“So you just scribble down a few notes of what happens at school governors meetings then” said one friend recently when I told him that I was a governing body clerk. – Hmmmn!
I think that is probably a misconception of many people particularly if they have never served on a governing body, particularly recently.
So what does an Independent Clerk to school governors do exactly?
The overall responsibility of a Clerk is help the Governing Body work effectively and fulfil its key roles!
Like lots of things in education there is a cycle, so let’s start where most Governors have visibility of their clerk, at a meeting of the Full Governing Body.
Yes the clerk is there to take the minutes but there is an art in that itself. The minutes need to be a true record of what happened in the meeting but DO NOT have to record verbatim everything that everyone says. The minutes should give an accurate overview of the discussion around a particular agenda item and record any decisions agreed and actions to be taken and by whom. They should also record details of challenge by Governors, particularly around Teaching & Learning, so Governors are seen to be demonstrating that they are holding school leaders to account.
Following the meeting I will endeavour to write up the minutes within 48 hours and send them to the Chair & Head for comment/amendment/approval. I will then send them to Governors, generally within a week of the meeting. This has 2 purposes:
a) Those with actions can see straight away what they have to do in case it wasn’t noted at the meeting properly, and
b) Governors can read the minutes whilst the meeting is still fresh in their mind in case there are any amendments to the minutes they want recording at the next meeting. Minutes do not become ‘final’ until approved at the following meeting.
I will also commence writing the agenda for the following meeting including any items deferred.
The Governor Support teams in the Local Authority where I do most of my clerking always hold a meeting towards the end of term for Clerks and Chairs. Apart from a great opportunity to network we receive a draft core agenda for the following term, an update and discussion on the hot topics of the day, and generally a couple of short presentations. Last time was around Safeguarding and Early Years provision. We will also get updates on LA policies and government regulations affecting Governors
This is all vital info as it feeds into another key role of the clerk, that of ‘Business Advisor’ to the Governing Body. It is the role of the Clerk to advise Governors in terms of constitutional issues, statutory duties and powers. Also, as I have experience of other GB’s I get asked to join in discussions and share good practice, almost as an ‘ex officio’ member of the GB.
The Clerk will also liaise regularly with the Head & Chair to ensure that all business matters affecting the school that Governors have responsibility for are covered at the right time during the year.
Two weeks before the date of the next meeting of the GB I will send draft minutes to the Head and Chair. Once agreed these are circulated, at least 7 days in advance, via email to all Governors along with any relevant documents including previous minutes, Head’s report etc. So the cycle continues!
In my view self-development is really important. I see it as a vital part of my role as a professional clerk that I regularly attend training courses. My LA’s provide excellent training for Governors and Clerks alike.
It is good practice in my view to let your Clerk also take care of your sub-committees, if you have them. This ensures a continuity of delivery and information across all meetings and prevents potential conflicts of interest, particularly where sub-committees are clerked by members of staff.
So there you have it. There is a bit more to it than just ‘taking notes!’
Ian J Preston
Ian has been a Governor for over 20 year. He is an independent clerk to 3 schools and regularly delivers training courses for Governors. He is also an approved GovernorMark assessor.
In addition to his work in the education sector he runs his own Sales & Marketing consultancy providing coaching & training services to individuals, SME’s and corporate organisations.