One area where many school governors struggle is in differentiating between strategic and operational.
This isn’t because they don’t understand the difference; it’s because they care so passionately about achieving the best educational outcomes for pupils that they allow themselves to get caught up in schools’ day-to-day activities.
It’s lovely to hear about how well the children did at sports day and to be a cheerleader for the maths department, but do these discussions really add anything to the school’s strategic running?
Clerks help with the strategic nature of governance and effective ones should be gently nudging chairs during board meetings if they feel that discussions aren’t strategic.
They’re in post to provide a high quality clerking service, including giving advice on procedural and regulatory matters, but they can’t do this effectively if governors continually stray into operational discussions.
The clerk should support and challenge the chair continually throughout meetings, being able to flag up situations where governors are overstepping or deviating from their role. This trusting relationship allows the governing board to focus on its strategic role and carry it out effectively.
In between meetings, the clerk and the chair need to work together to ensure that all strategic functions are being carried out throughout the academic year, that meetings are being planned to focus on strategy and all statutory information is being sent out to governors.
Effective clerks act as the conscience of the governing board. They can challenge governors at times, about practice and compliance, and this should be viewed as a positive thing. Professionally trained clerks are a trusted companion for the governing board, taking care of some of the basics of the legalities of governance and allowing governors to make the most effective use of their time by focusing on strategy.
Clerks also need to recognise when governors are coming into conflict and defuse situations before they get out of hand. While an effective clerk can facilitate robust discussions on key strategic issues, they need to be able to anticipate negative tensions between governors and work to mitigate them in the interests of good governance.
The clerk’s role is multi-faceted. They are an advisor, a leader, a planner, a communicator, a diplomat, a manager and a challenger. Crucial to their role is the ability to work collectively with the governing board to achieve the school’s strategic aims.