Should you use a member of school staff as your clerk to governors?
There may be a number of reasons why schools use their own staff to clerk their governors’ meetings, but there are compelling reasons against this practice, summarised in three words: professionalism, independence, and support.
In 2017 the DfE issued the Clerking Competency Framework, which reinforces the growing understanding that the role of clerk is a discrete professional role. The old notion that “anybody can take the minutes” is gradually becoming outdated. The Framework states that the clerks’ role requires a certain set of competencies in order to be effective. In most cases these individuals have undergone training which has then been tested and refined by experience of clerking meetings, and refreshed by CPD and ongoing peer networking and support. Do many in house school staff possess the requisite set of skills and knowledge to serve as the professional clerks the DfE would wish for? Modern boards, faced with increasing pressures, need the highest possible level of professional governance support.
A second pitfall facing school-based clerks is their lack of independence. How can the clerk serve the whole board impartially and independently if they are line managed by the Headteacher? It would take an individual with a considerable degree of strength of purpose to resist a Headteacher (for example) who demands that minutes be altered when they reflect badly on him or her, or when they accurately record unwelcome challenges. They also face a conflict of interest: will they do the right thing by the whole governing board and in the interests of good governance and probity, or will they keep the favour of their manager? The pressures can be very real.
The third issue concerns their potential isolation from their peers. Teachers have their own arrangements for CPD, and schools invest in this. However, the clerk is not often seen as having any priority for scarce CPD funds. But without CPD, occasional attendance at training courses and professional networking, how can any professional grow, develop, and remain fresh and current? In this, the odds are stacked against the school-based clerk.
If you would like further advice, please contact us.