Friday, 18 March 2011

Effective governing bodies require trained clerks

Effective governing bodies require trained clerks

David Marriott begins a series of three articles on the importance of clerking by examining why having a professionally trained clerk is so crucial for governing bodies.

The government's White Paper The Importance of Teaching encourages schools 'to appoint trained clerks who can offer expert advice and guidance to support them'. This somewhat lukewarm recommendation follows several years of reports recognising how crucial a professional clerk is to the effectiveness of a governing body and recommending that the status of the clerk be raised accordingly.

Governing Our Schools, the report on governance by the University of Bath (October 2008) recommended that 'The status of the clerk to the governing body should be raised and the clerk should not work in the school in a different capacity to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest' and that 'Training for new governors, chairs and clerks should be compulsory'. It found that: 'The clerk has a clearly specified and important role in ensuring that the governing body performs its functions properly. The role requires a wide range of high level skills and qualities. The study's findings indicate that there is an association between the effectiveness of the clerk and the effectiveness of the governing body.'

The report also recommended that: 'All schools should have professional clerking support, shared among several schools if necessary. Greater support, training and guidance should be given to the clerks of governing bodies. An accredited training programme for clerks (which is available) should be made mandatory for all clerks.'

It recognised that 'the role of the clerk is crucial in ensuring that the governing body operates effectively, but it is not always well understood' and added: 'We believe that all governing bodies should have access to high-quality clerking, provided by trained people either from outside or within the school.' The authors likened the role of the clerk to 'the roles of Company Secretary, one of high status, requiring training and accreditation, and Clerk to the Justices. In the latter the clerk is responsible for the co-ordination of and advice on the selection of magistrates, organising and in some cases delivering training and providing expert advice on and running the administrative systems. Every school should have a trained clerk: training and accreditation for clerks should be compulsory, and their pay should be commensurate with their importance.'

The 21st Century School: Implications and Challenges for Governing Bodies - A report from the Ministerial Working Group on School Governance (2010) concluded that 'all governing bodies should be supported by trained clerks to advise and guide them in the exercise of their functions'. It found that: 'The role of the clerk to the governing body was akin to that of a clerk to a court and they were much more than mere note takers. Effective clerks to governing bodies were essential to give governors guidance on their duties; however, too many governing bodies used the school secretary or head's PA as clerk. This could create difficulties and compromise the individual's position if they had to challenge the head over a course of action that was being proposed.' It recommended that: 'The status, skills and independence of clerks to governing bodies should be raised, so that they can provide a more professional service to governing bodies.'

Any clerk or governor could be forgiven for feeling disappointed in the White Paper's feeble response to these very clear and strong arguments for the professionalisation of clerking and it seems unlikely that the Education Act will remedy the situation.

Tomorrow we ask: What is the current state of clerking?

This article is based on a paper shared at the Co-ordinators of Governor Services (COGS) conference 2010, It was written by David Marriott and was first published on

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