recently become a Member. I realise that the role is different to that of the trustees as Members have fewer duties than trustees. I see the role as one of holding the trustees to account. It is a brave new world. This is why it is good to come to groups like this and learn from each other.

Mark: We have a come a long way since 2010 when  people did not have a clear understanding about the difference between Members, trustees, directors and governors. People now understand that Members really need to appoint good trustees. We are in a much stronger position now. It may not be quite right but we are much closer to a really effective system now.

And on that positive note, the session came to an end. I’m very grateful to Jo, Katie, Mark and Will for their valuable contributions and to everyone else who attended the session. Like the gentleman said the value of these sessions is in the learning which takes place when we talk and discuss issues with each other. I’m already thinking ahead to the 2019 Festival of Education and hope to see many of you there.

Schools Week covered our session in the Festival of Education coverage (Note: The piece mentions Gillian Allcroft from NGA whereas it was Katie who was part of the panel).

I have previusly blogged about other sessions which I attended and which were aroud goverance.

Advertisements

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?

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!