Friday, 24 December 2010

What makes an effective governing body meeting?

The Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) included in its Governors’ Handbook
some years ago, the following definition:- “An effective meeting is one in which time is used well, with less important items kept within bounds to allow time for major ones. It is one which leads to clear decisions, leaving no doubt what action is to be taken, by whom, by when, and in consultation with which others.

It should be clear how governors will be informed that their decision has been implemented and of progress generally. At an effective meeting, there will have been restraint on rambling or irrelevant contributions, without hurting anyone.

This is not easy, however, it is important that nobody should leave the meeting feeling aggrieved at not having been given a chance to speak, and indeed that everyone should have contributed”. This definition is still valid, but if its aims are to be achieved, all governors must, jointly and individually, play their part.

What governors can do:-

• attend all meetings, but in the event of not being able to do so present apologies to the clerk, with the reasons for absence (as governors have to consider whether to accept them) before
the meeting
• arrive in good time for meetings
• prepare for the meeting, by reading any previously circulated papers, and by seeking copies of any papers referred to on the agenda, that have either been lost or never received, from either the clerk or the school before the meeting
• contribute effectively to items under discussion and avoid anecdotal side issues which have little or no relevance to the item
• follow agreed procedures, including “written and unwritten rules of conduct”
• noting, at the meeting, rather than waiting for the minutes, any action necessary, either by an individual or by a committee of which the governor is a member
• accept the majority view of the governing body, even if this does not accord with his/her own personal views
• respect the confidentiality of issues discussed.

What the clerk can do:-

• organise meetings and papers efficiently - agenda and supporting papers must be distributed to governors at least 7 days prior to the meeting. A well structured, carefully planed agenda which focuses on the statutory items, the inclusion of timings and a lead governor will provide clarity to
all those attending as to who is leading the item and an expectation of the length of discussion time. Try to avoid the inclusion of Any other Business (AOB) – this can cause governors to spend a lot of additional time at the end of a meeting discussing points that could have been included on the agenda in the first instance

• provide information and procedural advice at the meeting
• copy the briefing and post briefing papers to the chairman and the headteacher (these are
provided by the authority)
• produce clear minutes with action items easily identifiable enabling follow up and matters arising to be identified at future meetings.

What the chairman can do:-

• purposeful chairing, bringing out the best in all governors, keeping a brisk pace, and ensuring that decisions are properly taken and clearly understood
• keep chairman’s action brief and succinct – governors cannot always know the full details relating to an issue; the information provided should only indicate a clear outcome and whether
there are any recommendations to the governing body for example to review a policy. Should an appeal be raised there will be subsequently un-tainted governors to hear that appeal
• acquaint him/herself with the papers before the meeting, possibly after consultation with the headteacher and clerk
• open the meeting promptly at the scheduled starting time
• introduce and welcome new governors and encourage them to participate
• be aware of the Regulations relating to the conduct of the meeting and governing body procedures, but at the same time be prepared to seek advice from the clerk on procedural issues
• ensure that all governors have the opportunity to contribute to specific issues, and make sure that governors are clear on what they have agreed and, if appropriate, who is to progress action
• clarify for governors whether items are for information or require a decision, and, for the latter, keep discussions to the point
• ensure that discussions revolve around policies and action and not personalities, but, where this is not possible, make sure that governors are aware of the need for confidentiality to be observed
• make sure that future meetings, both of the governing body and any established committees, are arranged to consider appropriate business
• any other business should be strongly discouraged except in an urgent situation as it might well disenfranchise governors not present from discussing items they may consider important
• finally, make sure that the meeting is completed within a reasonable time. Meetings extending beyond two to two and a half hours will become progressively less productive, as the attention span of governors begins to wander!

What the headteacher can do:-

• circulate his/her report to governors in advance of the meeting and make sure that any acronyms used are explained for the benefit of, particularly, new governors
• minimise the number of documents to be tabled at the meeting, although, if papers are to be made available at the meeting, ensure that copies are available for all governors and an opportunity to absorb the content is provided
• draw governors’ attention to specific issues in his/her report, particularly those requiring a decision by the governing body, rather than almost talking them through the report verbatim.

Finally consider the practical arrangements for the meeting and consider these questions:-
• is the meeting room welcoming and provides adequate and suitable seating for all governors and expected visitors? Meeting in the nursery or reception class may be informative, but the seating is rarely conducive to a comfortable meeting!
• not essential, and acknowledging that the costs will normally come from the school budget, will light refreshments or at least drinks by provided?

These will be appreciated by governors, especially those coming straight from work.

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